During the flights home, which involved flying from Venice to Istanbul (two hours in the wrong direction) and Istanbul to Los Angeles (over 13 hours in the right direction), Brian, my husband, developed a case of the sniffles. When he woke up the next morning in his own bed in California, he felt worse, and this, I felt, called for soup! I wanted to make pumpkin soup but between jet lag, a sick husband, and a dog who needed to come home from boarding, it had to be fairly easy to make using ingredients I had on hand.
The pumpkin soups I experienced in Italy stayed with me. They were delicious, full of flavor, and the essence of pumpkin. Their soups involved roasting sugar pumpkins and scooping out the flesh. My version is decidedly less time consuming but no less flavorful. It mostly relies on pantry ingredients. This soup can easily be served for a weeknight meal with a salad to make a heartwarming meal. The use of pancetta is a nod to Brian as it's one of his favorite ingredients. However, this versatile soup can easily be made vegetarian or vegan by omitting the pancetta.
Pumpkin Soup with White Beans
Vegetarians/Vegans: Skip step one and omit the pancetta. Proceed to step two, using 2 tablespoons of olive oil to coat the pan for sauteeing the diced onion. Substitute vegetable broth for the chicken broth.
2 ounces cubed pancetta
1-2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 large yellow onion, diced
Pinch of sea salt or more to taste
1 1/2 tablespoons maple syrup (I prefer grade B for better flavor)
1/2 teaspoon ground sage
1 15-ounce can cannelli beans, drained and rinsed
1 15-ounce can organic pumpkin puree (do not use pumpkin pie filling!)
11/2 to 2 cups chicken broth
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1. In a 4-5 quart pot, brown the pancetta over medium heat. Removed with a slotted spoon to a plate lined with a paper towel and pat dry.
2. Add the olive oil to the pot still on medium heat until it shimmers and then add the diced onion and a pinch of salt. Stir to coat the onion. Lightly caramelize the onion, stirring occasionally to keep it from burning. If it seems like it is becoming too dark, turn the heat down and add a little of the broth. Caramelizing the onions will take 7-10 minutes. As they turn light brown, add the maple syrup and the sage and stir to coat.
3. Add the beans, the pumpkin puree, and the broth. Stir to combine. Simmer over medium low heat for 7-10 minutes. If it seems too thick to your liking, add more broth. Stir in the pancetta. Heat one more minute. Taste the soup, and, if necessary, add salt and freshly ground black pepper. Serve.
Nutritional awesomeness: Pumpkin is, "low in Saturated Fat, and very low in Cholesterol and Sodium. It is also a good source of Vitamin E (Alpha Tocopherol), Thiamin, Niacin, Vitamin B6, Folate, Iron, Magnesium and Phosphorus, and a very good source of Dietary Fiber, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Riboflavin, Potassium, Copper and Manganese, " (source). White beans are an excellent source of fiber, protein, and iron. They are a very good source of calcium.