I went to a lunch recently for a friend who was having one of those milestone birthdays that need to be celebrated. There was lots of delicious food there, but the birthday girl herself had made a pumpkin soup that created a stir. It was smooth and hearty, with just a bit of heat. I loved that kick, and wanted to recreate it at home.
But then I pictured three pairs of young eyes looking at me, wondering what I was trying to do by them making a soup that made those precious eyes water. Maybe a spicy soup wouldn't do.
Or maybe it would. I like the challenge of finding a way to create one meal that the entire family can eat without sacrificing the flavor that we adults love. I thought about making two separate batches, but that requires getting two pots dirty, and that is not appealing. Instead, I decided it would be better to add the spice at the table. That way those of us who find spice to be the spice of life could have our way without smoking out the younger ones. So I made a chili oil to drizzle into the soup as we served it.
Chili oil and prepping for the soup.
Somewhere along the way, I determined that the soup would benefit from a pinch of saffron, which has a warm flavor I thought would complement the chili. The result was delicious. Olivia, Gabe, and I all drizzled on the chili oil, although in varying amounts. The other two got theirs straight up, and both liked it. Phew.
This soup would be perfect for any party where guests might have different tolerances for spiciness, such as a dinner party or Thanksgiving dinner.
Pumpkin Soup with a(n Optional) Kick
25 minutes preparation time
About 1 hour 15 minutes cooking time
The chili oil will vary in heat according to the spiciness of the red pepper flakes that you use so it will be hard to predict how spicy the resulting oil will be. If you have left over chili oil, it will keep in the refrigerator for several months.
For the chili oil:
1/2 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
For the soup:
1 small pumpkin, peeled, seeded and cubed (about 6 cups)*
2 tablespoons olive oil
pinch of red pepper flakes
1 medium onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
3 medium carrots, chopped
1 pinch saffron
2 medium potatoes, peeled and diced
1 teaspoon salt
2 small tomatoes, chopped (about 1 cup)
First make the chili oil. Heat the oil and red pepper flakes in a small saucepan over low heat. Gently simmer for about five minutes to infuse the chili flavor into the oil. Set aside to cool. Pour into a small bowl or bottle.
Next make the soup. Heat the olive oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add the red pepper flakes, onion, and garlic. Sauté until the onion softens, about 7 minutes. Add the celery and carrot and cook until they too begin to soften, about 5 minutes. Add the saffron, potatoes, and pumpkin and stir to combine. Cover the vegetables with water (I used about 8 cups) and bring the soup to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer uncovered until the potatoes and pumpkin are soft, about 45 minutes. Add the tomatoes and simmer for a few more minutes.
With a potato masher or the back of a wooden spoon, mash some of the vegetables to thicken the soup. Serve hot with a drizzle of chili oil for those who would like it.
* I used a small pumpkin, and peeling and cubing it wasn't too difficult. The pictures tell the story, but here -- in words -- is my process. First I cut off the top and bottom of the pumpkin to get it to sit flat. Then I cut the pumpkin in half from top to bottom and scooped out the seeds. I then peeled each half with a potato peeler. To slice the pumpkin, I lay each half cut side down, sliced across into strips, and then the other way to get cubes.