Autumn is the traditional harvest time, when mankind celebrates its evolutionary domination of nature, particularly large semi-flightless birds and various species of gourd. I'm doing my part with this easy and versatile pumpkin soup recipe. Really, any winter squash would work here (it's very good with butternut as well). And don't use the big Jack-O-Lantern pumpkin, use the little thick-walled kind your kid gets for free at cheap hay rides and pumpkin patches. A 2-3 lb gourd before peeling and seeding works just fine. A spectacular variation includes adding a chipotle chile pepper (canned, in adobo sauce) with the onions, and topping the finished product with sour cream.
2-3 cups fresh pumpkin, cut into 2-inch cubes
3 slices thick-cut bacon
1 large yellow onion, chopped
2-3 large carrots, chopped
2-3 stalks celery, chopped
3-4 fresh sage leaves, sliced (or 1 tsp dry rubbed)
3-4 sprigs fresh thyme (or 1/2 tsp dried)
1/2 cup white wine
4 cups chicken broth or stock (I prefer low-sodium)
1/2 cup fat free half-and-half
fresh ground black pepper
Start by chopping the bacon into smallish bits. Render in a dutch oven or soup pot over medium heat about 5-10 minutes, or until crispy. Remove the bacon to a paper towel, but leave the drippings in the pot (this is seriously the ONLY fat in the entire recipe--it needs to stay). Add the onion, carrots, and celery (or for you foodies out there, the mirepoix) and the herbs to the pot with a pinch of salt and a few good grinds of pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, 10 minutes or until the onions just start to brown around the edges.
While the vegetables are cooking you can seed, peel and chop the pumpkin. A decent potato peeler will take off the inedible rind, and you can use a spoon to scoop the guts (just like Jack). When the vegetables are browned a bit, deglaze the pot with the wine, let it cook off for about a minute, then add the pumpkin and broth. Bring to a simmer and cook partially covered 20-30 minutes, or until the carrots are soft. Remove from the heat and use a stick blender to puree in the pot, or puree in batches in a blender. Stir in the half and half (I like to do this with the stick blender to emulsify the half and half into the soup), and salt and pepper to taste.
Sprinkle reserved bacon over top of each bowl, and serve with crusty bread and a salad for a light but satisfying meal. If you're feeling fancy (as I clearly was above), garnish with sage leaves.
Makes 6 servings (1 1/2 cups each)