Friday, November 1, 2013

RECIPE: Zuppa di Zucca

Pumpkin time!

Yesterday was Halloween, today is All Saints' Day, and we're smack in the middle of pumpkin season. Depending on the kind of pumpkin you may have picked -- possibly literally -- you can use more than just its seeds as a snack. 
Pumpkin soup is a delicious seasonal dish, with a green salad and some crusty multigrain bread for lunch, or for a first course at dinner. The recipe is quite simple. The hardest part is probably peeling and cutting the pumpkin -- you'll need to put a little force into it, as pumpkin flesh is dense, and the outer skin is tough. Once you have the pumpkin cubed, it's pretty straightforward. 

And the dish is so versatile, you can use the basic recipe and tweak it slightly to make a delicious pasta sauce, a puree to go into a risotto, or as a sauce base for protein preparations (Grilled sea bass on pumpkin sauce? Pumpkin seed-crusted chicken with spicy pumpkin sauce? Yes, please!). It's also a great dish for a gorgeous, autumnal presentation. This soup one-ups the clam chowder in a bread bowl: serving pumpkin soup in a pumpkin shell is beautiful, natural, and just makes aesthetic and culinary sense. And finding the adorable serving pumpkins can be half the fun! So follow the recipe below, and with practice, you can modify it to make it your own...and to make pumpkin soup into something other than pumpkin soup. It's a jack (-o-lantern) of all trades!


ZUPPA DI ZUCCA 
(Serves 6-8 people)


3 medium-sized butternut squashes -- or any dense pumpkin variety
2 cloves garlic
8-10 cups vegetable broth
Salt & pepper to taste
Few sprigs of fresh thyme, sage, or basil
Spices to taste: garam masala, or smoked paprika, or curry powder

-Peel the butternut squash, slice in half, scoop out the seeds. 



- Cut into 1.5 to 2-inch dice.

-Place the butternut squash cubes in a large pot and cover with the vegetable stock. Add the garlic and the herbs and a dash of salt, and cover.

- Boil squash until tender but not falling apart, about 30 minutes or so.

- Remove from heat and let cool down a bit. Remove the herb sprigs.


- Alternatively, you could roast the pumpkin cubes in a 375 degree oven, tossed with a glug of olive oil and some salt and pepper. This will make the flavor a bit more concentrated.

- Using an immersion blender, or working in batches with a food processor, puree the squash until smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste, along with other spices if desired. 

- Top with chopped fresh herbs (thyme, basil, sage, or parsley, to taste) and serve. 

*Special touch: I like to drizzle a balsamic vinegar reduction over top, as in the photo above -- it gives some extra pop and a sweet-sour finish to the soup that cuts the rich creaminess of the pumpkin. Very Modenese (Italy)!