Even though I've had this Pumpkin Pancetta Soup on my Thanksgiving menu for weeks, and I'm only just getting to it now in the midst of the Great Pumpkin Shortage panic of 2009, I remain undaunted thanks to my tablescape. Oh, that's right, folks, I said tablescape.
Sometime back in October, on one of those gleaming fall Sundays when I was wandering aimlessly through a farmers market, getting suckered into buying every seasonal ingredient just because of the way the sun was bouncing off an autumn leaf or something, I picked up a few sugar pie pumpkins. The quaint little ones with the precious name that turn you into a domestic goddess or god just by setting them on the table as holiday décor.
They've been there ever since, looking adorable, until this morning when I drove my chef's knife right through the core to split them apart and send them to the roaster.
It's true that if I were making a sweet pie, I'd duke in out in the grocery store, à la the Cabbage Patch Kid craze of the 1980s, for the last can of purée. Since that pie filling gets all sorts of spices and sugars, I'm less concerned with the integrity of the pumpkin flavor coming through and thrilled to crack open a can of an already-cooked and smooshed version. In the case of this soup, though, it's all about the pumpkin itself, and I find that roasting the squash from scratch brings out the most flavor.
The meat in this Meat Lite recipe comes in the form of crispy pancetta and stock. The pancetta (cured salty bacon, sans the smoked flavor we're used to stateside), which adorns the soup when it's ladled into bowls or cups, is a perfect flavor and texture contrast for the sweet smooth backdrop. I prefer good chicken or turkey stock here, but vegetable stock will work deliciously, too.
Those little sugar pie pumpkins look just as pretty in a bowl on the table as the star of this soup as they did on their tablescape runway last month. And I emerge from the supermarket unscathed.
Pumpkin Pancetta Soup
- serves 4-8 (appetizer or entrée size servings) -
- 6 ounces thinly sliced pancetta
- Two 2 1/2 to 3 pound sugar pie pumpkins
- 1 large sweet onion, peeled and cut into large chunks
- 4 cloves garlic, peeled
- 8 sage leaves
- 1 cup water
- Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 quart stock (chicken, turkey or vegetable)
- 1 tablespoon cider vinegar
- 1 cup whole milk
- Sour cream or crème fraiche, optional
Preheat the oven to 375° F. Lay the pancetta in one layer on the bottom of a large roasting pan. Transfer the pancetta to the oven and bake until crispy, about 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside. Reserve the roasting pan.
Cut the pumpkins in half and scrape out the seeds and fibers. Spread the seeds on a baking sheet covered with a silicone mat or parchment paper, and discard the fibers. Arrange the four pumpkin halves in the large roasting pan. Add the onion chunks in the spaces between the pumpkin and inside the pumpkin core. Put the garlic cloves and sage leaves inside each pumpkin core. Pour the water into the pan around the pumpkins. Season the pumpkins liberally with salt and pepper. Cover the pan tightly with the roasting pan lid or foil and transfer to the oven. Roast for 1 hour and 15 minutes, or until the pumpkin and onions are very tender.
While the pumpkin cooks, add the seeds to another rack in the oven and roast them for 15-20 minutes or until they are crisp and just starting to brown. Set them aside to cool completely.
Once the vegetables are tender, let them cool slightly. Scrape the pumpkin pulp away from its shell and add it to a food processor. Process until very smooth. Scrape the puree into a large pot or Dutch oven. Put the onions, garlic, 2 of the sage leaves, and any liquid from the roasting pan in the processor next and process until very smooth. Add the onion purée to the pot with the pumpkin purée, or push it through a mesh strainer into the pumpkin. This is optional, but straining the onion puree makes for an ultra-smooth soup.
Add the stock and the cider vinegar to the purée in the pot and simmer for about 30 minutes. Reduce the heat and add the milk. Simmer an additional 10 minutes (do not boil) and then add salt and pepper to taste.
While the soup simmers, re-crisp the pancetta in a hot oven or a convection toaster for about 5 minutes.
Ladle the soup into mugs or bowls, top with pancetta (whole or crumbled) and a sprinkling of the toasted seeds. Add a dollop of sour cream or crème fraiche if you like.