I’ve written about the importance of a wisely stocked pantry, but nowhere have I ever advised readers to ensure their ability to throw together a weeknight family supper by stowing a half-dozen cans of pumpkin puree in the cupboard. And yet that’s what I found the other day as I hunted fruitlessly for a small can of diced tomatoes, which I do advise you to keep in good supply. I’d bought the pumpkin and then forgot about it late last fall when it went on sale.
Naturally, I didn’t give it a glance during the summer. But recently, the weather turned nippy. The orange cans of pumpkin suddenly looked cheerful and comforting. Did I have to wait till November and make pie, or could I turn this bounty to another good use?
I’m all for pie — and for pumpkin bread, too, such a spicy, homey snack — but I wanted supper. So I did some research, hybridizing a couple of recipes to suit what I had on hand. The result was simple, hearty, and nourishing. Pumpkin packs almost three times the daily allowance of vitamin A into a serving, and can hold its pumpkin head up when it comes to fiber, calcium, iron, and vitamin C. Paired with a robust salad (think nuts and cheese) or grilled chicken and broccoli, it makes a fine supper for a cool night.
Even after making soup, I still had a few cans left. So I caved in to my sweet tooth and combined it with eggs, milk, cream, and some day-old bread. This might be the world’s best bread pudding. You won’t get tired of it, even if you start making it now, stockpile canned pumpkin in December, and make it till spring.
Pear and Pumpkin Soup
Inspired by recipes from Leite’s Culinaria (leitesculinaria.com) and The Essential New York Times Cookbook: Classic Recipes for a New Century by Amanda Hesser. • Serves 4
2 T butter
1 large shallot or one small onion, chopped
1-2 cloves garlic, pressed or chopped
1 stalk celery, trimmed and chopped
2 sage or 1 bay leaf
1 pear, cored; or a tart apple (e.g. Honeycrisp or Granny Smith), peeled and cored
2 cups chicken broth or 1 cup chicken broth + 1 cup cider
1 can pumpkin puree (not pie filling)
1/2 cup milk, cream, or half-and-half
Sour cream, creme fraiche, or yogurt
Minced chives and/or parsley
Set a pot over medium heat and add the butter, shallot or onion, and celery. Saute till vegetables begin to soften, then add sage leaves, garlic, and pear. Cook for a few more minutes, until the sage leaves are wilted and onions translucent. Season with ½ teaspoon salt and a good grind of pepper. Add 1 cup chicken broth or cider, bring to a simmer, and cook until the pears or apples have softened enough that you can smush them with a wooden spoon.
Remove the pot from the heat, fish out the sage leaves, and puree with an immersion blender or carefully in a blender or food processor. Return to pot, whisk in pumpkin puree and remaining broth, and simmer 10 minutes. Taste for salt and pepper, then stir in milk, or cream. Serve with a dollop of sour cream or yogurt, topped with herbs. Or take it in another direction with a spoonful of apple or peach butter.
Ahead-of-time note: If you’re going to serve this later, don’t add cream now. Reheat to a simmer, stir in cream, and serve.
Pumpkin Bread Pudding
I’ve made this recipe every fall since it first came out in the October 2007 issue of Gourmet magazine. (It now appears in the green Gourmet Cookbook. ) I’ve adjusted quantities so you can use a whole can of pumpkin, avoid separating eggs, and make it in a bigger pan. But the ratio of satisfaction to effort remains scandalously high.
1 cup heavy cream
1 can pumpkin puree
1 cup whole milk
¾ cup sugar
4 large eggs
½ teaspoon salt
¾ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon ground allspice
A pinch of ground cloves
6-7 cups cubed baguette or crusty bread, left to dry out for a day
1 stick of butter, melted
Preheat oven to 350 with rack in the middle. In a medium bowl, whisk together all ingredients except the bread and butter. In a large bowl, toss the melted butter with the bread cubes, then add the pumpkin mixture and toss again until the bread is evenly coated. Spread in a 9” x 13” baking dish and bake until the center is just barely jiggly, around 30 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature. A little ice cream can’t hurt. Leftovers are (shhh!) great for breakfast.