I must admit that Sukkot is one of my favorites out of all the year's festivals. Sukkot is about harvest, and to any seasoned cook that means full-flavored foods in abundance ' and a chance to create feasts that can only happen in this poignant season between the end of glorious summer and the beginning of long winter.
My favorite way to make sure that a meal in the sukkah is wonderfully warming, full of autumn flavor, and ready to be eaten before the evening rains start dripping through the leafy roof is to center the feast on an incomparable soup. The ingredients can reflect the season's plethora of ripe and luscious vegetables and the meal can be completed with just some great bread and perhaps a warm cobbler for dessert.
Here are a couple of very hearty soups that can be made ahead and reheated for dinner, just before the final garnishes go on.
The first is a rich pumpkin soup served in a pumpkin shell for fun and extra flavor. The other is a thick corn chowder, made with autumn kale for extra nutrition (beta carotene and vitamin C), topped with a walnut-breadcrumb topping called 'gremolata.'
Pumpkin Soup in a Pumpkin
One large pumpkin, about 8 to 10 lbs.
2 sugar (cooking) pumpkins, about 3 lbs. each
2 onions, cut in half lengthwise and sliced crosswise into thin half-rounds
3 Tbs. butter or margarine
8 cups chicken or vegetable stock or bouillion
2 cups milk (or substitute for parve)
1 Tbs. salt, divided
2 tsp. allspice
1 tsp. nutmeg (or to taste)
2 tsp. powdered ginger
1/2 tsp. white pepper
1/2 cup honey, or to taste
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Juice of 1/2 orange
1 cup heavy cream or light sour cream (or substitute for parve)
1/2 cup pumpkin seeds, toasted (also called pepitas ' available in bulk at PCC, Central Market or Whole Foods)
Select a large pumpkin that will stand up straight on its own without rolling and with a short but graspable stem. Preheat the oven to 350˚ and remove all the racks except the lowest one to fit the whole pumpkin. Place the pumpkin upright on a lightly oiled baking tray and bake for about 30'40 minutes or until the flesh of the shoulder of the pumpkin, when pressed with a finger, leaves a slight impression. It's important not to overbake the 'tureen' pumpkin; it will continue to cook after it leaves the oven. Remove and let cool on the baking sheet.
Cut the two smaller pumpkins in half and scoop out the seeds. Place them cut side down on an oiled baking tray, cover with foil and bake in the 350˚ oven for 45 minutes'1 hour; they should be very tender when pierced with a knife. Remove and let cool.
Meanwhile, saut' the onions in butter until wilted, sprinkle with salt, turn the heat to low and let cook for about 45 minutes, stirring occasionally, until they are a golden caramel color. When the pumpkins are cool, scoop out the flesh into a large soup pot and add the onions, stock or bouillon, salt and all the spices. Bring to a boil, turn the heat down and let simmer for 20 minutes. Turn off the heat and add the milk, honey and citrus juices.
Using a blender (not a food processor), puree the soup in batches and pour into another pot as each batch is finished. Add more spice, honey, milk or cream or lemon juice to suit your taste. Keep the soup at a low simmer until putting into the pumpkin tureen. You may refrigerate (or freeze) for a week if you're not going to serve the soup immediately.
Put the pumpkin seeds on a baking tray (no oil) and toast till they begin to pop. Take out and reserve for garnish.
To make the pumpkin tureen, first you must make a 'lid.' About 1/4 of the way down from the stem, cut straight around the pumpkin using a sharp serrated knife. Before removing the top, make vertical marks with a pen or pencil in one or two places on both lid and tureen to correctly line up the top after you've taken it off. Then remove the lid and scoop all the seeds and loose flesh out of the pumpkin, leaving the walls intact. Make sure it's left relatively smooth and free of strings.
To serve, put the pumpkin tureen onto a platter, ladle the soup into the pumpkin and put on the lid. Bring to the table and let everyone serve themselves from the pumpkin, garnishing their bowls with cream or sour cream (or substitute) and toasted pumpkin seeds.
Yield: 6 to 8 large servings
Corn Chowder with Walnut Gremolata
4 ears fresh corn, shucked, kernels cut from cob
1 1/4-lb. new red or Yukon gold potatoes, scrubbed and cut into 1/2-inch dice
2 leeks, 3 inches of green cut off, cut in half lengthwise and rinsed very well under cold running water
1 medium onion, diced small
2 small stalks celery, cut in 1/2-inch dice
1 large red pepper, seeded and membranes removed, cut in 1/2-inch dice
4 Tbs. butter or margarine
6 Tbs. flour
4 cups vegetable stock or bouillon
4 to 5 cups milk (or part half-and-half)
1 tsp. nutmeg
1 Tbs. salt
A pinch cayenne
2 Tbs. chopped fresh sage or rosemary leaves
5 large leaves green kale, stems removed, chopped into 1 inch pieces
In a large soup pot, melt the butter over medium heat and saut' the leeks, onions and celery. When the onions are wilted, add the red pepper and saut' about 5 minutes longer. Stir in the flour with a wooden spoon and cook, stirring constantly, for about 5 more minutes or until the flour has coated all the vegetables and is bubbling on the bottom of the pot.
Mix together vegetable stock and milk, and heat gently in another pot over medium heat; do not boil. With a whisk, beat the liquids into the vegetables in the large pot, beating constantly. Stir energetically until there are no lumps and the liquid begins to simmer and thicken.
Add the potatoes to the chowder and cook, simmering, for 15 minutes or until the potatoes are tender. Add the corn kernels and cook five minutes longer. Add the seasonings and herbs and simmer for about 15 minutes.
Using a blender, puree 1/3 of the chowder till smooth and thick and pour back into the remainder of the chowder in the pot.
[NOTE: Be sure not to fill the blender jar more than half full when blending hot liquids, and leave the center opening in the lid open and covered loosely with a towel ' if too full of hot liquid, the action of the blender may cause the contents to explode out of the top and all over you and the walls! Start the blender slowly, too. It helps 'calm' the initial burst of blending that may send the soup flying.]
Now add the kale to the chowder, cook over medium heat for 10 minutes, taste and correct the seasonings, and voila! Creamy corn chowder with kale.
Pour into bowls and garnish
with walnut gremolata'
1-1/2 cups dry breadcrumbs
3 Tbs. olive oil
1 cup roasted, chopped walnuts
(bake at 350˚ for 7 min, then chop fine)
1 Tbs. grated lemon or orange rind
1 tsp. salt
1/4 cup chopped parsley
In a dry pan, toast the breadcrumbs over medium heat, stirring often, till golden brown. Stir in the olive oil, walnuts, citrus rind, salt and parsley. Cook, stirring, for 2 or 3 minutes more to blend the flavors. Cool and store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 2 weeks. Re-heat to serve. May also be used on pasta, salads and vegetables.
Yield: 8 servings