I have had a lot of jobs in my lifetime, but the one I remember like it was yesterday, was working as a prep chef in the kitchen of a small café in downtown Santa Barbara. The restaurant at the time was called Arts & Letters Café and it sat behind an art gallery and bookstore. They had just opened when I was hired, so everything felt like trial and error, and I remember working hard. I had the early morning shift of making fresh-from-scratch salad dressings, desserts, and soups, and surprisingly, I can still remember most of the recipes after 27 years. They aren’t written down anywhere, so the ingredients spring to life simply from memory and some experimenting along the way.
The recipe that always comes to mind during this season is an easy Pumpkin Soup, with its hearty squash and leek base, and mixture of Fall spices. It makes me laugh picturing a short skinny teenager preparing soup in industrial size pots, but also grateful to have learned some solid kitchen basics at such a young age. I’ve adjusted the portions and serving size below so that you can enjoy it with your family on a cold day like today — And it’s perfect as a starter for Thanksgiving, too!
1 medium yellow onion
2 medium leeks
3 Tbs. unsalted butter
1 (29 oz.) can Libby’s pure pumpkin (not the pumpkin pie mix)
¼ tsp. cloves
¼ tsp. nutmeg
½ tsp. cinnamon
1 Tbs. ginger
1 tsp. sea salt
1 (32 oz.) carton low-sodium chicken broth or vegetable stock
1 dry bay leaf
2/3 cup half & half or heavy cream
- First, trim the green stems off the tops of the leeks. You will only use the white portions. Peel down the outer skin of each leek and wash the stalk thoroughly, being careful to remove all the dirt.
- Halve each leek lengthwise and then roughly chop into pieces.
- Peel and discard the outer layer of the yellow onion. Halve the onion and then roughly chop into pieces.
- In a large stock pot or Dutch oven, over medium-heat, melt the butter (do not brown).
- Add the chopped leeks and onions to the melted butter and cook for about 5 min or until the vegetables are soft and semi-translucent.
- Add the pumpkin, cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger, and sea salt to the pot. Stir the mixture with a wooden spoon on medium-heat.
- Add the low-sodium chicken broth and the dry bay leaf; Bring to a boil.
- Reduce heat to low and let soup simmer uncovered for 30 minutes.
- Remove soup from heat and allow to cool for about 15 minutes before blending. Remove bay leaf.
- Working in batches, ladle soup into a Cuisinart or blender, adding a little of the cream each time. Puree until smooth and creamy.
- Salt to taste (my family always prefers more salt).
- Serve with a dollop of crème fraiche in the center (optional).
Soup can be made 1-2 days ahead; store in refrigerator and then re-heat on low to medium (do not boil, or it will break the cream).
Yield: Approximately 2 quarts (8 cups).