While American cooks were stimulated by the pumpkin's sweet flavor and smooth texture to develop pie fillings, the French found those same characteristics perfect for creamy soups. The lovely orange color and richness of cream of pumpkin soup inspired the French to name it cre me d'or (golden cream).
Because of their delicate taste, pumpkin and winter squash harmonize well with other vegetables and they can be added to many mixed vegetable soups. In Perigord in central France, for example, cooks like to add pieces of pumpkin or winter squash to a soup made from dry white beans, cabbage, carrots, leeks, celery and turnips. Soups that feature pumpkin or winter squash as the main ingredient can be prepared in a short time because they cook quickly and can be easily pure'ed.
For soups, pumpkin is interchangeable with winter squashes, such as hubbard squash, banana squash, acorn squash or butternut squash. Because squash can be purchased in pieces, it is often a more practical alternative to pumpkin, which usually must be bought whole. The color of the soup will vary according to the variety used, but will still be a bright, warming yellow or orange.
Before it can be cooked for soup, pumpkin or winter squash must be peeled. The easiest way to remove the tough skin is first to cut the pumpkin or squash into rather small pieces, then to peel them with a sharp, heavy knife. There are some French cooks who, instead of peeling the pumpkin, bake the soup in and serve it from the pumpkin shell, thus turning it into a soup tureen.
French pumpkin or squash soups are usually enriched with milk, cream, butter or a combination of these. To emphasize the vegetable's natural sweetness, a little sugar is sometimes added. The traditional French garnish is saute'ed croutons, but rice, pasta, green vegetables or even toasted chopped nuts can be used. Some cooks like to accompany pumpkin soups with grated gruye're or swiss cheese. Be sure to add the garnish at the very last moment so it keeps its texture.
Add a touch of French gold to your cold-weather meals with the following soups. SQUASH AND NOODLE SOUP (4 servings)
The pasta acts both as a garnish and as a thickener for this rich-tasting soup. 2 1/2 pounds winter squash, such as banana squash, or pumpkin 1 1/2 cups water 4 teaspoons sugar Salt and pepper 1 1/2 cups milk 1/2 cup thin noodles or vermicelli, broken in 1 1/2- to 2-inch lengths 4 tablespoons butter
Cut the squash or pumpkin in pieces and cut off the peel. Remove any seeds or stringy flesh. Cut the squash or pumpkin flesh in about 1 1/2-inch cubes and rinse them. Put them in a saucepan with the water, sugar, salt and pepper. Cover and bring to a boil. Simmer, turning the pieces over often, about 20 minutes or until tender.
With a slotted spoon, transfer the squash or pumpkin pieces to a food processor or blender and pure'e them until smooth. Return the pure'e to the pan of cooking liquid and bring to a boil. Cook over low heat for 5 minutes, stirring often. Add the milk and bring to a simmer. Cook over low heat, stirring often, 5 more minutes. The soup can be prepared ahead up to this point and kept covered in the refrigeator.
Reheat the soup if necessary. Add the noodles, stir gently and cook over low heat about 7 minutes or until they are just tender; do not overcook them or they will lose their texture. Taste for seasoning. Remove from the heat and add butter, 1 tablespoon at a time. Stir and serve immediately. CREAMY PUMPKIN SOUP WITH SAUTEED GREEN VEGETABLES (4 servings)
Bright green vegetables provide a contrast of color and texture to the smooth soup. 2 pounds fresh pumpkin or winter squash 1 1/2 cups water Salt 1 cup milk White pepper 1 tablespoon butter
FOR GREEN VEGETABLE GARNISH: 2 tablespoons butter White and light green part of 8 scallions, sliced Salt and pepper to taste 2 mild lettuce leaves, cut in thin strips 1/2 cup cooked fresh or defrosted frozen green peas Green part of 1 scallion, sliced
Cut pumpkin or squash in pieces and cut off peel. Remove any seeds or stringy flesh. Cut pumpkin or squash flesh in cubes. Put in a saucepan with water and a pinch of salt. Cover and bring to a boil. Simmer, stirring often, about 20 minutes or until tender.
Pure'e pumpkin flesh in a food processor, blender or food mill. Return pure'e to pan of cooking liquid. Simmer 5 minutes, stirring often. Add milk and bring to a simmer. Cook over low heat, stirring often, 5 minutes. Season to taste with salt and white pepper.
To prepare garnish: Heat 2 tablespoons butter in a frying pan and stir in the white and light green parts of the scallions, salt and pepper. Cover and cook over low heat 3-4 minutes, stirring occasionally, until tender but not browned. Add lettuce, peas and green part of the scallions and cook just until the lettuce wilts and the peas are hot.
Just before serving, remove hot soup from heat and stir in remaining 1 tablespoon butter. Ladle soup into bowls and top each with some of green vegetable mixture.
Alternatively, substitute croutons for the green vegetable garnish. To prepare the croutons: remove crusts from 2 slices firm white bread and cut bread in very small cubes. Heat 1/4 cup oil in a heavy frying pan until very hot. Add bread cubes and fry over medium high heat until golden brown on all sides. Drain on paper towels. Serve in a separate bowl. PUMPKIN, POTATO AND LEEK SOUP (4 servings)
This light, delicate soup is more colorful than its famous cousin, potato and leek soup. 1 pound fresh pumpkin or winter squash White part of 2 leeks 2 medium potatoes 1 1/2 cups water Salt 1 cup milk 1/2 cup whipping cream White pepper Freshly grated nutmeg 1 tablespoon chopped parsley
Cut pumpkin or squash in pieces and cut off peel. Remove any seeds or stringy flesh. Cut pumpkin or squash flesh into cubes. Thoroughly rinse and slice leeks. Peel potatoes and cut them into pieces.
Combine pumpkin, leeks, potatoes, water and a pinch of salt in a saucepan. Cover and bring to a boil. Simmer over low heat about 1/2 hour or until vegetables are very tender.
With a slotted spoon, transfer vegetables to a food processor and add a few tablespoons of their cooking liquid; pure'e them until smooth and return to saucepan containing remaining cooking liquid. If using a blender, pure'e vegetables together with their liquid.
Bring soup to a boil and simmer 5 minutes. Stir in milk and simmer 2 minutes over low heat. Stir in cream and bring to a simmer. Add white pepper and nutmeg and taste for seasoning. Sprinkle each serving with chopped parsley.