scones, pumpkin soup

A Winter’s Picnic

In October and November, my porch steps do double duty as an outdoor larder. Pots of hardy mums and late blooming geraniums form the backdrop for an array of pumpkins of all shapes and hues. I might add a gaudy Jack O’ Lantern or two for color, but the prime real estate is reserved for squashes of the edible kind. With dense and tasty flesh that is packed with goodness, they will hang out in my yard until I am ready to transform them for the dinner table. 

 A recent sunny fall day was perfect for a small socially distanced picnic with good friends. On the menu was a truly local soup of North Fork pumpkin, spiced pears and hard cider. Freshly baked cheesy scones, layered with mustard butter and some good ham, rounded out our lunch.  

If you are not familiar with the array of pumpkins available locally, do a little research online before you head for the pumpkin patch. You will find a trove of information to help you identify each variety and its culinary uses. Pumpkins are still available locally well into November, so be sure to pick up some bargains to serve throughout the fall. I am hoping the recipes below have inspired you to put all of your edible squashes to good use once Halloween passes, and not condemn them to a sad fate languishing on a damp compost pile or at the local landfill.


Roasted Pumpkin, Pear and Cider Soup

There are two standout varieties for soup making. Our signature Long Island Cheese Pumpkin and the royally named Crown Prince, whose gorgeous blue-green color makes it a darling of the doorstep decorating crowd. Both make wonderful pie fillings and a tasty side when roasted with olive oil and sea salt. I had both on hand, so mixed the two in equal quantities for my recipe. Despite its wonderful texture, pumpkin does need some flavor layering to make a tasty soup. I tried adding a half cup of cider to my original recipe, but was far more impressed once it had done time as the poaching liquid for the pears. Hints of sweetness come from the maple syrup and the pumpkin seeds add crunch and saltiness. The poached pear recipe makes a wonderful stand alone dessert.

Cider Roasted Pears
4 large ripe pears
Freshly squeezed juice of half a lemon
½ Tbsp unsalted butter (softened)
2 cups local hard apple cider
3 Tbsp. maple syrup
½ tsp. freshly grated 
nutmeg
1/8 tsp. cinnamon
Large pinch allspice
Pinch of salt

Peel, core and quarter the pears. Toss in a bowl with the lemon juice. Dot a shallow oven proof dish or gratin pan with butter and add the pears cut side down. Mix the hard cider, maple syrup, spices and salt together before pouring over the pears. Place in a 365 degree oven and cook until the pears are tender, about 20-25 minutes, turning once and basting with the spiced cider. Remove the pears from the oven and leave to cool for 10 minutes. Drain the pear and cider juices (you should have about one cup) into a bowl and reserve for the soup. Puree the pears in a blender or food processor and set aside.

Soup Base
3 lbs pumpkin, peeled and cut into 2 inch chunks
½ Tbsp. unsalted butter
5 Tbsp. olive oil
1 large yellow onion, diced
1 large bay leaf
3 cups vegetable broth or 2 cups vegetable broth and 1 cup water
4 sprigs fresh thyme
Fine sea salt

Preheat the oven to 370 degrees. Toss the pumpkin on a half sheet pan with 3 tbsp. of olive oil. Season with ½ tsp. fine sea salt and place in the oven. Roast for 20 minutes turning the pan a couple of times and checking that the pumpkin is not browning or sticking to the pan. Turn the oven down to 350 degrees and cook for a further 10 minutes. The pumpkin flesh should yield easily when pierced with a knife. If it does not, cook for a further five minutes. Remove from oven and cool slightly before pureeing in a blender or food processor.

While the pumpkin is roasting, heat 2 tbsp olive oil and ½ tbsp. unsalted butter in a heavy pan or Dutch oven. Add the diced onion, bay leaf and a pinch of salt and sauté gently for about ten minutes until onion is soft and translucent but not browned. Add the pumpkin puree, thyme sprigs and 3 cups of vegetable broth or the chicken broth and water. Bring the soup to a low boil and simmer for 10 minutes, Remove the thyme springs and return mixture to the blender and puree until smooth. Place the soup in a clean pan and pour in the spiced cider liquid from the poached pears. Simmer gently for a couple of minutes, before adding a few twists of fresh black pepper and additional salt to taste. The flavors are at their best if made one day ahead and refrigerated before reheating.

Assembly

Ladle the reheated soup into serving bowls and top with a dollop of the pear puree and a sprinkling of roasted salted pumpkin seeds. Serve with the cheesy scallion scones slathered with mustard butter.


Cheesy Scallion Scones

A combination of Gruyère and parmesan give the best result. Be sure to grate each cheese freshly from a whole piece of the best quality imported versions available. If you prefer a stronger cheese flavor, you can substitute cheddar for the Gruyère. The scones freeze beautifully.

Scones
4 cups all purpose flour
4 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp fine sea salt
1/2 tsp. powdered Colman’s English Mustard (optional)
1 cup plus 3 tbsp. chilled unsalted butter cut into small pieces
1 cup coarsely grated Gruyère cheese
1/2 cup finely grated parmesan cheese
2 eggs beaten
1 cup buttermilk and ½ cup heavy cream combined
(You can substitute all buttermilk)
6 scallions, white and pale green part only. 

Topping
One egg, beaten
½ tsp. paprika
3 Tbsp finely grated parmesan cheese
Pinch of salt

Mix the topping ingredients together and set aside. Finely mince the scallions. Blend the flour, salt, baking powder and mustard powder in a food processor. Add the chilled butter and pulse until the butter is the size of small peas. Turn the mixture out into a large bowl. Add the cheeses and scallions and mix thoroughly. Stir in the eggs, followed by the buttermilk and cream and blend to a soft, moist dough that is not too sticky. Gently form the dough into a round before turning onto a floured surface and rolling out to a thickness of ¾ inch. The trick is not to handle the dough too much and use gentle pressure when rolling. Form into rounds using a 3 inch cutter and place the scones on a heavy half sheet pan lined with parchment paper. Brush the tops with the parmesan egg mixture, before placing on the middle shelf of a preheated 395 degree oven and baking for 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and rest on the sheet pan for a few minutes before transferring to a wire rack cooling rack. Serve warm or at room temperature spread with mustard butter. The scones freeze and can be reheated in a 350 oven for 10 minutes. Makes 1 dozen. 

Spicy Mustard Butter
½ cup (1 stick) softened unsalted butter 
1½ tsp. brown mustard such as French’s
Pinch of salt

Place all of the ingredients into a bowl and beat thoroughly using an electric mixer until blended. Transfer to a ramekin and cover. Butter will keep in the fridge for a couple of weeks.

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