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Puree of Roasted Pumpkin Soup with Hazelnut Pesto


by Chef Didi Davis
Serves 4 to 6

Hazelnuts and pumpkin are a wonderful combination. You may use the pesto on the roasted pumpkin as well, if you would like to have pumpkin as a side dish.

If you would like a different garnish for this soup, try sautéed pears and minced fresh ginger, or add sautéed leeks. You may also add a teaspoon or so of curry, sautéed with the onions, if you like, or add a squeeze of lemon or lime juice before serving.

This is a basic puréed and enriched soup technique that you may use with any vegetable imaginable. This soup may be made a day or two ahead of time, or frozen (do not add cream or creme fraiche until the day you are serving).

One 3-pound sugar pumpkin
Vegetable oil
Sea Salt (such as Bay of Fundy Sea Salt or Himalayan Pink Salt)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
1 bay leaf
½ teaspoon dried thyme, or 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
6 cups chicken broth, approximately, preferably homemade
¼ to ½ cup heavy cream
½ cup sour cream or crème fraîche, optional
Freshly ground black pepper (such as Lampung Black Pepper or Long Pepper)

Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Cut pumpkin into quarters and remove the peel and seeds (save seeds for roasting). Cut the quarters into large chunks and place in a bowl. Pour about 2 tablespoons of oil over the pieces, sprinkle with sea salt, and toss to coat the pieces completely with the oil. Arrange the pieces on a baking sheet in one layer and transfer the sheet to the oven. Roast pumpkin until tender, about 40 minutes depending on the size of the chunks. Remove the sheet from the oven and set aside.

Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a 3-quart heavy-bottomed casserole or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onion, season with salt, toss well, and sauté until the onion is soft and translucent, stirring occasionally, 5 to 10 minutes. Add the garlic, roasted pumpkin, bay leaf, thyme, and chicken stock. Bring the soup to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes to blend the flavors.

When the soup is cooked, remove and discard the bay leaf. Purée the soup in batches in a blender or food processor until smooth. Return to the pot and add the heavy cream to taste, sour cream if using, and pepper to taste. Gently reheat without boiling, taste for salt and pepper, adding more if needed, and serve with the pesto.

Hazelnut Pesto
by Chef Didi Davis

Makes 1 to 1 1/2 cups

If hazelnuts are not readily available, use pecans. Pesto keeps for several weeks in the refrigerator or it also freezes well.

3 cups loosely packed basil leaves
2 cloves garlic, quartered
1/3 cup skinned hazelnuts, toasted*
1/2 cup best quality extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese (or 1/4 cup each Parmesan and Romano cheese)
Freshly ground black pepper
Sea salt to taste

Place basil, garlic, and toasted nuts in a blender or food processor and blend to a puree, scraping down the sides of the container a couple of times. Add the oil and blend just to mix. Transfer mixture to a bowl and stir in the cheese, pepper, and salt to taste. Use or refrigerate.

*Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spread the nuts in a cake pan and toast 7-10 minutes, until fragrant. Set aside to cool. If you cannot find skinned hazelnuts, skin them after toasting by transferring to a clean dish towel and rub them together to loosen the skins. Remove nuts and discard skins.

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