Autumn in a Bowl

Autumn is my favorite season.

My older daughter spent her first five and a half years admiring the green scenery of northern California. She didn’t understand me when I told her that I missed the seasons that we had back east. When we moved back to NJ, she realized what it meant to see the “leaves change.” It was always just an expression until then. She was amazed by our Japanese Maple, and how it could go from being green one day, to brown the next, to a purple and then finally to a scarlet red. And then, the colors fell. FALL – the inevitable but saddest part of the season. That year was a tease, because the autumns ahead were going to be wet and dreary, producing only a few bright colors on our natural canvas, and therefore, more aptly named, FALL.

Autumn 2010. This is probably the most “true to season” autumn we’ve had here in NJ in almost 4 years. My girls are daily commentators on the earthy spectrum of colors that vary in shade day to day – both in front of and behind our house. Trees, flowers, and shrubbery have never been so interesting to them. Such simple pleasures… the fact is that this season in the last four years has been pummeled with rain, wind, sleet, hail, and even snow… washing away the foliage before the changes in hue can even occur.

Paying homage to my favorite season, I’d like to share with you a recipe for “Autumn in a bowl.” I think that the slightly sweet, nutty, and mildly citrus notes of the dish pair extremely well with a Chenin Blanc from the Loire Valley. Specifically a Vouvray. And even more specific, if you can get your hands on one, a wine from Domaine Huet.

Spiced Pumpkin Soup with Cilantro Crema

1 medium sugar pumpkin (approx 4 lb)
½ cup water
1 large onion, chopped
2 large carrots, chopped
3 to 4 garlic cloves, minced
1 bay leaf
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
3 teaspoons ground cumin
1 ½  teaspoons ground coriander
½ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon black pepper
4 cups chicken broth
2 cups water (or more if needed)
2 tablespoons fresh orange juice
½ cup crème fraiche
½ cup cilantro, finely chopped
salt & pepper

Preheat oven to 350. Halve the pumpkin lengthwise. Place cut sides down on a rimmed baking sheet, and add ½ cup water. Roast for 1 ½ hours, or until tender. When cool enough to handle, peel pumpkin and roughly chop into 1 inch pieces. In a large pot, sauté onion, carrots, garlic, and bay leaf in the olive oil over medium heat until softened, about 10 minutes. Add next 6 ingredients and stir until everything is well coated, about 30 seconds. Add the pieces of pumpkin. Stir until well coated, about a minute. Add broth and water, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, and simmer, partially covered, about 30 minutes. Add orange juice and simmer for 2 more minutes. Discard bay leaf. Transfer soup to a blender, and blend until very smooth. Use a strainer to refine the soup if you wish. Add water to the soup if you prefer a thinner consistency, and rewarm. Transfer soup to a tureen or serving bowl. Combine crème fraiche and cilantro. Mix well, and add salt & pepper to taste. Ladle soup into bowls, and top with a dollop of cilantro crema.

Serves 6

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