A Classic Soup Recipe for Thanksgiving

"What's the secret to a great Thanksgiving dinner?"

I hear that question often when people begin to think about what they're going to cook for Thanksgiving.

My first answer is the same one you'll hear experts in all kinds of fields give about any major project: Plan ahead! So I suggest that, if you haven't already, start thinking now about what you're going to cook for Thanksgiving.

I also suggest that you put as much thought into other courses of the meal as you do for the turkey. Often, when people think back to their most memorable Thanksgiving meals, the appetizers, sides, and desserts come to mind before the main course. (Besides, in next week's column I'll share with you a great, out-of-the-ordinary way to prepare a turkey.)

So, I propose you plan to begin Thanksgiving dinner with my Fresh Pumpkin and Oyster Soup, served in a pumpkin shell! It will make a big impression, yet is fairly simple to prepare.

Start now so you can make sure to get the right ingredients. For the pumpkin itself, look for a sweet cooking variety, sometimes labeled a "sugar pumpkin" or "pie pumpkin," or for any other good-tasting spherical, hard-shelled winter squash, such as Kabocha or Hubbard. You'll need one weighing 6 to 8 pounds for 6 servings. If you have more guests, just buy more pumpkins, make sure you have a baking pan and serving platter large enough to hold them, and puree the soup in batches. (And if the pumpkins or other squashes are odd sizes or unattractive, follow the recipe as directed but serve the soup in your nicest tureen.)

As for the oysters, buy them from the best seafood shop you can find, choosing only those that are absolutely fresh, with tightly closed shells. I prefer smaller varieties such as the excellent Kumamotos, but if only larger ones are available you can cut up the meat after cooking and shelling. While the recipe calls for cooking the oysters in their shells, if you find it more convenient you can ask the market to shuck them for you, or even buy a jar of the already-shucked fresh oysters that some markets sell; just poach them for a few minutes with the wine, celery, and shallots as directed in the recipe.

For more convenient Thanksgiving planning, feel free to do some of the work in advance. Make the croutons and, once they're completely cooled, store in an airtight container. Cook and puree the soup, and poach the oysters, several hours ahead, too, storing them in the refrigerator and then, before serving, gently reheating the soup and then adding the oysters to warm through before serving.

Here's to a happy Thanksgiving!

Fresh Pumpkin & Oyster Soup Recipe

Serves 6

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

6 slices French bread, each about 1/2 inch thick, cut into small cubes

1 cooking pumpkin, 6 to 8 pounds

1 pint heavy cream, plus extra if necessary

1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves

Salt

Freshly ground white pepper

1 cup dry white wine

1/2 cup finely chopped organic celery

1/4 cup finely chopped shallots

6 fresh oysters, shells thoroughly scrubbed and rinsed clean

Cayenne pepper

Fresh lemon juice

Melt the butter in a skillet over medium-low heat. Add the bread and saute, stirring frequently, until golden brown, 7 to 10 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Meanwhile, using a sharp, serrated knife, carefully cut off the top of the pumpkin, taking care as well not to pierce the shell in other places. With a large, sharp-edged spoon, scrape out the seeds and strings.

Fold a clean dishtowel and place it in the bottom of a roasting pan large and deep enough to hold the pumpkin. Place the pumpkin shell on the towel. Bring a kettle of water to a boil.

In a saucepan, bring the cream to a boil. Carefully pour enough cream into the pumpkin shell to fill it almost to the top. Stir in the thyme and salt and pepper to taste. Open the preheated oven and, using a potholder or oven mitt, pull out the shelf and put the pan on it. Pour enough boiling water into the pan to come just over 1 inch up the side of the pumpkin. Slide the shelf into the oven, taking care to avoid sloshing.

Bake until the pumpkin's flesh is soft when probed from the inside with the tip of a small, sharp knife, about 50 minutes. (Be careful not to puncture the shell.)

Meanwhile, put the wine, celery, and shallots in a saucepan large enough to hold the oysters in a single layer. Add the oysters, cover, and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, steaming until they have opened, 5 to 10 minutes. Remove the oysters to a plate or bowl and remove the meat from their shells, setting it aside and discarding the shells. Return the juices to the pan. Line a fine sieve with cheesecloth, place over a clean bowl, and strain the juices, setting them aside.

Carefully pour or ladle the cream from the pumpkin into a food processor or blender, working in batches if necessary. With a large, sharp-edged spoon, scoop out the pumpkin flesh, leaving a 1/2-inch shell. Add the pumpkin flesh and strained oyster liquid to the cream and blend until smooth. Transfer the puree to a saucepan, bring to a boil, and cook over low heat until thickened and the flavors have concentrated, 15 to 20 minutes. Season to taste with cayenne, lemon juice, salt, and white pepper. Add the reserved oysters, cutting any large ones into 3 or 4 pieces, and heat for about 30 seconds longer.

To serve, place folded napkins or tea towels on a platter to anchor the pumpkin. Place the pumpkin shell on top. Ladle the soup into the shell. At the table, ladle the soup into warmed bowls and garnish with the reserved croutons.

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Fresh Pumpkin And Oyster Soup Recipe - Wolfgang Puck Recipes

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