Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Pumpkin, pear and fennel soup with lemon

Pumpkin, pear and fennel soup with lemon. Photo by Steve Shanahan

First published Canberra Times 25 July 2012.
Having met some friends out for lunch recently, I craved something a little different to the usual menu suspects of wagyu burger, chicken burger, ceaser salad or trio of dips.  Not feeling particularly hungry I ordered the soup of the day, artichoke, parsnip and pumpkin.

While my friends are engrossed in conversation, I’m distracted by the menu choices and see that French toast and bacon with maple syrup has slipped into this menu too. This US style dish has crept into the menu vocabulary of many cafes and I wonder do many people order this?

Back to the soup. The waiter appears with a bowl of, what resembles, a vegetable puree that has split and is slightly dried out on the surface, topped with a drizzle of olive oil.  It didn’t look particularly appetising, but nevertheless I tried it.

The taste was muddy and vegetal but oddly sharp, dominated by the vegetable stock base. When the waiter came to clear the table, he shrugged and said they had sold out earlier of the more popular Thai coconut and pumpkin soup and that this one wasn’t as nice, sorry.

Making interesting soups is mostly just an experimentation of flavours, which is how I stumbled upon my earthy and fruity combo. I usually pick a vegetable and imagine it paired with other fruit, meat or vegetables for my combinations. The great thing with soup is the unintended nutritional perks of vitamins, minerals and fibre, all for just a couple of dollars.

This pumpkin, pear and fennel potage is so easy to make that even someone devoid of any culinary nous could throw it together in less than 20 minutes. Don’t forget to add the squeeze of lemon juice after it is plated. This excites and lifts the flavours of the pumpkin, fennel and pear, leaving a lovely tang in your mouth, lifting it from the mundane to the extraordinary. 

The best way to serve this is with a lemon quarter for each bowl and some crunchy sourdough for dipping and mopping.

1 kg pumpkin, peeled and cut into chunks
4 tbsp olive oil
salt and cracked black pepper
1 Spanish onion, chopped
1 shallot, chopped
1 fennel bulb, trimmed with core removed and sliced
2 celery stalks, trimmed and thinly sliced
1 large garlic clove, sliced
1½ tsp of freshly grated ginger
½ tsp of ground cumin
¼ tsp ground nutmeg
7 cups of vegetable stock or chicken stock
3 ripe pears, peeled, cored and coarsely chopped
3 strips of orange peel, pith removed
2 lemons
creme fraiche or sour cream to serve
toasted pumpkin seeds to serve

Preheat the oven to 180C. Line a baking tray with baking paper.
Place the chopped pumpkin in a large mixing bowl and add 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, salt and pepper and toss to coat.   Place onto the lined baking tray and place in the oven. Roast for about 30 to 40 minutes or until tender when pierced with a knife. Remove from the oven.

Warm 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a casserole pot over low heat and stir in the Spanish onion and shallot. Season lightly with salt and cook for 5 minutes. Add the fennel, celery, garlic and a pinch more salt and cook, stirring often, for another 5 to 10 minutes. Stir in the ginger, cumin, nutmeg and a few grinds of pepper, then add the roasted pumpkin. Pour in the stock, increase the heat, and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat so that the soup simmers gently. Add the pears and orange peel. Partially cover the pot and simmer for about 20 minutes, or until the pears and pumpkin are soft enough to be mashed with the back of a spoon.

Puree the soup, in batches in a blender of a food processor. Taste for salt and pepper. If the soup is too thick for you, stir in a little more stock and reheat.

Ladle the soup into individual bowls and finish with a little lemon juice. Serve with individual lemon wedges. Top with a dollop of sour cream and some roasted pumpkin seeds.

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