This post is a little out-of-season, but file it away for next autumn and make it then. Why am I writing about garden pumpkins and red peppers at this time of year, you ask? Well, I received a fun email from an old work friend whom I haven’t seen in many years; she’s part of an email-based recipe exchange and looped me into it. Since the email specifically asked for quick, go-to sorts of recipes, I figured I’d add this old favorite to my blog, and then send the recipe link as instructed to the first person in the list, who happens to be in Bangkok. I know pumpkins (or squash of a similar character, such as Kabocha), should be available there, and all manner of red peppers should not be difficult to come by. I could imagine palm sugar subbing quite satisfactorily for brown sugar in this soup, too.
I worked up this recipe over a decade ago, in a tiny kitchen in an apartment on Beach Hill in Santa Cruz. I could see the boardwalk and hear the screams of roller coaster riders from my balcony. I don’t recall whether the dinner party for which I was preparing this soup was the same one at which I accidentally stabbed myself in the thigh while attempting to open a block of cheese, but I’m pleased to announce I’ve picked up some knife skills since then.
Now, on to the recipe. This is as good a time as any to discuss the best technique for peeling a pepper. Sometimes, unpeeled peppers are fine, and unobtrusive. (For instance, if you’re using a fresh pepper, as in salsa fresca, you wouldn’t bother peeling it, and the texture of the skin will go just fine with the other ingredients.) But other times, such as when you’ll be blending the pepper, or when you want a batter to adhere to it, you’ll want to peel it. Since peppers don’t have much flesh and are otherwise hollow, going after it with a peeler would definitely be overkill. You’ll just end up losing most of the flesh along with the skin. Therefore, the best method is to burn the skin off. Charred skin will peel right off, (particularly if you give the charred pepper a bit of time to steam in a covered bowl, or in a sealed bag), leaving the succulent, gently cooked flesh behind. From there, it’s an easy matter to remove the membranes and seeds from the interior and use the remaining flesh, still holding its pepper shape, as you wish. Dice it up, do a rough chop, stuff it whole– the peeled pepper can be made to suit its varied destinies.
Roasted Pumpkin and Red Pepper Soup
- 3 small "sugar pie" (or similar cooking-type) pumpkins
- 3 red bell peppers
- 7 fresno chiles (or other fresh hot red pepper)
- 1 head garlic
- 16 oz whole milk
- 1/2 stick butter
- 32 oz chicken stock
- 3.5 oz brown sugar
- 2 teaspoons smoked paprika
- 2 teaspoons ground cumin
- black pepper, to taste
- salt, to taste
- De-stem and then halve the pumpkins. Rub the cut halves with butter, place cut side down and roast (350 degree oven) until tender (easily pierced with a fork.) While you're at it, roast the head of garlic.
- Rapidly roast the peppers under the broiler (or over the gas flame of a stovetop, holding them with metal tongs) until the skins are blackened. Place blackened peppers in a paper bag and sweat them for 10 minutes or so, and then de-stem, de-seed, and peel off the skins.
- Remove the flesh from the roasted pumpkins, leaving the skin behind. Put the flesh in a stockpot with the peppers, and squeeze the garlic head to extract all the roasted garlic into the stockpot too.
- Add the chicken stock and butter.
- Add the brown sugar and the cumin and paprika. Add some generous grinds of black pepper, and a few good shakes of salt.
- Lower the heat and add the milk.
- Blend all ingredients (ideally with an immersion blender) until creamy, smooth consistency is achieved.
- Warm gently (never take past simmering) and taste; add more sugar and/or salt and/or pepper if needed, and add more butter and/or milk if it needs to be richer/creamier.