Ahhhhh fall, the best time of year. As I may have previously mentioned, I’m a big fan of the chill in the air, changing leaves, warm drinks, and the mass purchasing of new boots and sweaters. Since it was 80 degrees in New York yesterday, I have not yet had the chance to enjoy the first three items on that list, but I’m not overly concerned. Despite the unseasonably warm weather, I, along with most New Yorkers, am still embracing fall, sweating through my favorite jackets and crushing baked goods (see: Apple Cinnamon Doughnut Holes) like it’s not a degree over 65. I’m nothing if not seasonally dedicated.
One of my favorite things about fall is the pumpkin mania. Post-labor day, everyone seems to go batshit over pumpkins, and I am 100% on board with the craziness. In fact, as I write this, I’m drinking some weird pumpkin coffee that my roommate bought a few weeks ago. It tastes kind of gross, but it makes my apartment smell amazingly fall-like, which is all that matters.
While I love all things pumpkin, I’m particularly partial to pumpkin soup, which I actively seek out in restaurants and find myself craving almost non-stop from September-December. Oddly enough, I can actually trace my pumpkin soup fetish back to my freshman year of college. My housing was scarily far from the dining hall, and being the incredibly lazy person that I am, I rarely had the motivation to walk twenty minutes to get food. Enter: Au Bon Pain.
My freshman dorm happened to be on a pretty busy street, so I had plenty of places to grab a quick meal. However, being approximately 50 feet from my front door, Au Bon Pain was the most convenient, and it quickly became my go-to. I enjoyed many an ABP lunch and late-night snack during the first few weeks of school, but it wasn’t until they debuted their Harvest Pumpkin Soup in early October that I became a true loyalist.
That Harvest Pumpkin Soup was unreal. Creamy, perfectly spiced and flecked with tiny pieces of tender vegetables, it tasted like fall, and it was cozier than drinking beers in a Snuggie (which I was also fond of my freshman year). I loved that soup so much that I ate it almost daily throughout the fall/winter of 2006, and the day that they took it off the menu in February was truly devastating. Much to my relief, Harvest Pumpkin Soup returned every October, allowing me to shamelessly indulge my seasonal addiction for the next three years.
I’m not going to lie, I faced some pretty intense ridicule for regularly visiting ABP throughout my college career. I don’t know if you’ve ever been to an ABP, but the franchise on Mass Ave in Cambridge, MA is not their finest establishment. For one reason or another, it has become a haven for the homeless and mentally unstable, and it’s borderline dangerous after dark. Long story short, that ABP is a place that freshmen tend to go during the first month of school, and then never set foot in again once they realize what’s up.
Many felt that frequenting ABP showed a flagrant lack of regard for my own health and safety. Perhaps it did. But all I have to say to the ABP haters is that they clearly never tried the Harvest Pumpkin Soup. That deliciousness was 100% worth seeing a couple homeless dudes pee with the door open and having my hair pulled by an angry toothless lady in overalls. Fact.
Sadly, I have not experienced the joy of ABP’s magical soup since college, and every fall I get a little hungry and nostalgic thinking about it. I’ve obviously eaten many other pumpkin soups over the years, but none have really hit the spot in quite the same way. Until yesterday.
I was at the market buying some decorative pumpkins and gourds for my rustic dining room table when I was suddenly struck with inspiration. I have awesome culinary skills, and I should use one of these pumpkins to recreate my favorite Harvest Pumpkin Soup. So, friends, that is exactly what I did. And the result was everything I dreamed it would be. I proudly present Domesticate Me’s Harvest Pumpkin Soup with Candied Bacon.
Bursting with pumpkin flavor, lightly sweetened with maple syrup and warmed up with fresh ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg, this soup is fall in a bowl. It’s thick and remarkably creamy despite the lack of actual cream, and it’s virtually fat-free, which is always a good thing. (Apparently, there is a pretty decent amount of cream involved in ABP’s version, which explains a lot in regards to my “softer” college physique.)
