Pumpkin (or Winter Squash)

MAKES: 4 servings

TIME: About 1 hour, mostly unattended

I call this pumpkin soup but encourage you to experiment with some of the other members of the hard-skinned squash family (see Squash Winter), especially butternut squash. Any (except the oversized pumpkins used for jack-o-lanterns) will give you incredibly smooth texture when pured, with or without cream. And the variations will take you around the world; because winter squashes are easy to grow and the vines are prolific, this is a soup that’s popular almost everywhere, as you’ll see from the variations.

3 tablespoons butter or neutral oil, like grapeseed or corn

3 pounds sugar pumpkin or any winter squash

(1 medium squash), like acorn, butternut, calabaza, Hubbard, kabocha, or turban, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1- to 2-inch cubes

1 medium onion, roughly chopped

1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage or 1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

5 cups any vegetable stock or water

1 cup cream or half-and-half

01 Put the butter or oil in a deep skillet or medium saucepan over medium-high heat. When the butter is melted or the oil is hot, add the pumpkin and onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion softens, about 5 minutes. Add the herb, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and continue cooking until fragrant, another minute or so. Add the stock and bring to a boil, then lower the heat so the soup bubbles gently. Partially cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until the pumpkin starts to fall apart, about 30 minutes.

02 Use an immersion blender to pure the soup in the pan. Or cool the mixture slightly (hot soup is dangerous), pass it through a food mill or pour it into a blender container, and pure carefully. (The soup may be made ahead to this point, cooled, and refrigerated for up to 2 days. Serve cold or reheat it gently.)

03 Heat the pured soup until almost boiling. Stir in the cream and heat through, but do not boil. Taste, adjust the seasoning, and serve garnished with an extra grinding of black pepper if you like.

Variations

Pumpkin Soup with Chipotle. A little bit of fire: In Step 1, add 1 tablespoon minced garlic to the pumpkin mixture. When the soup is done, gently heat 1/2 cup Smoky and Hot Salsa Roja. After serving, garnish each bowl (or the soup terrine) by putting a dollop of chipotle sauce in the center and swirling it through the soup with a knife.

Indian-Style Pumpkin Soup. Lovely, especially with coconut milk: Omit the sage or rosemary. In Step 1, add 1 tablespoon minced garlic, 1 tablespoon minced peeled fresh ginger, and 1 tablespoon curry powder to the pumpkin mixture. Substitute 1 cup coconut milk or canned for the cream or half-and-half. If you like, garnish with 1/4 cup each of chopped fresh cilantro and chopped scallion.

Rustic Pumpkin Soup. Easier: Use any of the seasoning combinations described in the main recipe or variations. In Step 1, add 1 cup roughly chopped tomato (canned is fine) to the pumpkin mixture. Increase the stock to 6 cups. Don’t bother to pure the soup, and omit the cream or half-and-half.

Bread-and-Water Pumpkin Soup. A super-basic recipe, but still delicious: Pare down the ingredient list so that it includes only the pumpkin, salt and pepper, and 6 cups water. In Step 1, add 6 cloves peeled garlic. After the pumpkin cooks, stir in 4 or 5 slices of crustless stale French or Italian bread. Pure as directed in Step 2 and serve.

Argentinean Pumpkin Soup. Much closer to a whole meal: Along with the pumpkin and onion, add 1 bell pepper, preferably red, stemmed, seeded, and chopped, and 2 or 3 medium waxy potatoes, peeled and cubed. Along with the stock, add 2 or 3 chopped tomatoes (canned are fine) and about a cup of dried apricots. Add more stock or water if necessary if the mixture becomes too thick. Do not pure the soup, but, during the last few minutes of cooking, add a cup of corn kernels, preferably freshly stripped from the cob (or frozen). Cream is optional.