Zuppa di zucca and the hunt for a common kitchen appliance

Posted on October 27, 2012

Last week, I decided to make pumpkin soup. Actually, I didn’t so much decide to make pumpkin soup as I realized that I had actually been craving pumpkin soup, which was strange considering that I didn’t really even think I liked pumpkin all that much, and suddenly, as I was planning out my menu for the next few days, it was all I could think about.

At the market, I bought a sizeable chunk of pumpkin (you can buy it in custom-cut portions here – the girl at the market  stood over a massive, blob-like pumpkin with a long knife in her hand, sliding it along to indicate a larger and larger section until I said “così” and she stabbed the knife into the pumpkin and hacked off a piece), a slab of guanciale, some leeks, an onion and some sage. I stuffed everything into my bike’s basket – the pumpkin chunk took up most of the space in the basket, so I had to ride along with the leeks wedged into the edge, their stalks sticking straight up into the air in front of me – and was about to head straight back home when I realized that in order to make the creamy, smooth soup that I had been envisioning, I’d need a blender of some sort, which would require a trip to a kitchen shop.

After consulting a map (for the location of the kitchen shop nearest to the market) and a translator (for the Italian word for “blender”), I set off on my mission. Finding the shop turned out to be easy; too easy, in fact. The first hurdle was explaining what I was actually looking for to the sales girl – my enquiry of “sto cercando un miscelatore. Ce l’hai?” was met with the blankest of blank looks in return, and then, by consulting Google Translate together on my phone, I realized that the word I was using didn’t even refer to the kitchen appliance at all. Apparently, I was supposed to be looking for a frullatore, not a miscelatore.

The second hurdle was that the shop didn’t have any blenders. Actually, it appears as though kitchen supply stores in Italy don’t actually sell blenders at all – no, that would be the domain of the elettrodomestici, a strange breed of shop that’s a cross between a hardware store and the “small home appliances” aisle of a typical large North American drugstore. Envision a window display full of hair straighteners, microwaves, light fixtures and televisions in dusty boxes, and you’ve got a decent mental picture of this elettrodomestici, which took me a solid half hour of walking my bike up and down the sidewalk to locate. Surprisingly, I spotted a blender as soon as I walked into the shop, which saved me from any more embarrassing linguistic issues and allowed me to get back to my kitchen before my hunger got the best of me and convinced me to do something quick and convenient – like, say, eating a slice of pizza – for lunch instead of slaving away over a soup that would take at least two hours before it was ready to eat.

The soup, which I like to refer to as “zuppa di zucca” even though I wasn’t following an authentic Italian recipe, or even any recipe at all, turned out to be exactly what I was craving. Flavourful but subtle, creamy without being rich, and – most importantly – infused with the taste of irrefutably delicious guanciale.

Pumpkin, leek and onion soup

Sara’s Zuppa di Zucca

Otherwise known as pumpkin, leek and onion soup

  • 1 sizeable piece of pumpkin (or 1 small whole pumpkin), peeled, pulp and seeds discarded
  • 2 large leeks, white and light green parts only, sliced
  • 1 large yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 chunk of guanciale, sliced into thin strips (substitute pancetta or bacon if you can’t find guanciale)
  • 3 cups chicken stock, beef broth or vegetable broth
  • Several sage leaves, torn into pieces
  • The rind from a piece of parmesan cheese (if you don’t have a rind, use a small chunk of the cheese)
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg
  • Heavy cream
  • Olive oil
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Bread, toasted and cut into croutons

On a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, toss the pumpkin pieces with olive oil, salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Roast until the pumpkin is soft.

While the pumpkin is roasting, cook the strips of guanciale over medium-low heat until slightly crispy. Remove from the pan and set aside. Heat the pan to medium-high and add the onions to the fat from the guanciale and cook until they’re beginning to soften, then add the leek. Cook until soft and beginning to brown (but not burn). Remove from the pan and set aside.

In a large, lidded pot, add the pumpkin, guanciale (reserving a spoonful or two for garnish), onion, leeks, chicken stock, sage, and the parmesan cheese rind. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add enough water to cover to just cover the mixture, bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for about an hour or until the liquid has reduced by about half.

Remove the parmesan rind, then purée the soup until smooth using an immersion blender (if you don’t have an immersion blender, wait until the soup has cooled and then purée in batches in an ordinary blender). Stir in heavy cream as desired (I used about a quarter of a cup for a large pot of soup).

Serve with a swirl of olive oil, a handful of croutons, freshly cracked pepper and a sprinkling of guanciale.

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