Sunday, November 21, 2010

Roasted Pumpkin Chestnut Soup

While having dinner at La Regalade in Paris last month I had a Chestnut Soup that I knew I had to try and make. I loved all of the different flavors that came from the bottom layer of foie gras, chives and cheese. Not wanting to try and totally replicate it, I made my own version. With Thanksgiving approaching, I had a few sugar pumpkins on hand I thought I'd add to the soup. I usually use a good quality canned pumpkin for my recipes, but my son Zac, raised the bar. At college he searched for and found sugar pumpkins to make his grandmother's recipe for pumpkin bread. That led him and his friends on a sparkling fall day, to a farm in western New York with a corn maze. How fun was that? I just got my pumpkins at the local grocery store with no fun factor. He cooked the pumpkin, strained it and froze it until he had time to make the bread. For my pumpkins, I decided to roast them for a fuller flavor. Could you use canned pumpkin? Yes, just make sure it is a good quality one. It would certainly simplify the recipe. I've never roasted chestnuts before, but I think that would also bring more flavor than using canned ones. That was my compromise. I had a can of chestnuts in the cupboard and I caved in to the convenience. So, after figuring out that I wanted a puree of roasted pumpkin and chestnuts, I moved on to the spices and bottom savory layer. No cinnamon would grace my soup...that is for the pie. I did want spices that enhanced the pumpkin and chestnuts without being in the foreground, but instead lingered and mixed like a charming dinner guest. Ginger, cardamom, cayenne and a whisper of nutmeg got the invitation. Now to the savory bits and pieces on the bottom layer. First, I sauteed chanterelle and baby bella mushrooms in butter. Then I cooked Vermont maple-brined, and maple smoked, uncured bacon from Whole Foods. Whew! I'm not really a bacon eater, but the way this was prepared sealed the deal. The maple smoked bacon seemed to be able to subtly partner with the soup flavors. Next, I made croutons by brushing cubed ciabatta with olive oil and lightly toasting in a cast iron skillet. A few cilantro leaves add a fresh flavor that ties it all together. All of these components can be made at different times before assembling. The soup can be made and frozen in advance, and the croutons can be made up to a week ahead. The mushrooms and bacon can be prepared the day before. All of the do ahead work makes the final preparations simple. You could even cut up leftover turkey to add to the bottom savory layer for a light weekend supper. This Parisian inspired soup is truly an all American star.

Happy Thanksgiving week to my American friends!

Roasted Pumpkin Chestnut Soup

For the soup:
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
2 cups roasted or canned pumpkin puree*
1 cup whole peeled chestnuts
4-5 cups good quality chicken stock or vegetable broth, plus more if needed
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
pinch of nutmeg

cayenne pepper and salt to taste

Optional: 2 tablespoons half and half cream

*If roasting the pumpkin, you'll need:

3 pound pie pumpkin
6-8 sprigs fresh thyme
olive oil

A 3 pound pumpkin equals about 2 pounds once the stem, inner seeds and fibrous center are removed. Once it is roasted, it equals about 2 cups mashed pumpkin. To roast the pumpkin, cut a washed pumpkin in half. Scoop out the seeds and fibrous center.
Cut each half into 6-8 wedges and place outer side down on a parchment lined baking sheet. Add the thyme. Drizzle with olive oil and loosely cover with foil. Roast in a preheated 375 degree oven for about 30 minutes or until the pumpkin is soft and tender. When cool enough to handle, peel off the outer peel and place in a bowl. Remove the thyme leaves from the stems and add to the roasted pumpkin.
For the bottom layer:
6 strips bacon, sliced in 1/4 inch pieces and sauteed
1 cup sliced and sauteed baby bella mushrooms, or a mixture of other small mushrooms
1 1/2 cups unseasoned croutons
Leaves from 6-8 sprigs fresh cilantro

In a 4 quart pot, melt the butter over medium heat and add the onion. Cook until translucent and tender. Stir in the pumpkin and chestnuts. Add the chicken or vegetable broth, ginger, cardamom and nutmeg. Using a stick blender or blender, puree until smooth.
Add more broth if needed to reach desired consistency. Season with cayenne pepper and salt to taste.

At this point the soup may be frozen or stored in the refrigerator. Just before reheating, stir in any cream, if using.

Before serving, layer the bowls with equal amounts of the bottom layer ingredients.
Ladle soup into the bowls at the table and serve.Makes 6-7 cups soup.
Serves 6 as a first course or 4 as a main course.
Black and white photo was taken and developed by Zac. Thanks!

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