Pumpkin, Shiitake and Chestnut Soup

These are three ingredients that just seem to belong together, like the Three Little Pigs.  Each brings something deep and comforting and their flavors play off each other beautifully.  Add to that marsala and a touch of maple syrup and you have a great fall soup. We used a dry marsala, so the soup definitely benefitted from the maple syrup at the end.  If you use a sweet marsala, you may find you don’t need it at all.  If you don’t have marsala, try a medium-dry sherry instead.  You want something that has a nutmeg-y flavor.

3 T olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped (about 1 C)
½ C fennel or celery stalks, chopped
8 oz shiitake mushrooms, stems removed and sliced into 1/4-inch strips
¼ t red pepper flakes
½ t ground nutmeg
½ t ground cardamom
¼ t salt
¼ t pepper
¼ C dry or sweet marsala, plus more for garnish
3 C pureed pumpkin, canned or fresh (about ½ of one pie pumpkin, see below)
4 C chicken, vegetable or mushroom broth
1½ C chestnuts, such as Melissa’s vacuum-packed, chopped
¼ C heavy cream (optional)
salt and pepper to taste
1/8 C maple syrup, more or less, as needed

Heat a large, lidded, pan over medium heat and add olive oil; when olive oil is hot and shimmery, add onions, fennel or celery and shiitakes.  Cover. Saute, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking,  until the vegetables have softened and the mushrooms are golden, about eight minutes.  Add seasoning and deglaze with the marsala, reducing until you have about two tablespoons of liquid. Add pureed pumpkin, chestnut and broth. Cover and turn heat to low.  Simmer 40 minutes.  Using an immersion blender, blend soup for about 15-20 seconds to achieve a partially pureed soup while still retaining some chunkiness and texture. Add cream, if using. Taste for seasoning, adding salt, pepper and maple syrup as needed.  Drizzle with more marsala and serve.

Pumpkin Puree

Select a medium pie pumpkin, about 2 or 2½ pounds. Halve, scoop out seeds from cavity.  Place halves in large plastic bag; do not close.  Place bagged pumpkin in microwave and microwave at high 10-15 minutes.  When cool, remove flesh and puree in food processor or blender.  You should have about six cups of pumpkin.

 What is Marsala?

   It’s Sicily’s answer to sherry.  It’s a fortified wine that comes in a sweet version or a dry version.  Sherry is an acceptable substitute, but marsala tends to be more nutty. Check it out anywhere that sherry is sold.

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