- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 2, 2004

When we think traditional Halloween eating, we tend to think candy.

Pumpkins are doorstep material, generally relegated to the decoration category. Seems we don’t start thinking about pumpkins as food until November and December, when pie season sets in.

This Halloween, why not break with tradition? How about making a pumpkin soup right in the pumpkin and fortifying your trick-or-treaters with some beta carotene before they hit the Tootsie Roll circuit?

If your children need relief from ghost stories and goblin images and are having trouble falling asleep, why not tell them some pumpkin history? This will either interest them greatly and expand their food literacy or cause them to conk right out. Either way, great.

Here’s the tale: Pumpkin, along with other squashes (and their cucumber and melon cousins), is native to the Americas and was a staple in the Indians’ diet. It was this vegetable that sustained the first Pilgrims through their initial winters in the 17th century.

Ranging from less than a pound to more than 100 pounds, pumpkins also come in a lovely array of colors, from white and all shades of orange to even blue and aqua.

Nutritionally, pumpkins are brilliant. They are full of fiber and are a rich source of vitamin A. Naturally low in calories, pumpkins contain only a trace amount of sodium and fat and no cholesterol. We cannot say the same for pumpkin pie with whipped cream, but we can definitely point you in the direction of the following soup.

One more thing: Select pumpkins according to how you will use them. You don’t want to buy the same type for a jack-o’-lantern as you would for this soup. Use small, heavy pumpkins, sometimes marketed as pie pumpkins, for soups and pies, and pick lighter-weight varieties (which contain less pulp) for carving.

The recipe that follows is easy and fun. You throw a bunch of simple ingredients into the pumpkin and then bake it in the oven. This wonderfully filling soup makes itself inside the pumpkin, and the entire tureen can be brought to the table as an edible centerpiece.

To serve, just scoop deeply and carefully. Serve with a spinach salad covered with toasted almonds. For dessert, how about raiding the trick-or-treat bag? Most of us do that anyway but just don’t admit it.

Pumpkin tureen

1 (6- or 7-pound) pumpkin, 8 inches in diameter

1 cup finely minced onion

2 slices rye bread, diced

cup grated Gruyere cheese

2 teaspoons prepared horseradish

2 teaspoons Dijon-style mustard

1 cups milk

1 to 2 cups vegetable broth or water (see note)

teaspoon salt (increase to 1 teaspoon if using water instead of broth)

Freshly ground black pepper

Cayenne pepper

Freshly ground nutmeg

Rye croutons, optional (recipe follows)

Cut a lid in the top of the pumpkin and remove the seeds and stringy material, as if you were about to carve a jack-o’-lantern.

Place onion, bread, cheese, horseradish and mustard inside the pumpkin. Mix with your hands until well combined.

Add the milk and as much broth (or water) as will fit, along with salt, black pepper, cayenne and freshly ground nutmeg to taste.

Line pumpkin top with aluminum foil, and tuck the lid snugly in place. Transfer the pumpkin to an ungreased baking pan with sides.

Bake in the center of a preheated 350-degree oven until pumpkin is tender (about 2 hours). To test for tenderness, remove the lid and gently stick a fork into (but not through) the side. It should go in easily.

To serve, scoop deeply to bring up some pumpkin pieces from the sides and bottom, along with the soup, being careful not to make a hole in the side.

If desired, top each serving with a few crunchy rye croutons.

Makes 5 to 6 servings.

Note: For the broth, I recommend Imagine brand. Water will also work.

RYE CROUTONS:

4 thick slices rye bread

2 to 3 tablespoons butter and/or olive oil

Cut bread into 3/4-inch cubes. Place a heavy skillet over medium heat for 30 seconds, then add the butter and/or olive oil. Saute bread cubes for 5 to 8 minutes or until they begin to brown.

Spread cubes on a baking tray and bake in preheated 325-degree oven until crunchy (another 5 to 8 minutes). Remove from oven and serve right away or cool and then store in a tight-lidded jar.

TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES

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