Autumn is my favorite season. Even my mood changes when I know it is almost here. Yet it wasn’t until last year, after having moved from New York City and living in South Florida for more than seven years, that I gave up looking for nature’s display of magnificent colors in leaves, along with everything that entailed: the sound of leaves crackling underfoot, searching for the most perfect specimens to place between the pages of my favorite book, kicking the piles on the sidewalk just to watch them fly high up in the air, or just enjoying them fall with such parsimony.
There was definitely something missing for me and I got that it was part of not really “being” here where I chose to live , and accepting the way nature behaves in a subtropical area. We have no autumn leaves, we have palm trees and they remain stoic—yearround. I can’t deny my love for subtropical winters. Nothing beats them, and when we get a few chilly days, I do what I call “playing winter” and wear a winter coat and a hat.
Yes, autumn is the season of changes, it also represents warmth and, slowly as nature does, we start withdrawing from outdoor activities to spend more time inside––both at home and with ourselves. For some, it is also time for reflection, healing and inner work. So it is not so strange then that many of us feel the urge to spend more time in the kitchen, baking and preparing earthy and richer meals. It is a natural response to the cycles of nature. It is that holistic connection (body, mind, spirit) that, though some of us might go through life unaware of it, helps us to be in balance. Cooking is a way of connecting with nature that grounds us and enriches us.
Flowing with seasonal changes can bring a plethora of benefits, both emotional and physical; listening to our natural cravings and honoring ourselves. I also speak from my own experience since I’ve been craving a good pumpkin soup since my calendar signaled the start of fall. The very thought of it gently warms my soul. Having pumpkins in my kitchen helps me bring nature’s display of colors into my home.
The beauty about pumpkins and squashes is their versatility. Their meaty, earthy, yet adaptable flavors and textures make them an ideal element for culinary improvisation and a first course meal. I prepare my pumpkin with a light sauté of yellow onions in extra virgin olive oil and a sprinkling of fresh herbs, like thyme, sage and/or rosemary. I then add the pumpkin, a chopped yellow pepper, some vegetable stock, white wine or just water, and cook it till tender.
From there, it’s really all about my muse. If I’m in the mood for sweet, I’ll add some peeled and cubed apples or pears, and blend it all with a touch of milk until smooth. I tend to work on spicier kicks, just to excite the taste buds. A touch of fresh grated ginger and sweet potato, blended, sprinkled with toasted pumpkin seeds and served with warm or toasted bread or corn sticks will do just fine, too. Your family will ask for seconds!
GINGER-PUMPKIN SOUP WITH FRESH HERBS & PEARS
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 large yellow onions, thinly sliced
A sprig each of fresh thyme, sage and rosemary, stems removed and minced (can use any or all of these herbs)
1 yellow pepper, seeds removed and chopped
2 cups pumpkin, seeds removed and cubed (reserve the seeds, read below)
1/2 cup white cooking wine or organic low sodium broth
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
1/2 teaspoon powdered cumin (optional)
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg (optional)
1/4 teaspoon powdered red pepper
1 Bosc pear, peeled, seeds removed and cubed (if preferred, use apples)
1 cup sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
3 cups milk or light cream
1/4 cup raw honey, agave nectar or maple syrup
Kosher salt and black pepper to taste
4 large wedges of toasted bread, “grisini” (crunchy Italian sticks) or corn sticks
1. In a large pot, sauté 2/3 of the onion with a pinch of the fresh herbs and yellow pepper in 2 tablespoons of the olive oil for 5 minutes or until slightly tender. Add the pumpkin and sauté over medium heat.
2. Add the wine or broth. Sprinkle in the remaining herbs and season with salt and pepper. Cook for 10 minutes or until tender.
3. Add the pear and the sweet potato, and stir. Cook for 5 minutes.
4. Place cooked ingredients in blender, and add the milk (or cream). Blend until velvety smooth texture.
5. Return the soup to the pot and simmer for a couple more minutes over low heat, stirring to keep the soup nicely blended.
6. In a skillet, sauté the remaining onion and oil over medium heat for 5 minutes, until translucent. Reduce to a simmer and add the honey, nectar or syrup. Cook for 10 minutes.
7. Ladle into individual bowls and drizzle with the sauce and serve with toasted bread, a dollop of sour cream or corn sticks. Enjoy the abundance of nature!
KITCHEN NOTES FOR DELICIOUS HOLIDAY SNACKS
Thinking About Tossing Those Pumpkin Seeds? Think Again!
• Scoop the seeds, place them into a colander and run them under cool water. The seeds and fibers will separate if you swish them with your hands.
• To toast them, arrange them in an even layer on a baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes at 350 F. If not golden, leave them in the oven and check them every minute until done.
• Once done, transfer the seeds to a bowl and toss with extra virgin olive oil, saffron or truffle oil and season with sea salt and fresh pepper.
If you clean and season your seeds before roasting, do not add sugar—it will burn in the oven and should only be added after, and with any sweet spicing, don’t forget to add a pinch of salt to enhance flavors.
You can also use any of the following combinations:
• Grated Parmesan cheese, black pepper and sea salt.
• Cayenne pepper, lime juice, brown sugar and a pinch of sea salt.
• Cinnamon, nutmeg, brown sugar, powdered ginger or cloves, and a pinch of salt.
• You can mix them with other seeds or nuts, add dried fruits and chocolate chips. Think texture+flavor combination as crunchy, gooey, sweet and spicy.