Warm, seasonal and tasty Pumpkin Soup
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.
Time for Dessert
“Just how Jewish is that?” Good question, the answer is not very. After all there weren’t any Jews on the Mayflower. But it is downright American. Pumpkins (along with their fellow squashes not to mention peppers, tomatoes and bison) are native to the Americas. This baked custard has been a holiday classic for decades and since my family has been here for over 100 years, I think we can safely embrace our native culture with the same relish we took on potatoes in Poland (after all, Jews aren’t really from Poland and potatoes aren’t either).
My take on pumpkin pie starts with a good pumpkin. This year I found mine at Perry Farms. I asked about a good pie pumpkin and they suggested a variety called a Sweetie Pie. Now there is perfectly good pumpkin available in cans, but I like the sense of starting from scratch. I also had my still new(ish) grinder and it made the work of pureeing the roasted pumpkin as simple as feeding the chunks down the tube- as opposed to a good half an hour of hand cranking my food mill. My other personal touch is the addition of Bourbon whiskey (Jefferson’s Reserve this year). I like the oaken note it adds to the mix. I don’t use cloves, although it is popular in many pumpkin based recipes I find it too strong.
Of course when I got around to making my pie on a busy Friday afternoon my sense of “from scratch” was at war with my sense of “cook everything before dinner” and that’s when I caved in and bought a frozen crust. While it lacks the charm of personal touch, it saved me an hour of work and prep. It also looks so much better than any crust I have managed to pull off.
Recipe after the break
Ok, let me be honest- this isn’t really Jewish per se. But it is based on my childhood. My parents were New Yorkers, born and bred in the radius of the subway system. Upon attaining parenthood they yearned for the wide open spaces of New Jersey and shortly after my brother’s arrival they had settled into what was called a “farmette” a 14 acre hobby farm where my mother kept a few horses. In order to qualify for the property tax exemption for working farms there had to be some crops or livestock. This led to a few seasons of buying black Angus calves that were fattened over the summer and then sold (one side of beef ended up in our own deep freeze- I can still see the solid wall of butcher paper wrapped meat). Later we switched to pigs and then a few years after that we moved to Wisconsin. There my parents bought an old working farm, 50 acres complete with an old dairy barn, sheds and an orchard.
The orchard proved to be a mixed blessing. There was fruit simply falling of the trees each Fall and with it the imperative to try and save some of it for the winter months. My mother set to canning and freezing with a frenzy. I have strong memories of cranking bushels of apples through our Foley food mill to make apple butter and the blocks of canning paraffin and Ball jars in the kitchen cabinets.
Which leads me to my current project. Last night I reached into the fridge to grab one of the Bartlett pairs I had stashed there so they wouldn’t over-ripen in the recent heat wave we are (still) having. Lo and behold, they were frozen solid- all of them. I quickly realized that upon defrosting I would have pear mush and that if I was going to salvage anything from this purchase decisive action was called for. I grabbed my food mill, my copy of the Joy of Cooking: 75th Anniversary Edition – 2006 and went to work.
Details and photos after the break.