Thursday, November 15, 2012

Spicy Pumpkin Soup with Bacon Croutons

I have been fortunate that the lives of most of my friends and family were not upset by Hurricane Sandy. Even my parents' beach house on a New Jersey barrier island somehow pulled through okay, sitting an extra 20 inches off the ground past the top of the flood water. I do have some friends who went without power for more than a week, like the couple who run a food truck business out of their building in Red Hook. Luckily their commercial kitchen space and apartment above were fine, well as their food truck parked in Gowanus. But their basement flooded to the ceiling, and Evan spent an afternoon helping them clean while they decided what of their belongings could be salvaged and what had to be tossed.

Knowing we had a lamb roast in our freezer, we invited them over for a home cooked meal. There have been so many post-Sandy volunteer opportunities that I haven't taken part in. It's been heartening to see how New Yorkers have stepped up to take care of each other, but honestly, I am not personally a manual labor or talk to strangers kind of person. Cooking a meal for friends, however, I could do.

But this is not about the lamb - this is about the pumpkin soup we served. It feels homey and warming, perfect for this time of year when we are easing into winter, with some hardships along the way. It's a riff off a similar soup from Simply Recipes, scaled back in serving size. I originally left out the sugar, but realized it was a little too bland at the first taste. After adding maple syrup and more salt, it went straight to amazing, especially with a sprinkling of bacon bits and croutons. The hint of sweetness in the soup balances the heat of all the spices. Don't worry about sticking to the spices listed in the ingredients - throw in whatever spices you have in your cabinet that you think might be fun.

My croutons were made from stale multigrain flatbread that resulted from a failed attempt on my part to make a decent loaf of bread. My guests enjoyed their hearty and grainy crunch, but you could use any day old or stale bread. While we were eating, I imagined that fried sage would really put it over the top, and included that as a suggestion below. 

The entirety of the steps below may look daunting, but it actually feels like a piece of cake if you make the bacon and roast pumpkin the day before like I did. Then all you have to do is pull things out of the fridge to combine them in a pot, and prepare the croutons while the soup is simmering.
This time of year, Evolutionary Organics Farm has a wealth of beautifully funny looking squashes and pumpkins at their stand at the Grand Army Greenmarket. This variety is Musquee de Provence, also known as Fairytale, an heirloom pumpkin from France that  packs a lot of flesh and is well flavored for soups and pies. I got six cups of roasted puree out of this beauty, as I work on roasting and hoarding a stash of pureed pumpkin in my freezer to last me through a winter of baking. Really, though, any pumpkin or squash will work in this recipe.
Spicy Pumpkin Soup with Bacon Croutons
1 tbsp bacon fat or olive oil
1 small onion
4 cups vegetable stock 
4 cups pureed roasted pumpkin or squash
1/2 tsp curry
1/2 tsp tumeric 
1/2 tsp cumin 
1/2 tsp coriander 
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper 
1/8 tsp cayenne 
1 tsp salt 
1 cup milk 
1/4 cup maple syrup 
6 strips of bacon (1 strip per serving)
few slices of slightly stale bread
handful of fresh sage (optional)

To roast the pumpkin: 
Preheat the oven to 450. Leaving the skin on the pumpkin, slice it in half. Scoop out the seeds and set them aside (you can roast them into a snack while the pumpkin is cooking). Place each half of pumpkin flesh side down in a large baking dish. Fill the dish with about a half inch of water. Stick it in the oven for about 40-60 minutes, depending on the size. It's done when the skin has softened and the flesh can be easily mashed all the way through with a fork. Remove it from the oven. Once it has cooled off, use a fork to scoop out the roasted pumpkin flesh. If you like, use an immersion blender to puree the somewhat stringy flesh into creamy puree. Freeze extra puree in half or full cup portions for baking.

To prepare the soup:
Warm a medium size pot and coat the bottom with bacon fat (or olive oil). Dice one small onion and sautee until softened. Add the stock, pumpkin, and spices and stir to thoroughly combine. Turn the heat to high and cover until it comes to a boil. Uncover, reduce heat and let it simmer for about 15 minutes.  Turn off the heat and use an immersion blender to puree the soup until smooth (or wait for it too cool and transfer to a food processor or blender). Stir in milk and maple syrup. Add more salt to taste.

To prepare bacon croutons :
Using fresh bacon: Slice slightly stale bread into half inch cubes. Rinse sage leaves and slice roughly in half or thirds. Fry one strip of bacon per serving. Add bread cubes to the pan, and toward the end, add the sage as well, making sure both bread and sage are coated in bacon fat and cooked until slightly crispy. Let it all drain and cool on paper towels before dicing the bacon into bits. 

Using leftover bacon: Chop cold bacon into small bits. On a small tray, toss the bread cubes with a little olive oil and salt and then scatter bacon bits and fresh sage around the cubes. Toast in the toaster oven for about ten minutes.

Ladle soup into a bowl and top with a sprinkling of the bacon-sage crouton mix. Makes about 6 servings.


  1. YUM! Minus the bacon, I will definitely be making this! Thanks for sharing! ♥

  2. coley - yeah! the bacon is nice, but crunchy croutons are good enough. i was even thinking it could be vegan if one used soymilk instead of regular milk.

  3. YUM YUM YUM and I'll take all the bacon I can get;) HAPPY BIRTHDAY lovely Julia! xo