The falling leaves drift by the window
The autumn leaves of red and gold. Nat King Cole
October means so many things to me. It's the beginning of fall, my favorite season. I like to shake off the languid slow pace bred by the hot summer days and welcome the cool, crisp air and sharper colors that the autumn brings. If you live near a big city like New York or Chicago or Paris, in October you thrill to the new sights and sounds and smells in the streets: the chestnuts roasting in the street carts; the vendors scooping up their sweet peanuts; and the crunch of autumn leaves beneath your feet. There's an excitement and energy in the air.
And of course, every baseball fan dreams that their team is still playing in October. I became friends with my husband watching the Yankees win the World Series with Mr. October himself, Reggie Jackson, in 1977, as we drank beers at the Yale Art School bar. Our twin daughters were born in October of 1986, the year the Mets won in dramatic fashion. In fact, October is our family birthday season as we all four are Librans. When the girls were older, it meant apple picking and hay rides to the pumpkin patch to find the perfect pumpkin. At Halloween, it meant waiting for the Great Pumpkin. My favorite costume from childhood was a giant pumpkin. I didn't care how much my brothers teased me.
I would rather sit on a pumpkin and have it all to myself, than be crowded on a velvet cushion. Henry David Thoreau.
And my favorite fall vegetable of all is the pumpkin. You can do so much with a pumpkin: carve it; slice it; bake it; boil it; grill it; steam it; mash it; and smash it! It's become the winning multi-tasker vegetable of all, now that people appreciate it. When I was a kid, you basically had pumpkin in a pie. It was sweetened and spiced and delicious but had very little relationship with the flavor of the original tasty squash itself. Now there are pumpkin pies, pizzas, and polentas; pumpkin beers, breads, and brittles; and pumpkin salads, salsas, and soups. Who would think?
Not to mention the craze for the GIANT PUMPKINS. You cannot go into any store today without seeing a contest for the largest pumpkin or a contest asking you to try to guess the size. The current world record holder is Christy Harp of Jackson Township in Ohio who raised a 1,725 pound Atlantic Giant Pumpkin. There are so many varieties available today. There is an heirloom French pumpkin called a Cinderella Carriage pumpkin that is lobed and looks like Cinderella's coach, and has bright red and orange flesh (Rouge Vif d'Etampes). It makes a wonderful soup, as do all pumpkins.
One of the most delicious pumpkin recipes that I know is this one from our good friend, Michel Nischan, who makes this spicy Pumpkin Soup with Crispy Sage Leaves that is so rich and tasty and does it without a drop of cream. Michel is the champion of everything local and sustainable and has been chosen as one of Huffington Post's Food Game Changers for 2010 for his work: showing busy Americans on a budget that sustainable food isn't just for the rich. If you haven't voted for your choice for the top Food Game Changer, try this soup recipe and read about Michel's work with wholesomewave.org. Thank you, Michel, for this great seasonal recipe from your book: Homegrown Pure and Simple, from Chronicle Books.
Pumpkin Soup with Crispy Sage Leaves
Photo courtesy of Susie Cushner.
I love this smooth, creamy pumpkin soup, made without a drop of cream
One 3-pound pumpkin, or hubbard squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1-inch cubes
2 tablespoons olive oil
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 sweet onion such as Vidalia or Walla Walla, cut into ½ inch thick slices
6 cloves garlic, split lengthwise
¼ cup plus 2 teaspoons grapeseed oil
3 cardamom pods or ½ teaspoon ground cardamom
2 cinnamon sticks
½ small red thai or jalapeno chili, seeded and thinly sliced
4 cups homemade or canned vegetable or chicken stock
1 tablespoon thinly sliced fresh sage leaves, plus 12 large whole leaves
1. Preheat the oven to 350.
2. In a large bowl, toss the pumpkin cubes with the olive oil and a generous amount of salt and pepper. Spread the pumpkin evenly on a rimmed baking sheet and roast for about 25 minutes, or until nearly tender when pricked with a fork.
3. Meanwhile, coat the onion slices and the garlic with the 2 teaspoons grapeseed oil. When the pumpkin is ready, make room on the baking sheet for the onion and garlic, and return the pan to the oven for about 15 minutes longer, or until the pumpkin and onion are tender. Keep an eye on the garlic and turn, if necessary, to keep it from turning dark. Transfer all the vegetables to a large saucepan.
4. Add the cardamom, cinnamon, chili and stock to the saucepan and bring to a simmer over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook, uncovered, for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the pumpkin cubes begin to dissolve in the liquid.
5. Remove the cinnamon sticks and cardamom pods (if used) and discard. Working in batches if necessary, transfer the soup to a blender or food processor and process until smooth.
6. Return the blended soup to the saucepan and stir in the sliced sage leaves. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Cover to keep warm.
7. In a small saucepan or sauté pan, heat the remaining ¼ cup grapeseed oil until very hot (it should be about 350). Add the whole sage leaves and fry for about 1 minute, or until crisp. Using tongs, gently remove them from the oil and drain on paper towels. Sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper.
8. Reheat the soup gently if necessary. It should be piping hot when served. Ladle into 6 warmed soup bowls and garnish with the crispy sage leaves.
Serve at once.
Homegrown: Pure and Simple Copyright © 2005 by Michel Nischan
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