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Meat Lite: Pumpkin Pancetta Soup

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.

About the author: Tara Mataraza Desmond writes about, cooks, and eats food for a living. She blogs about food and life through words and pictures at Crumbs On My Keyboard.

Pumpkin Pancetta Soup

- serves 4-8 (appetizer or entrée size servings) -

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