Autumn is always a difficult transition for me, as I am the type of person who is happiest under a blaze of sunshine and who considers anything below 73 degrees to be "freezing." But every year it's the pumpkins that rescue me from impending gloom, reminding me just how wonderful and delicious fall can be. This is my first pumpkin dish of the season, made from roasted kabocha, or Japanese pumpkin, whipped into a creamy soup with sweet potatoes and miso. With a pot of this the stove, I am ready to welcome the cooler weather.
Nutty and sweet, red or green kabocha is my favorite kind of pumpkin to combine with miso. In fact, in Japan miso soup is sometimes served with chunks of soft kabocha. However, this soup can also be made with sugar pumpkin, red kuri pumpkin, or even butternut squash. All of these go wonderfully with a mellow white or yellow miso, which is just salty and savory enough to add complexity to the sweet squash yet not taste overpowering.
To make the soup, roast the pumpkin in the oven along with a couple of sweet potatoes until tender, simmer briefly with miso and a good vegetable stock, and puree until creamy. I highly recommend garnishing with green onions and shichimi togarashi if you have it on hand. The citrus and spice of this Japanese condiment is a nice counterpoint to the silky sweetness of the soup — plus the peppercorns and chiles can warm you up even further! If you don't have shichimi togarashi, a sprinkle of toasted sesame seeds is also lovely.
Miso Pumpkin Soup
2 pounds kabocha, pumpkin, or butternut squash
1 pound sweet potatoes
4 cloves garlic, peeled
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
Freshly ground black pepper
1 shallot, chopped
2 teaspoons freshly grated ginger
3 tablespoons mellow white or yellow miso (gluten-free if necessary)
6 cups vegetable stock
2 tablespoons chopped chives or scallions
1/2 teaspoon shichimi togarashi or black and/or white sesame seeds
Preheat oven to 450°F.
Seed the pumpkin and cut it into 2-inch pieces. If the pumpkin is easy enough to peel raw, such in the case of a butternut squash, you can go ahead and peel it before cutting and roasting. A pumpkin with a harder skin, such as a kabocha, may be cut and roasted and the peel removed afterwards. (Or simply leave the skin on; it's edible when tender, although the soup will be slightly less smooth.)
Peel and cut the sweet potatoes into 2-inch pieces.
Combine the pumpkin, sweet potatoes, and garlic on a baking sheet, toss with 2 tablespoons of olive oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast in the oven until the pumpkin and sweet potatoes are tender when pierced with a knife, about 30 minutes, tossing halfway through. If you left the pumpkin skins on, peel when cool enough to handle.
Heat the remaining tablespoon of olive oil in a large pot over moderate heat. Add the shallots and ginger and cook until softened. Add the miso and vegetable stock and stir until dissolved. Add the roasted vegetables and simmer for 15 minutes. Turn down the heat if necessary to avoid boiling, as this can impair the flavor of the miso.
Puree the soup using an immersion blender, or puree in batches in a blender or food processor.
To serve, garnish with chives and a sprinkle of shichimi togarashi or sesame seeds.
(Images: Emily Han)