Feeling nostalgic for some Cuban Pumpkin Bisque

Halloween has always been one of my favorite holidays. Partly because of the whimsy attached to it, but mostly because every year I shared it with my kids. I’ve learned how to put aside the nostalgic feelings I experience present day, as my daughter now has 3 kids of her own and I get to relive these experiences with them. I still have a hard time dealing with the fact that this chapter of my life is over. It all goes so fast and as I look back, I wish I had spent less time in the busy kitchens I have run and spent more time with my family.

I will always associate Halloween not only with trick or treat but with food that I made with my kids. When they were young, it was always pumpkin cookies or cake. As they grew, their favored dishes were more sophisticated, such as pumpkin risotto or pancakes. Back in the day, I even showed them how to scoop the seeds out of a pumpkin and roast them for a snack.

Throughout my decade’s career as a chef, around October, I would often make a dish they loved. It’s a wonderful velvet-like Pumpkin Chowder made with a local pumpkin, the calabaza squash. Also called a Cuban pumpkin or West Indian pumpkin, it grows to 30 pounds and is often cut into wedges for sale. It ranges in color from green to red-orange and tastes much like butternut squash. The flesh is creamy when cooked in a liquid and is great in soups and stews. This bright orange, silky soup always brings back memories of me cooking with my kids.

Look for calabaza squash that is firm and bright with no soft spots or brown skin. Of course, you can use butternut or any hard winter squash as a substitute.

PUMPKIN CHOWDER WITH TOASTED PEPITAS

This chowder is rich and full of bold tropical flavor. You can leave it chunky as I do or puree it if you like it smooth and creamy. Sometimes I add a can of coconut milk for a bit of extra richness.

INGREDIENTS:

2 pounds calabaza squash, peeled and chopped

8 cups vegetable broth or water

1 large tomato, chopped

1 medium onion, chopped

1 medium green bell pepper, chopped

1 jalapeno pepper or scotch bonnet chili, seeded and minced

1 tablespoon minced ginger root

8 scallions, chopped

3 sprigs of fresh thyme or 1 teaspoon dried

1/4 cup chopped cilantro

Juice of 1 lime

Salt, to taste

Toasted Pepitas (recipe given), as needed

METHOD:

  1. Place squash, broth, tomatoes, onions, peppers, ginger root, scallions, and thyme sprigs or dried thyme in a nonreactive large saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer, uncovered, 45 minutes, stirring occasionally until all ingredients are tender.
  2. Add cilantro, lime juice, and salt. Remove thyme stems before serving. Garnish each bowl of soup with pepitas before serving. Makes 2 quarts.

Per (1-cup) serving (without Toasted Pepitas): 62 calories, 2 percent calories from fat, trace fat, no cholesterol, no saturated fat, 2 grams protein, 16 grams carbohydrates, 4 grams total fiber, 8 milligrams sodium.

 TOASTED PEPITAS:

 2 teaspoons canola oil

1 cup shelled pumpkin seeds

Salt, to taste

In a nonstick saute pan or skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Add pumpkin seeds and saute for 3 minutes until they begin to brown and “pop.” Sprinkle with salt and use it as a soup garnish or eat out of hand. Makes 1 cup.

Per (1-tablespoon) serving: 23 calories, 53 percent calories from fat, 1 gram total fat, no cholesterol, .19 gram saturated fat, .74 gram protein, 2 grams carbohydrates, .16 gram total fiber, .72 milligram sodium.

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