When I was a junior in college, I found myself in Paris over Thanksgiving. The French don’t really acknowledge Thanksgiving as a holiday; if it gets any recognition at all, it’s generally as a cross cultural curiosity, the way we might vaguely notice that Bastille Day is a thing that exists. But that November, my study abroad program decided to take pity on the gaggle of way faring, mildly homesick American college students they were hosting. They booked a restaurant in the Marais and held a Thanksgiving feast just for us.
The food was absolutely delicious, and while they had spent weeks carefully planning the menu to make sure it contained the staples of our strange little American holiday, it was still distinctly French in its character. I honestly have never seen an American cook turkey that beautifully. It was a far cry from our standard roasted bird, complete with a lovely, creamy sauce on top, but let me tell you, it was heavenly.
No one there was remotely able to fault the quality of the food. It was amazing. But there was one squabble I do remember which mostly occurred during the planning stages, and it always began with something like this: “What?? How can you have thanksgiving without pumpkin pie????”
Personally, I was just incredibly thankful that they were doing this for us at all, and I really wasn’t going to quibble too much about the menu. But some of my fellows apparently had far greater reverence for the sanctity of pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving, and several were quite vocal about it. Meanwhile our program secretary (a lovely French woman who was kind enough to organize the event) was utterly flummoxed by the notion that you would ever want to put pumpkins in a pie. They’re a squash. Why…? And also, at a nice meal like this, how could you ever serve a dessert that didn’t contain chocolate?? It just didn’t make any semblance of sense.
The battle continued, American versus French, pumpkin versus chocolate, up to the day of. In the end, French sensibilities won out (they were doing the cooking, after all…) and the chocolate was delicious. But pumpkin was certainly not absent from the meal either. It was served up in a fashion that made far more sense to our fabulous French cooks: as an appetizer in the form of a savory, creamy soup.
That soup was delicious, and while I may be betraying my status as an American by saying this, it’s usually soup more than pie that I look forward to once pumpkin season rolls around. This soup is not the same as that lovely, velvety soup I enjoyed in that restaurant by the Seine; I honestly remember very little of its flavor at this point aside from the delicious creaminess and that it was served in a hollowed out bell pepper. But this recipe, my own, is also creamy and delicious, and full of lovely herbs that can almost take me back to the cool, crisp weather of a Parisian autumn, even when I’m still stuck with the 90+ temperatures of Los Angeles in October.
This recipe is surprisingly quick once you get going; the most time consuming part is peeling, seeding, and cutting up the pumpkin. It’s also very adaptable; if you don’t eat dairy, you can substitute another milk of your choosing. The bacon fat can easily be switched out for more olive oil (though I do enjoy the depth of flavor it provides) and vegetable stock can easily be used in place of chicken for a vegan/vegetarian option. It’s also grain free and an excellent option for those on a Whole30, GAPS, or Paleo (AIP or otherwise) type diet with appropriate substitutions.
Creamy Pumpkin Soup with Sage
- 1 pie pumpkin
- 6 cloves garlic
- 1/2 yellow onion, chopped
- 1 qt chicken broth (I used homemade bone broth, but store bought is fine)
- 1/2 cup cream or nondairy milk of choice
- 1-2 fresh sage leaves (if using dried, use significantly less; I infused the whole leaves and then removed them before pureeing, so powdered sage should be used sparingly to maintain a bit more subtlety)
- Thyme (to taste)
- Salt and pepper
- Olive oil or other cooking oil
- Bacon fat (optionalish)
1. Preheat oven to 375. Crack open your pumpkin and remove the seeds and stringy guts. (I like to reserve the seeds and roast them as a tasty snack. Waste not!) Peel and cut into 1- 1.5 inch chunks.
2. In a roasting pan, mix pumpkin, and whole, peeled garlic cloves and toss with olive oil, a sprinkling of thyme, salt, and pepper. Bake at 375 for 15-20 minutes, until pumpkin is tender.
3. In a large pot, melt bacon fat (or drizzle more olive oil). Sauté onion with a touch of ground pepper, until translucent. Add broth, cream, and sage leaves and bring to a simmer or just under. Allow to infuse until the pumpkin is ready.
4. Add the roasted pumpkin and garlic to the broth and remove the sage leaves and allow to cook for another minute or two. Purée the soup with an immersion blender or (carefully) in a countertop blender. Adjust seasoning to taste, and enjoy!