January 13, 2010

Pumpkin Rosemary White Bean Soup

There's something about buying groceries to The Clash's "Clampdown" that makes me love my local grocery store. The employees often play their music at a subtle volume that shows they know that perhaps not everyone would enjoy it... And maybe the other shoppers are quietly seething. But in any case, it makes my day. That, and the beautiful pumpkin I brought home with me.

Squashes often end up sitting on my counter, forgotten, until their last breath almost escapes and I rush to find something to do with them. But not this time! This pumpkin was so beautiful I dreamt of what I would use it for on the way home from the store. And as we've been serving a vegan squash soup at the restaurant lately, I thought I'd do my own take on a classic.

Don't get me wrong; I love creamy, buttery, rich squash soups. But as a health-conscious cook, I decided to find that same creaminess from another ingredient: white beans. I wanted this soup to be hearty; nutritionally balanced; and frankly, I didn't want to make anything else for dinner. So white beans fit the bill; adding protein, flavour, and substance.

Oh yeah, and, as with most soups, the flavours of this one develop as it sits in the fridge - so don't be afraid to make it in advance.

Pumpkin Rosemary White Bean Soup
serves 6

1 small pumpkin
3 small-medium apples
extra-virgin olive oil
dried rosemary
salt and pepper

1 T extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion (diced)
3 medium cloves of garlic (minced)
scant 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
4 cups vegetable broth
2 cups well-cooked white beans (canned is fine)
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1 1/2 tsp dried rosemary
generous pinch of cloves
salt and pepper (to taste)

Preheat oven to 375°.
Cut the pumpkin in half, scoop out the stringy bits and reserve the seeds. Place the pumpkin flesh-side up on a baking sheet. Generously rub extra-virgin olive oil on the inside of the pumpkin. Sprinkle generously with salt, pepper, and dried rosemary. Turn the pumpkin over so the hard skin is facing up. Halve and core the three apples and rub a small amount of olive oil on them. Sprinkle a generous pinch of nutmeg and salt over them. Turn them peel up on the same baking sheet. Roast until the apples are tender - approximately 10-15 minutes. Remove the apples from the baking sheet and set aside. Continue roasting the pumpkin until tender (time varies according to the size of the pumpkin, but aim for approximately 40 minutes to an hour).

While the pumpkin is roasting, dice the onion and mince the garlic. Once the roasted apple is cool, chop it into manageable chunks. Heat the tbsp of extra-virgin olive oil over medium heat in a large pot. Sauté the onion, stirring occasionally, for around 10 minutes, or until translucent. Add the garlic and continue to cook for around 30 seconds. Now add the nutmeg, rosemary, cloves, and a 1/2 tsp of salt (salting the onions early leads to a more complex flavour). Deglaze the pot with the balsamic vinegar, stirring to loosen any onion stuck to the bottom of the pot. Now add the vegetable broth, white beans, and apple.

If the pumpkin is done roasting by this point, you'll want to remove the skin with a knife (or your fingers if it peels away easily). Careful - it's hot! You may want to wait until it cools a bit, unless you're impatient like me. Chop the pumpkin into manageable chunks and throw it in the pot. Bring the soup to a boil (it'll be easier to blend smooth while it's hot). Now, blend the soup using a hand blender or in batches with a blender/food processor.

Taste the soup and adjust seasonings; adding salt and pepper to taste. You may wish to thin out the soup a bit with water or vegetable broth. If you want more acidity, add a touch more balsamic vinegar.

I garnished this soup with spiced pumpkin seeds (Recipe to follow soon!), but you could even just toast the reserved pumpkin seeds (without the stringy pulp) with oil and salt for 8 or so minutes in a 350° oven.