Just when fresh red tomatoes are no longer available and the summer disappears into darkness, an orange alternative arrives in many shapes and sizes. Squash and pumpkin are autumn’s answer to the tomato. I use them in much the same way. The following recipe is for a soup made of pumpkin with carrots and potatoes, turned spicy with the simple addition of garlic and red pepper. This particular kind of preparation is very much Italian and is called a passato because the ingredients are pureed until smooth once cooked. I like to call it orange velvet soup.
- 4 medium-sized red skinned potatoes or about 500 grams
- a wedge of pumpkin weighing 1 kilo or
- a butternut squash of the same weight
- 2-4 carrots with a total weight of 250 grams
- 2 cloves of garlic
- 1 small spicy red pepper
- 6 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
- 6 sprigs of fresh thyme
- Himalayan or sea salt
- 2 liters of water
Choose a large wedge of pumpkin with dark orange flesh, or use a small butternut squash. Wash the pumpkin and cut it open, removing all seeds and stringy bits. If using a squash, cut it first in quarters, following the same instructions for the pumpkin. Peel the skin off the pumpkin with a potato peeler or short-bladed vegetable knife. Slice the pumpkin flesh lengthwise, and then into small cubes. Wash and peel the carrots and potatoes, cutting them into cubes of about the same size as the pumpkin. Peel the garlic and wash the red pepper, removing its seeds. Slice the garlic and red peppers and chop them fine (or grind them into a paste with a pestle and mortar).
Pour the olive oil into the pan large enough to accommodate all the ingredients and place it on medium heat. Sauté the garlic and red pepper, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon until the garlic is pale golden in color. Add the pumpkin, potatoes and carrots. Sprinkle the vegetables with a generous teaspoons of Himalayan (or Celtic sea salt). Tie the thyme sprigs with butchers string and throw it in the pot. Pour the water over the vegetables and allow them to simmer 30 minutes — or until the pumpkin is tender.
Remove the thyme bundle. Puree the vegetables while warm with an immersion blender into a smooth velvety soup. The flavor of the soup will improve considerably if it has had the chance to cool down — so if time allows — leave it on the stove top with the lid on for about an hour before serving. Once the flavors have mingled, taste it for the right balance between sweet and savory and spicy — adding sea salt and some freshly ground pepper if needed. Serve the passato warm in your favorite bowl with the leaves of fresh thyme or some stray leaves of basil from the garden. Drizzle the passato with olive oil and start spooning up this bright orange velvet goodness.
I like to serve pumpkin passato as an appetizer, served in espresso cups. The saucer serves as a perfect small place for a nice piece of bread or some raw Belgian endive leaves.
In the Veneto this soup would be served with just a bit of finely grated Parmiginao or Padana cheese. In southern Italy a grinding of dried red pepper flakes might be added at the table. An interesting flavor addition is made easily by chopping a few anchovy filets mixed with some capers – something which just might be done on the island of Sicily.
This recipe doubles or triples easily and feeds a crowd effortlessly. If there is soup left over, save it for up to four days in the refrigerator, using it as the basis for pasta or risotto.