Monday, December 10, 2007

Yummy Soups Part I: Thanksgiving and Pumpkin Soup

Thanksgiving. Such a low-key holiday.

Actually for us it often is a quite pleasant cooking experience, as we get once more to invade a friend's kitchen, cook up a firestorm, and then depart leaving them with the dishwasher full as we return to a pristine and um... mostly clean apartment.

This year we returned to the home of our lovely Pajama Queen and Mr. Tarte Tatin. Oddly enough, while there was much good eating, there were no pajamas and no tarte tatin... We did however take another step towards sussing out the secrets of the magical pumpkin soup we had at Cibreo.

I love cooking with the Pajama Queen's stuff -- she leaves her Le Creuset out on the stove... temptingly... just asking for me to make some stock for the gravy...

As usual we began the festivities early, the better to eat all afternoon...

Mon Oncle Sumi, who works at the highly recommended (by us, at least) Ma Tante Sumi in the Castro, brought along the makin's for one of their signature appetizers, fresh cubes of tuna, a dollop of guacamole, atop a crisp wonton style chip. Absolutely addictive. At Sumi, you get about six of the chips. At Chez Pajama Queen, we ate about twelve each.

Terribly indulgent.

Course it wouldn't be right if there weren't cheese, and Ms. art Attack went on an ALL OUT cheese buying frenzy arriving at the door with
Brinata il Forteto, Manchego, Gruyere, Millefoglie al Marcemino & P’tit Basque. Is that the order in the picture, going clockwise from the olives? Dunno -- we were so busy eating, no one paid any attention at all. I think that's right, sounds right...

Yeah. Anyway. Slice me some more cheese.

My Omnivore obliges by using my favorite cheesy tool of all time, the girolle, to make me wonderful fluffy, cheesy beautiful bouquets of Tete de Moine.

Check out the wrist action going on there.

And the finished product. It could practically be bridal spray. Hmmm... there's an idea...

Seriously, I know many of you might ask, is it really necessary to have a girolle in order to enjoy the Tete de Moine? My answer is yes. Oh, you could slice the Tete de Moine and chew on thick heavy pieces and it would be tasty. But with a girolle, you get beautiful airy, light folds of cheese that just about melt on our tongue.


But, back to our dinner. The menu:

A "Do we have enough food?" Thanksgiving

Olives & Herbed Almonds
Mushroom Gougeres
Curls of Tete de Moine, Manchego, P’tit Basque,
Gruyere, Millefoglie, Marcemino & Brinata il Forteto


Kabocha Squash Soup with Crushed Amaretti


Brined Turkey with a Rich Gravy
Pan Seared Halibut with Zinfandel Sauce
Walnut & Plain Rolls from Bay Breads
Fig & Walnut Dressing a la Joannie
Cranberry Relish
“Oh, Mother of God” Cranberry Jalapeno Sauce
Heathered Yams
Caramelized Chestnuts & Brussel Sprouts
Autumn Root Vegetable Thingy


Apple Pie & Pumpkin Pie
Brownie Fudge Torte Cheesecake
Pecan Tart
Ginger Ice Cream & Pear Caramel Ice Cream

Did I mention there was dessert? Holey moley, such good pies and tarts and cheesecake.

And yes, those ice creams come thanks to David Lebovitz's excellent A Perfect Scoop.

So Cibreo's Passato di Zucca has inspired a sort of philosophical pondering. What, really, is a zucca? Is a pumpkin just a pumpkin? What gives it pumpkin-ness?

When we had the Cibreo version, it was like all other pumpkin soups had been blown off the map, it was that good. I found a recipe for a similar bell pepper soup from Cibreo at Divina Cucina, and intrigued, we decided to experiment.

Although our first attempt was tasty, it wasn't at all what we'd had at Cibreo. Plus, we thought perhaps chef Fabio Picchi had garnished it with cinnamon sugar, which was not quite right.
We also used a sugar pie pumpkin, and frankly, the distinctive flavors just weren't there. But then what kind of pumpkins does one get in Italy? Are they really like ours? If the diversity of the tomatoes and other produce is anything to go by, there's some form of fancy pumpkin that they grow in Italy and that we don't see around here. Or do we?

After doing some research, we theorized that perhaps the "zucca" might actually be more like a kabocha squash. So accordingly, for Thanksgiving, we made a version with kabocha. Again, tasty, silky and hearty, but not the right flavor.

We'll keep trying, but if anyone has any clues, any insights into the pumpkin varieties of Italy--please, leave me a comment below!

Pumpkin Soup

1 medium (size of a small person's head) pumpkin? kabocha? something.

3 medium Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled, cut into large pieces
1 red onion, diced fine
1 medium carrot, diced fine
1 stalk celery, diced fine
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
4 cups vegetable broth
1 cup milk (optional)
1 bay leaf
Olive oil (for garnish)
4 tablespoons crushed amaretti cookies

In a medium pot, sauté the onion, carrot and celery slowly in olive oil until the vegetables begin to turn golden.

Cut open and peel the pumpkin, remove any seeds and any strings on the inside. Cut it into large chunks and place in the pot to cook with the potatoes. Add the broth, and if necessary, water to cover. Cook for 45 minutes.

Using an immersion blender or a food mill, puree the soup. If it seems too thick, add 1 cup milk. Heat the soup with a bay leaf, but do not let it boil.

Remove the bay leaf before serving. Ladle into bowls and garnish each with a trail of crushed amarettis and a drizzle of olive oil.

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