We have all seen the jokes and memes, and the seemingly endless array of products that signals we are in “pumpkin spice” season. Certainly, the image of bright orange pumpkins and the warming aromatic spices of cinnamon, nutmeg, and clove recall the cozy feelings of fall. And yet, everything pumpkin spice seems a bit overdone!
There’s a lot more you can do with pumpkin, especially if you buy the sugar pumpkin meant for eating (as opposed to a jack-o’-lantern variety), and it need not include the typical pumpkin spices. In fact, I know some who claim they do not like pumpkin, when, I suspect, what they actually don’t like is the particular spice combination so often used with it.
Although it’s just another variety of winter squash, fresh pumpkin tends to be in the stores only in the fall. If you’re feeling ambitious, you can bake pumpkin and purée the flesh, and freeze in measured portions to use through the winter. Otherwise, you can always get canned purée — different from pumpkin pie filling — or substitute butternut squash.
This recipe for pumpkin soup gets a bit of heat from a poblano pepper, but feel free to make it spicier with a jalapeño or other hot pepper. While it may seem like a lot to do, the garnishes are totally optional or have easy substitutions. I love sour cream flavored with reduced apple cider to contrast with the flavors of the soup, but you could make things easier and just use plain sour cream or yogurt. Likewise, instead of toasted pumpkin seeds, you can garnish this with croutons or toasted nuts, such as slivered almonds.
PUMPKIN SOUP WITH CIDER CREAM AND PUMPKIN SEEDS
Makes about 6 cups
1 cup apple cider, optional
1/2 cup sour cream or yogurt, optional
1 small sugar pumpkin, about 3 pounds, or butternut squash
2 tablespoons canola oil, divided
1 teaspoon kosher salt, divided, plus more to taste
1 small onion, chopped
1/4 teaspoon fresh ground pepper, plus more to taste
1 poblano pepper, or spicier variety for more heat, seeded and chopped
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1 quart chicken or vegetable broth, store-bought or homemade
Make the cider cream. In a small saucepan, heat the apple cider over medium heat and simmer, stirring frequently, until it is reduced by about two-thirds and is the consistency of maple syrup, about 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from heat, cool slightly, mix with sour cream, and refrigerate until serving.
Preheat oven to 325 F.
Cut the pumpkin in half horizontally (or the squash vertically) and scrape out the seeds and stringy flesh and set aside to make the toasted seeds. Place both halves skin side up on a foil-lined half sheet pan and bake for about an hour until easily pierced with a knife.
If serving toasted pumpkin seeds as a garnish, separate the seeds from the pulp and rinse lightly in a colander. Spread on paper towel and pat dry with another paper towel. The seeds won’t be fully dry, but that will be fine. In a small bowl, toss the seeds with 1 tablespoon canola oil and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Spread the seeds on another foil-lined half sheet pan or other pan, and bake until the seeds are crisp and lightly browned, about 45 minutes. Set aside.
Allow the pumpkin to cool until easily handled. Separate the flesh from the skin, scraping with a spoon to get as much as possible, and set aside.
In a large saucepan, heat the remaining tablespoon of canola oil over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the chopped onion and sprinkle with the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and the pepper. Sauté until softened and beginning to brown on the edges. Add the chopped pepper and continue to sauté until softened.
Add the maple syrup, stirring so that it does not burn, and once mixed in and warm, add the broth. Bring to a simmer and add the pumpkin.
Cook at a light boil until the pumpkin is falling apart, about 5 to 10 minutes. Purée the soup with a blender, food processor, or immersion blender, in batches if necessary. Taste and adjust the seasonings as needed. If the soup has cooled, return to the pot and bring to the desired temperature.
Serve drizzled with the cider cream and garnished with toasted pumpkin seeds.