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Spicy Pumpkin Soup with Cilantro Pepita Pesto

I don’t always love pumpkin soup.  So many winter squash soup recipes out there are very sweet and seasoned with either pumpkin pie spices or store-bought curry powder.  I do love pumpkin pie, but I prefer to eat it after dinner.  I know there’s a reason these flavor combinations are so prevalent – winter squash is absolutely delicious mixed with warm spices and sugar.  I just prefer something a little different in my soup bowl.

This spicy, smoky, and creamy soup is exactly what I was hoping for.  Brightened with a dollop of cilantro-pepita pesto and a generous squeeze of lime juice, it was really hard to stop after one bowl (so I didn’t).  I had some pomegranate arils in the fridge so I added a handful to my bowl along with a sprinkling of crumbled Cotija cheese.  The sweet crunch of the pomegranate seeds and the salty cheese were perfect with the soup and pesto.  And the more lime juice I squeezed on top, the better it tasted.

I used a pumpkin by the name of Calabaza de Castilla, or Castillo Squash.  I think it’s also known as a Fairytale Pumpkin.  These are very similar to the pumpkins that I remember eating in Sicily – big and meaty with light-colored skin and dark orange flesh.  They have a wonderful flavor similar to butternut squash.  I bought my pumpkin at my favorite Mexican Supermarket and was able to purchase a large chunk rather than the entire pumpkin – much easier to deal with!

I roasted it like any other winter squash – cut into big chunks, placed cut-side down in a baking dish, and baked at 375 degrees until fork tender (a little over an hour for this one).  After letting it cool, I scooped the flesh from the skin and used it in my soup.  I didn’t bother making a puree from the pumpkin because I knew I’d be pureeing the entire soup later.  Although I used Castillo Squash for my soup, you may substitute any roasted pumpkin or winter squash.  Canned pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling) would be fine, too.

Spicy Pumpkin Soup
Serves 8

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
2 serrano chiles, chopped*
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon cumin seeds, toasted and ground**
4 roasted piquillo peppers***
4 cups fresh roasted pumpkin****
4 cups chicken stock
1 teaspoon honey
3/4 cup heavy cream
juice of one lime
salt to taste
pomegranate arils
Cotija cheese
Cilantro Pepita Pesto (recipe below)

Heat a large soup pot or dutch oven over medium-low heat.  Add the olive oil and let heat. Add onions and celery and cook, stirring occasionally for about ten minutes or until vegetables are softened.  Add serrano chiles and garlic and cook, stirring, for another couple minutes.  Add smoked paprika and cumin and cook, stirring, for 30 seconds.  Add piquillo peppers, roasted pumpkin, chicken stock, and honey.  Turn up heat, stir, and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and let soup simmer, stirring occasionally, for about 30 minutes.  Puree soup in batches in a blender or in the pot using an immersion blender.  Return soup to the pot (if necessary) and stir in the cream.  Add the lime juice and salt to taste (I used a little more than a teaspoon of salt).  Reheat over low heat before serving.  Garnish with Cilantro Pepita Pesto (recipe below), fresh pomegranate arils, and crumbled cotija cheese (may substitute feta).  Serve with fresh lime wedges.

Recipe Notes: *If you don’t want a spicy soup, remove the seeds and mebrane from the chiles.  The serranos I used were very large, so I only used two, but you can adjust the amount to suit your own taste.  **I like to toast cumin seeds in a dry skillet over medium heat until they are fragrant and darken slightly. Let them cool then grind in a clean coffee grinder or using a mortar and pestle. You may substitute regular ground cumin if you don’t have cumin seeds. ***I find canned roasted piquillo peppers at Trader Joes.  You may substitute one whole roasted red bell pepper for the four piquillo peppers if necessary.  ****You may substitute an equal amount of canned pumpkin for the fresh roasted pumpkin if desired.

Cilantro Pepita Pesto
(adapted from 101 Cookbooks)

1/3 cup toasted pepitas (hulled pumpkin seeds)
1 cup loosely packed cilantro
1 clove garlic, minced
1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons lime juice
2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
salt to taste

Blend pepitas, cilantro, garlic, parmesan, and lime juice in a blender or food processor (or using an immersion blender).  With blender running, slowly add olive oil.  Blend until fairly smooth then season with salt to taste.

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