Nostalgic Pumpkin Soup

In November of 1994, I was an exchange student in the south of France living with a beautiful family of 5 for about 10 days. The mother made us many wonderful meals, including, of course, escargot. I remember her children telling me how when it rained, their mother would send them outside to collect the snails... I also remember her sending me off to our field trips with bagged lunches of supremely delicious bread covered in such tasty cheese... ahhh... :) And the yogurt that they ate for dessert following dinner... well, there's nothing like it here. Anyhow, all that was just a tangent and an excuse to reminisce!!! :-D

What this post is *really* about is that I still have vivid memories of the night she made pumpkin soup for us. It was a cold, damp night, and we were returning from a judo lesson, and we were nourished by this warm, flavorful soup, bread and a salad. It was perfect.

I have no idea how she made her soup, or accomplished the deep flavors that were in it, but I am trying my best here to come close.

I started like this:

I chopped the onion and garlic, and sauteed them in a little bit of olive oil in a large pan. Then I chopped the pumpkin up and added it to the pan, all of it, because I wanted it to be richly "pumpkin". That's what I remember. I put in about 6 cups of my homemade vegetable stock, and cooked the pumpkin until it was soft. Then I pureed it with my immersion blender until it was nice and smooth. I poured in just a bit of whole milk for creaminess, but not too much, because I didn't want to kill the pumpkin flavor. Then I seasoned the soup to taste with salt and pepper, nutmeg, and a little bit of what Thomas Keller calls "squab spice", a mix of cinnamon, coriander, cloves, pepper, and ginger, because I had some in my pantry and it seemed like a good idea :)

I ended up with this:

I'm sure it's not the same. But it's good!

Saumon au Poivre Vert (Salmon With Green Peppercorns)

"A fashionable discovery of nouvelle cuisine, green peppercorns add piquancy to all kinds of sauces and stews. Available pickled in jars or cans, they are great to keep on hand in your pantry."

Tonight Bill and I decided to frog out. We made a delicious French meal of pan seared salmon with a rich peppercorn cream sauce, accompanied by baked tomatoes topped with garlic. It was tres magnifique!


Buttercup Squash Soup

I recently made this easy soup on a chilly fall night. It had a great balance of flavors and was very warming to the belly and soul :) Buttercup squash is a variety of winter squash that is sweeter than most and has a creamy, dark orange flesh.

I started by sauteeing one small chopped onion and 2 minced garlic cloves in a bit of vegetable oil.

Then I added the cubed squash, 1 large diced potato, 1/2 cup diced celeriac, 1/2 cup diced carrots, 1 bay leaf, 1/2 teaspoon marjoram, 1/2 teaspoon chervil and salt and pepper to taste.

I added 6 cups water, brought it to a simmer, and cooked everything for about 10 minutes.

Then I added a bunch of chopped kale, and simmered for about 5 more minutes.

I blended it with an immersion blender, but left some chunks of potato in there for texture.

Add some nice bread and you've got a healthy and satisfying meal!


Golden-Fried Pumpkin Purses

Here is a seasonal recipe from Alain Ducasse in his Flavors of France cookbook. It is essentially a fried ravioli stuffed with pumpkin, leeks, rice and Parmesan cheese, that apparently comes from Monaco where the locals call them "Uncle Johns", or "barbajuans".

The first step is to roast a pumpkin in the oven at 400 degrees for about an hour and a half. Quarter your pumpkin, place the pieces skin-side-down on a baking sheet, and drizzle with olive oil.

Meanwhile, make the pasta:

Mix together:
2 cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 large egg
1/2 cup ice-cold water

Knead the dough for a minute, form into a disk, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for 1 hour.

Next, begin to make the filling:

Boil 1/2 cup Arborio rice for 10 minutes with 1 1/4 teaspoons fine sea salt in 1 1/2 cups water.
Drain the rice and set aside.

Then mince the white and tender green parts of 4 slim leeks, and saute them in a skillet with 1 tablespoon of olive oil for about 4 minutes.

Once the pumpkin has cooked, remove the skin and mash it til smooth in a large bowl.

Mix in:
the cooked rice
the sauteed leeks
2 large eggs
3/4 cup (6 oz) Parmesan cheese
salt and pepper to taste

(I forgot to take a photo of the mixture all together, but here is the pumpkin; you'll see the filling below as it is assembled with the pasta.)

Roll the pasta dough out into long sheets.

Spoon 20 walnut-sized scoops of filling along the bottom half of each pasta sheet, then fold the top half over to cover the mounds.

Press the edges together around each mound, then cut into ravioli shapes:

Heat 6 cups of peanut oil to 325-350 degrees F.

Fry the ravioli, about 6 at a time, until golden.

Transfer to paper towels to drain, and salt immediately with a high quality sea salt.

Serve hot as an appetizer.


Pumpkin and Basil Lasagne

Tis the season for pumpkin! Here's the recipe for the delicious seasonal lasagna that we made tonight...
1.5 lbs pumpkin
2 Tbsp olive oil
16 oz ricotta cheese
1/3 cup toasted pine nuts
3/4 cup fresh basil leaves
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 oz Parmesan, grated
4 oz fresh lasagna sheets
6 oz grated mozzarella cheese

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Lightly grease a baking sheet. Cut the pumpkin into thin slices and arrange in a single layer on the tray. Brush with oil and cook for 1 hour, or until softened, turning halfway through cooking.

Place the ricotta, pine nuts, basil, garlic, and Parmesan in a bowl and mix with wooden spoon.

Brush a square 8 inch ovenproof dish with oil. Cook the pasta according to the packet instructions. Arrange one third of the pasta sheets over the base of the dish and spread with the ricotta mixture. Top with half of the remaining lasagna sheets.

Arrange the pumpkin evenly over the pasta wtih as few gaps as possible. Season with salt and cracked black pepper and top with the final layer of mozzarella.

Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the cheese is golden. Leave for 10 minutes, then cut into squares.