Best pumpkin soup ever • Cathy Best, Lifestyle columnist
When Richard and I moved to Cullman, Alabama in 1987, Cullman’s native son, Chef Frank Stitt was rapidly climbing the culinary beanstalk by deftly balancing French cooking methods with local southern ingredients. His Birmingham flagship restaurant, Highlands Bar and Grill, located in the Five Points South neighborhood, anchors four Birmingham restaurants established by Stitt and his wife Pardis. Sourcing ingredients from growers, anglers, cattlemen, hog farmers, and dairymen around the state put Stitt on the gastronomic map.
He had the good fortune, early in his career, to work with fabled food prodigy Alice Waters, of Chez Panisse, and Chef Richard Olney a food writer, and French country cookbook author. Slicing and dicing for Waters in California, and Olney in France, set a cooking course for Stitt that ultimately won him prestigious culinary awards. Thirty years, four restaurants, and two cookbooks later, Frank Stitt continues to enchant the southern table.
I served Frank’s Curried Pumpkin Soup to my book club; all nine guests requested the recipe. If you have a house full of company Thanksgiving weekend, this is delicious with herbed bread and salad.
Curried Pumpkin Soup
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 onions sliced
2 leeks, trimmed, cleaned, and thinly sliced
1 carrot peeled and sliced
1 Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored, and sliced
1 tablespoon mild curry powder
¼ stick cinnamon, 2 cloves, and 3 allspice berries, tied in cheese cloth
1 pound butternut squash, peeled seeded, and sliced
1 pound peeled pie pumpkin, sliced
1 sweet potato, peeled, and sliced
6 cups water
1 cup heavy cream
Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onions, leeks, carrots and apple and sauté over medium-low heat until the onions are translucent, about 15 minutes. Add the curry, spice bag, and the remaining vegetables. Pour in the water and bring to a gentle simmer, for about 45 minutes, until the vegetables are very soft. Remove the spice bag and puree the vegetable mixture. To give the soup a silky-smooth texture, pass through a fine-mesh strainer. Transfer soup back to the saucepan. Add cream and salt, taste and adjust the seasoning. Heat gently until warmed through. Ladle into bowls and add a dollop of crème fraiche. This soup freezes really well; thaw it by placing the container in warm water.
Additions and substitutions: I use what’s on hand– 1/2 bag of small peeled carrots, 2 apples and a 1-pound can of pumpkin. When substituting canned pumpkin add it after you cook the vegetables. If the squash is larger than one pound, use it, and alter the seasonings and cream to taste. I don’t strain the soup; blend it well with an electric hand blender, not mixer, on the stove-top. You can use ½ and ½ but it’s not quite as silky. I add maple syrup, cayenne pepper, and salt to taste. Add more curry if you think it needs it, I do. Remember, soup is not a science; it’s about flavor and what you have available.
“Stir 1 tablespoon of buttermilk or plain yogurt, into one cup of heavy 'whipping' cream. (You can double or triple this recipe.) Then let it sit, loosely covered with plastic wrap, at room temperature for about 24 hours. It should be the consistency of thick yogurt.”
Best of the Best
Frank Stitt’s Southern Table by Frank Stitt
Frank Stitt's Bottega Favorita by Frank Stitt
Frank Stitt’s restaurants Highlands Bar and Grill, www. highlandsbarandgrill.com, Southern fine dining
Bottega, www.bottegarestaurant.com, Italian/Mediterranean
Bottega Café, included in www.bottegarestaurant.com
Chez Fonfon, www.fonfonbham.com, French bistro
Cathy Best discovers new things daily.
Contact her to share local resources, books, blogs, Web sites and apps you’ve discovered: email@example.com.
Printed in the November 22, 2012 edition