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Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Pumpkin Soups - Compare and Choose

Spiced pumpkin soup with bacon- Nigel Slater

a medium onion
50g butter
2 plump cloves of garlic
900g pumpkin
1 tbsp coriander seeds
2 tsps cumin seed
2 small dried chillies
1 litre chicken or vegetable stock
4 rashers smoked bacon
up to 100ml single cream

Peel and roughly chop the onion. Melt the butter in a large, heavy-based saucepan and cook the onion and the garlic, peeled and sliced, until soft and translucent. Meanwhile, peel the pumpkin, remove the stringy bits and seeds and discard them with the peel. There should be about 650g of orangey flesh. Chop into rough cubes and add to the onions. Cook until the pumpkin is golden brown at the edges.

Toast the coriander seeds and cumin in a small pan over a low heat until they start to smell warm and nutty (about 2 minutes). Keep the pan to one side for later. Grind the roasted spices. Add them and the chillies to the onions and pumpkin. Cook for a minute or so then add the stock. Leave to simmer for 20 minutes or until the pumpkin is tender.

Fry the bacon in the pan in which you toasted the spices. It should be crisp. Cool it a little, then cut it into small pieces with scissors. Whizz the soup in a blender or a food processor till smooth. Pour in the cream and taste for seasoning, adding the salt and pepper as necessary. Return to the pan, bring almost to the boil, then serve piping hot, with the bacon bits scattered on top. Serves 4, generously.

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Butternut Squash soup with Bacon and Thyme Bake and Shake

1 large peeled, seeded/de-stringed and cubed butternut squash (equal to a little over five heaping cups -- you could substitute pumpkin)
4 strips of bacon
1 small yellow onion, diced
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and smashed
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
16 ounces of chicken stock, either homemade or your favorite brand
1 bottle of hard cider (or 1 1/4 cups apple juice, or more stock)
1/2 teaspoon dried sage
1/2 heaping teaspoon kosher salt (less, depending on how salty your bacon is)
1/2 teaspoon cracked black pepper
4-5 sprigs of fresh thyme
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Juice from half of a lemon
1/3 cup heavy whipping cream

In a large, heavy-bottomed pot, saute the bacon until fat has rendered and meat has crisped. Set bacon aside, and drain off all of the liquid fat. Add back 1-2 teaspoons.

Add the onions, garlic cloves and thyme, cracked black pepper, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, red pepper flakes and sage -- saute until onions are soft, then add the cider to de-glaze the pan. Scrape up all the brown sticky bits from the bottom of the pot, and simmer for three or four minutes. Dump in the squash, add the chicken stock and simmer over medium until squash is fork-tender and liquids have reduced by a bit. Turn heat to low, and add the remaining 1/2 teaspoon of salt, cinnamon and nutmeg, stirring and tasting -- add salt (by the shake) if you feel it needs a little more.

Now, if you have a hand blender, just whizz everything up in the pot. If you don't, puree in batches in your food processor, blender or food-mill. Depending on how chunky you like your soup, use your best judgment when it comes to texture and time. I like a velvety puree, which is further enhanced when you (and post-puree, now is the time to do it) add the lemon juice (stir well), and cream. Stir, heat on low if needed, and pour into bowls. Garnish with crisped bacon, a little heavy cream or creme fraiche, thyme or some Parmesan and fried crispy sage leaves if you like.

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