Excited to dig into round two of the Dark Days challenge, I again scoured my fridge and pantry for ingredients. I had seen a recipe a few weeks ago for an apple and butternut squash soup on the blog Running with Tweezers, and was intrigued by the combination. I had a 10lb cheese pumpkin from the farmer’s market that had been sitting outside since Halloween, and needed to get used soon. I had also purchased a 20lb box of tart-sweet pippin apples from Mariquita Farm, a lovely organic farm about 85 miles south of me in Watsonville. They have a great program where they offer mixed “Mystery Boxes” for $25, and also offer single-item boxes like apples for very good prices. They drop off once or twice a month at a restaurant near me, and I love being able to decide when I want things and order them, vs. the regular deliveries of a CSA.
I decided to start with cooked pumpkin, as I hate peeling raw squash, and I knew I would need to cook the whole thing anyway. I cut the cheese pumpkin in half, seeded it, and coated the cut sides with a little bit of local olive oil. I put the cut sides down on a baking sheet, and baked at 400° for 2 hours. The inside was soft, and much of the juice had collected in the pan. Then all I had to do was scoop out the interior and discard the peel.
You wont need all of the pumpkin for the soup–I just used three cups. There is no need to puree the pulp for the soup, as you’ll be blending it when it’s done. I love having local pumpkin around for pies and other delicious seasonal desserts, but find that the fresh pumpkin is far too moist to be used directly in those recipes calling for canned pumpkin. Instead, I puree the cooked squash in the food processor, then strain it and squeeze as much water out as possible. Below, you can see the rest of the pumpkin sitting to strain. I let it sit for a while, then lift up the edges of the cloth and wring it out. Typically, the pumpkin reduces by about half with a good squeezing, and then is the right consistency for typical pumpkin recipes.
One of my favorite tools in the kitchen is a set of straining cloths (called “All-Strain cloths”, pictured above) I purchased from the chef Michael Ruhlman. He has a shop on the website Open Sky where he sells kitchen implements that he and local Cleveland craftsman have made. Open Sky is an amazing site where many chefs and other prominent folks sell items they personally use and endorse at a competitive prices. It’s one of those sites where you have to join to see prices and buy, but it’s really worth it–I’ve gotten many things from chefs like Tom Colicchio and Dorie Greenspan. If you are interested, you can follow this link for $10 off your first purchase. All-Strain cloths are $22 for 3, so only $12 with the discount. They are heavy-duty, and I use them for everything from straining stocks to draining fresh goat cheese. (I do get a little referral bonus if you follow my link to Open Sky and end up purchasing, but I wouldn’t share it if I didn’t really buy a ton of kitchen things from them!)
As I worked to come up with my own recipe variation, I came across these lovely oven-roasted tomatoes in the fridge. I visited Mariquita Farm for a tomato u-pick with my local Slow Food chapter back in September, and roasted about 10 lbs of San Marzano tomatoes in my oven. These are not exactly like sun dried tomatoes–more tender and juicy–but store really well in olive oil in the fridge. I decided they would be a great addition to the flavor profile. You could definitely use olive-oil packed sun dried tomatoes to equal effect.
I rounded it out with more stored onions and garlic, chicken stock that I pressure canned, and some butter and sour cream from the local Straus Creamery, just 60 miles from me in Marin County. I used Bragg’s cider vinegar (though I am making my first round of cider vinegar with apple peels and cores at the moment–more on that soon) to bring up the acidity. I felt like it needed something else, and I’m kind-of in love with smoked paprika right now, so I added some at the end. The 1/2 tsp is not enough to be really strong, but it brightens the flavor and gives a mild smoky aftertaste that I found lovely. You could add regular paprika, or even red pepper flakes as well, though the flavor wouldn’t be quite the same.
I like my soup to be really thick–you can see above the consistency at which I finished the cooking, before I pureed with an immersion blender. The flavors of the tomato, apple and pumpkin really blend well–none is super prominent. The smokiness of the paprika and the tanginess of the sour cream really take this over the top for me!
Pumpkin – Apple – Tomato Soup (about 4 servings)
1 tbsp butter
1 large onion (chopped)
2 cloves garlic (chopped)
4 small or 3 medium tart apples, diced (I used pippins)
3 cups cooked pumpkin
1/3 cup oven/sun dried tomatoes (in olive oil), plus
4-5 oven/sun dried tomatoes sliced (for garnish)
2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 pint chicken stock
1 pint water (or more, to desired consistency)
1/4 cup sour cream, plus more for garnish
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
2 tsp sea salt (adjust based on other ingredients–my stock was not salted)
pepper to taste
snipped chives or other fresh herbs (for garnish)
Melt the butter in a large saucepan (3 quart or more) and add in the onion and sauté until browned and softened. Then add in the garlic and diced apples. Cook until the apples start to soften, then add in the vinegar, stock, equal amount of water, chopped dried tomatoes, and pumpkin puree. Cook for 10-15 minutes, until apples begin to break down and the mixture is at your desired thickness.
Blend with an immersion blender or transfer to a blender or food processor. Blend until totally smooth. Add in sour cream and blend a bit more, then stir in salt, pepper, and paprika to taste.
To garnish, add a spoonful of sour cream, some diced tomato, and fresh chives. Dig in and enjoy!