The soup on its own is actually vegan, but I decided to dress it up with some decidedly non-vegan candied bacon. I can honestly say that this candied bacon, which was inspired by an appetizer in one of Ina’s cookbooks, is one of the more delicious things that I’ve ever eaten. The bacon is baked with a topping of chopped pecans, maple syrup, brown sugar and fresh ground pepper, and it comes out of the oven with a golden, caramelized “crust.” It’s pretty ridiculous. My roommate’s exact words post excitement seizure were, “This is a joke. ARE YOU KIDDING ME WITH THIS?!” Yes, it’s that good. Plus, the contrast of sweet, crunchy bacon and creamy pumpkin soup is out of this world. Seriously.
Harvest Pumpkin Soup with Candied Bacon is the perfect light meal, but it would also make an excellent (and impressive) appetizer for your next dinner party. I know that dealing with a whole pumpkin may terrify some of you, but as long as you have a sharp knife, I promise you’ll be fine. Aside from the hour that it takes to roast the pumpkin, this recipe comes together in about twenty minutes, and it’s completely foolproof. Please cozy up to this soup ASAP. Happy pumpkin season, peeps!
Harvest Pumpkin Soup with Candied Bacon: (Serves 4)
1 small sugar pumpkin
1½ tablespoon olive oil
1 sweet onion, diced
½ cup carrots, diced
1/3 cup celery, diced
¾ teaspoon fresh grated ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
4 cups low-sodium vegetable broth
¼ cup good quality maple syrup
For the Candied Bacon:
4 slices thick cut bacon, cut in half
¼ cup pecans, finely chopped
1 tablespoon good quality maple syrup
1 tablespoon dark brown sugar, packed
Fresh ground pepper
Preparing your Harvest Pumpkin Soup with Candied Bacon:
-Pre-heat your oven to 400 degrees.
-Cut your sugar pumpkin in half. This will require a sharp knife and a little bit of muscle.
-Once your pumpkin is in the oven, prepare you candied bacon. Cut bacon slices in half and place them on a rack over a foil lined baking sheet. In a small bowl, combine the pecans, maple syrup, brown sugar and a little fresh ground pepper. Use a spoon to spread the pecan mixture onto each piece of bacon.
-About 10 minutes before your pumpkins are ready, heat 1½ tablespoons olive oil in a dutch oven or large pot. When hot, add the onion, carrots and celery and sauté for five minutes until the onions are translucent and the vegetables are tender.
-Scoop the flesh from the cooked pumpkins (you should have about 2 cups) and add it to the soup.
-Simmer for 20 minutes. Let cool slightly and then puree using an immersion blender (fancy!), regular blender (you may have to do this in batches), or a food processor and return it to the pot. Season with salt to taste.
I’m thrilled to be a part of Food Network’s Fall Fest this week. For more delicious pumpkin recipes, check out the awesome blogs below.
Napa Farmhouse 1885: Thai Pumpkin and Coconut Soup
Red or Green: Pizza with Red Chile Pumpkin Sauce, Black Beans and Fresh Corn
Devour: Easy Pumpkin Cream Sauce
Feed Me Phoebe: Creamy Vegan Pumpkin Soup
Virtually Homemade: Starbuck’s Pumpkin Spice Frappuccino
Weelicious: Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls
The Lemon Bowl: Healthy Baked Mac and Cheese with Pumpkin
The Heritage Cook: Chile-Pumpkin Hummus
Dishing: Pumpkin Browns/ Pumpkin Hash Browns
In Jennie’s Kitchen: Pumpkin Scones
Cooking With Elise: Hearty Pumpkin Pasta
And Love It Too: Paleo Pumpkin Pie Oatmeal
Blue Apron Blog: Baked Pumpkin Stuffed with Millet and Caponata
Dishin & Dishes: Pumpkin Pancakes with Maple Cinnamon Pecan Syrup
The Sensitive Epicure: Pumpkin Panna Cotta with Pumpkin Seed Brittle
FN Dish: Cook Pumpkin from the Patch
Taste With The Eyes: Sweet and Spicy Pumpkin Apple Soup with Dried Fruit, Pine Nuts and Ancho Chile
Creative Culinary: Pumpkin Beer Bread with Pumpkin Butter Spread