The prevalence of New World fruit and vegetables Old World cuisine in is a continual source of wonder to me.
Stop and think for a moment what Italian cooking would be like without tomatoes, Szechuan, Indian or Thai cooking without the various forms of chili peppers, and of course some much of the cooking of Northern Europe would feel empty without the ubiquitous potato. We should add to that list the pumpkin. A member of the squash family, it finds many places in the cuisine of North Africa. From the many slow cooked stews served with couscous to the wonderfully sweet and satisfying pumpkin soup. [For more pumpkin ideas check our our kugel, pie and challah]
As you try to add a bit of Jewish flair to your Thanksgiving celebration, let me urge you to chuck those poor, tired (and perhaps even huddled) matzo balls and whip a bit of this seasonal soup that was a staple of the Sephardic kitchens of Morocco, Libya and Tunisia. This soups appears in several forms in both Joan Nathan and Claudia Roden’s cookbooks and even makes an apprearance in Gourmet’s last collection of recipes published just before the magazine was shuttered.
In this recipe I added butternut squash to the mix, but feel free to experiment with what is in season and tastes good. Some recipes call for chunks of meat- if you go that route, use something tough and fatty that will braise in the soup. Beef chuck, or veal shoulder are both great choices. Stay away from turkey though- except for the legs, it really doesn’t braise well and you should really save that for the entrée.
Sephardic Pumpkin Soup
(yields enough for 4-5 people)
2 lbs fresh pumpkin
1 lb butternut squash
1 qt + 1 cup chicken or vegetable stock
1 small onion
1 bay leaf
Salt and ground black pepper to taste
Sour cream or creme fresh for garnish.
1) Using a vegetable peeler remove the skin from the pumpkin and squash. Cut the open, remove the seeds and string like material. Cut them both up into 3/4 inch cubes.
2) In a large stock pot, cook onions in either a small bit of olive oil or butter until softened. Add stock and bring to a low simmer. Add the bay leaf, some salt (about 1-2 tsb), and a few grinds of black pepper.
3) After a few minutes add the pumpkin and squash and when the liquid starts to show signs of a boil, lower the heat, cover and allow to simmer for at least an hour.
4) When the pumpkin is soft remove about 2/3 of it with a slotted spoon. Using either a ricer, food mill or stick blender mash the pumpkin/squash. Return to the soup and simmer again for another 15-30 min. Add additional salt or pepper at the time.
5) Serve hot, with a garnish of sour cream or creme fresh.