Wine With . . . Pumpkin Soup with Sausage
by Paul Lukacs and Marguerite Thomas
If each season has its symbolic food, pumpkin is surely autumn’s edible mascot. Pumpkin is the color of fall foliage, and its earthy, sinuous character is particularly comforting as temperatures dip lower and days get shorter. Pumpkin is amazingly nutritious, and it’s an impressively versatile food, good in gratins and purees, not to mention its famous role as the star ingredient in an all-American pie. But of all its possible applications, pumpkin soup may be the most satisfying dish on the menu this time of year.
There are, of course, hundreds of variations on the theme: Thai inspired pumpkin soup in a coconut milk base, New England style pumpkin soup seasoned with cinnamon and garnished with crisp apples, Mexican pumpkin and black bean soup, and many more. The possibilities seem limitless. When we decided to celebrate the arrival of fall with pumpkin soup, we wanted to create a dish that would be hearty enough to serve as the main course for a weeknight supper and that also would be wine friendly. The recipe we came up with meets these goals beautifully, but it can be tailored for other uses as well if you wish. Leave out the sausage, for example, and the soup can be served as a simple but elegant first course for Thanksgiving dinner. Adapt it to vegetarian or vegan standards by using water instead of stock, and by leaving out the cream. And while you’re enjoying that soup and the lively conversation going around the table, you might want to raise a glass of wine to toast the spirit of Linus, who said to Lucy in the old Charlie Brown cartoon: “There are three things I have learned never to discuss with people: religion, politics, and the Great Pumpkin.”
You may or may not choose to believe in the Great Pumpkin (who “flies through the air and brings presents to all the children,” according to Linus), but one thing that’s incontestable is the seemingly miraculous number of different kinds of pumpkin available this season. As a trip to any farmers’ market will confirm, there are scores and scores of pumpkins in a range of shades and shapes, from gnarly blue-gray Hubbard to the electrifying tangerine-orange Fairytale pumpkin squash. Almost any one of them works well in this recipe. We’ve used everything from heirloom Delicata to common Butternut, and most recently a swan-necked beige variety known as Neck Pumpkin or Tromboncino (Curcurbita moschata). The one type to avoid is the standard jack-o-lantern pumpkin, a species that has been bred for carving, and whose flesh tends to be stringy, watery and somewhat tasteless. Canned pumpkin is perfectly acceptable if you don’t want to bother with fresh.
Pumpkin Soup with Sausage
1 two to three pound pumpkin
About two tablespoons olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped*
1 stalk celery, peeled and chopped
3 cups chicken stock
1 teaspoon curry powder**
Red pepper flakes to taste
½ cup heavy cream
1 pound Italian sausage, cut in ½ inch slices
2 tablespoons parsley, minced (optional)
*You can skip this step, but for a pristinely smooth and elegant soup, peel the pepper with a vegetable peeler. Alternatively, cut the pepper in half and roast it in a hot oven or toaster oven until the skin is beginning to blacken; let it cool, and then scrape off the skin.
** Use a homemade blend or a good commercial product
Preheat the oven to 350°. Peel the pumpkin, scrape out the seeds (reserve them if you want to use as garnish), and cut the flesh into approximately one inch cubes. Toss them with the olive oil, spread on a baking sheet, and roast for 20-30 minutes, or until somewhat tender. (If you are using a very thick-skinned pumpkin, do not try to peel and cut it; use a skewer of strong knife to poke vents in it, then roast it whole until the skin has softened. When cool enough to handle, peel and seed it, cut the flesh in chunks and add it to the other vegetables). In a large pot or baking dish combine the pumpkin, onion, garlic, red pepper, and celery. Add the chicken stock and stir in the curry powder, salt, and red pepper flakes. Cover the pot and place it in the oven for about 30 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender. The soup may be made up to a day ahead to this point.
Working in batches, transfer the contents to a blender or food processor and puree until very smooth (the mixture should be thick and velvety). Pour the soup into a large pan, stir in the cream, and reheat over low heat, stirring frequently. Meanwhile, place the sausage slices in a skillet (preferably non-stick) and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until they are cooked through and nicely browned. To serve, ladle the soup into bowls and top with sausage. Sprinkle with a garnish of minced parsley and/or toasted pumpkin seeds if desired.
For the garnish: Scrape out the pumpkin seeds, rinse them and remove the connecting fibers; spread them on a small baking sheet, sprinkle with salt, and roast them in a hot oven or toaster oven until they are lightly browned and beginning to pop.
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Save for guessing that bubbly might fit the bill, we had no real preconceptions concerning wines with this dish. We often find that sparkling wine works well with soups (due to its providing an appealing textural contrast), and indeed a rosé sparkler ended up being one of the best matches. Beyond that, though, we were unsure. Was this autumnal soup more a red or a white wine dish? Could it stand up to full-bodied wines? And conversely, would more delicate wines be overwhelmed by it? We tried fourteen different wines with it, and are happy to report that a wide variety of types and styles worked well. Reds? Sure. And whites? Of course. We did, though, have our favorites, and they tended to fall into two broad categories.
First, wines with a secondary earthy character showed especially well. The two reds we are recommending fit this bill, but we suspect that many others would also. Were we to make this dish again, we might well open a Côtes-du-Rhône, a Chianti, or another red with earthy, leathery, even meaty undertones. But second, and particularly for the whites, wines that hinted at residual sweetness also worked well. Pumpkin is itself inherently sweet, and both the Chardonnay and the Torrontés we’re recommending complemented its character. If you wanted to try something else, we’d guess that an Alsatian Gewurztraminer would be a good choice.