From time to time, Chow Bella's contributors challenge one another to a showdown: Make the best dish you can, using one common ingredient. This time (naturally), it was pumpkin. For the next few weeks, we'll be sharing the results, and at the end, we'll let you know who won.
Today: resident bartender and Guilty Pleasures columnist JK Grence.
I was excited to hear about another Chow Bella showdown. I love getting to play around in the kitchen and come up with something new. For the pumpkin challenge, I figured that there would be tons of sweet dishes. So, I decided to take the savory route.
I'm going to let you in on one of my favorite ways to play with my food. It's a little website called Foodpairing. Some Belgian scientists realized that foods that have similar flavor compounds in them tend to pair together well. They put foods in gas chromatography to find out the flavor compounds. The result of their efforts is the Foodpairing website.
Sometimes the combinations are classic. For example, tomatoes pair well with bell peppers and cucumber. Anyone with a lick of familiarity with Spanish cuisine would recognize those veggies as the base of good gazpacho. But sometimes the combinations are a surprise. For example, Foodpairing says that fresh tomatoes pair exceptionally well with . . . cinnamon cookies. Weird, right? I had to try it. I took a slice of tomato, and put it on a Trader Joe's cinnamon graham cracker. The result was astonishingly delicious.
It turns out that there's another ingredient that goes well with tomatoes: Pumpkin. Who knew? And of course, pumpkin and cinnamon go hand-in-hand. My first thought was to make pumpkin-tomato soup. I turned to several resources, but found the recipes from America's Test Kitchen to look the best. To get the cinnamon-spice flavor, I turned to one of my favorite guilty pleasure items, Biscoff Spread. To give a little smoky dimension, I made croutons laced with Spanish smoked paprika.
The recipe looks involved, but it's pretty simple cooking all around. You can make the pumpkin soup while the tomatoes are roasting in the oven, and the whole thing will be done in a little over an hour.
Tomato Soup Based on a Cook's Illustrated/ATK recipe. To make it vegetarian, substitute vegetable stock for the chicken stock 2 28-ounce cans whole tomatoes packed in juice 2 tablespoons brown sugar 4 tablespoons unsalted butter ½ cup minced shallots 1 heaping tablespoon tomato paste 2 tablespoons flour 1 ¾ cups chicken stock (possibly plus a little extra) ½ cup heavy cream Salt, black pepper, and cayenne pepper
Heat oven to 450 degrees. Drain tomatoes, reserving juice. You should get about 3 cups of juice; if you come up short, add extra chicken stock to make up the difference. De-seed the tomatoes (do this over the sink; it gets messy). Line a baking sheet with foil. Spread the tomatoes on the sheet, and sprinkle evenly with brown sugar. Bake about 30 minutes, until the liquid has evaporated and the tomatoes start to caramelize. Let the tomatoes cool for a bit, then transfer them to a small bowl and set aside.
Melt butter in a Dutch oven large saucepan. Stir in the shallots and tomato paste. Turn heat to low, and cover. Cook, stirring once or twice, until the shallots are soft, about 7-10 minutes. Turn heat to medium. Whisk in flour, and whisk constantly for a minute or two. Still whisking constantly, slowly add chicken stock. Add the tomatoes and tomato juice. Bring to a boil. Turn heat down to medium-low. Simmer, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes.
Remove soup from heat, and let it cool off for about five minutes. Purée with a stick blender or a regular blender. If you go the regular blender route, be careful! Fill the blender no more than half full. Remove the vent cap from the lid, and hold the lid down with a kitchen towel. If you don't do this, the blender lid will blow off, and you'll have a red kitchen.
Stir cream into soup, and heat gently until hot. Add salt, pepper, and cayenne to taste.
Pumpkin Soup (Also based on Cook's Illustrated) 2 tablespoons butter ½ cup shallots, minced 3 cups chicken stock (plus extra as needed) 1 cup water 1 15-oz can Libby's pure pumpkin (make sure you didn't grab canned pumpkin pie filling by mistake) ½ cup heavy cream Salt and pepper
Melt butter in a Dutch oven or large saucepan over medium heat. Add shallots and cook until softened, 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in stock, water, and pumpkin, scraping up any brown bits on the bottom of the pan. Bring to a boil, then turn heat down to medium-low and simmer about 15 minutes.
Purée the soup just like you did for the tomato soup. Stir in cream, and heat gently until hot. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
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Pimentón Croutons 1 6- to 8-ounce loaf good crusty bread 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil 2 teaspoons smoked paprika 1 two-finger pinch kosher salt
Heat oven to 400 degrees. Cut bread into crouton-sized pieces. Toss with olive oil. Add smoked paprika, tossing to coat. Taste one. Add more paprika and salt if you think it needs it. Bake, stirring once or twice, until crispy and thoroughly dried, 10-15 minutes.
Putting It All Together Mix 4 cups pumpkin soup, 3 cups tomato soup, and ½ cup Biscoff Spread. Heat gently until Biscoff Spread is thoroughly combined and mixture is hot. Ladle into serving bowls. Sprinkle with croutons. Finish with a drizzle of olive oil, if desired.