Starting the New Year Warmly with Pumpkin, Pancetta, and Arborio Rice Soup
Now that the decadent holiday feasts are over, you can’t help but long for something simpler, born of total ease and comfort.
Soup fits that bill like nothing else.
Portland, OR food writer Ivy Manning comes to the rescue with her clever “Easy Soups From Scratch with Quick Breads to Match” (Chronicle Books), of which I received a review copy.
Sure, you could make a batch of soup and serve it with a purchased baguette. But why not up your game by pairing a soup perfectly with an accompanying bread that takes little time to make fresh at home?
That’s the premise of the book, which includes 70 recipes for soups and breads, which you can mix and match, though Manning gives a bread recommendation or two for each soup in case you find yourself overwhelmed by the choices.
For instance, with “Barbecue Pork and Miso Ramen,” serve alongside either “Korean Egg Breads” or “Flaky Green Onion Pancakes.” With “Italian Meatball and Greens Soup,” try with either “Olive and Prosciutto Rolls” or “Roasted Garlic Focaccia.”
When I made her “Pumpkin, Pancetta, and Arborio Rice Soup,” I decided to match it with “Bannock Bread with Browned Butter and Sage.”
Instead of pumpkin, I used my favorite kabocha squash, which is sweet and fluffy in texture.
Pancetta — and yes, its rendered oil — flavors the soup with a nice smoky, porkiness. Bite-size pieces of squash get added in with garlic, chopped leeks, white wine, a Parmigiano-Reggiano rind, broth, white wine, and red chile flakes. The cheese rind is key, as it adds a real depth to the soup. Arborio rice gets stirred in as it all cooks, making the soup even more substantial.
The Bannock Bread starts with ingeniously browning butter with fresh sage leaves in the cast-iron skillet as the oven heats up — the same skillet the bread will later bake in. You remove the sage leaves and set them off to the side, then pour the nutty browned butter from the pan into the easy buttermilk batter stirred together in a bowl. Transfer the bowl’s contents back into the hot skillet, arrange the sage leaves on top, and bake.
The bread is tender, fluffy and buttery. The soup is quite filling because of the squash and the rice. It’s a little sweet tasting from the squash, a little throat-tickling from the chile flakes.
If you refrigerate any leftovers to enjoy the next day, the soup will have thickened considerably. In fact, to me, it took on the consistency of Chinese congee, which I love. If you prefer it thinner, just add a little more chicken broth when rewarming.
You can’t get more basic than soup and bread to warm the soul in a new year — even if this particular soup and this particular bread are anything but austere.
Pumpkin, Pancetta, and Arborio Rice Soup
(Serves 4 to 6)
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
3 ounces finely chopped pancetta or thick-cut bacon
1 large leek, white and light green parts only, rinsed well and thinly sliced
4 cups bite-sized pieces peeled pumpkin or winter squash
2 medium garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup dry white wine
4 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup arborio rice
One 3-inch chunk Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese rind, plus grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese for serving
1 pinch dried red chile flakes
Freshly ground black pepper
Heat the oil in a large soup pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the pancetta and saute until it has rendered all its fat and begins to brown, about 4 minutes. Add the leek and saute until tender, about 3 minutes more. Add the pumpkin and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until the pumpkin begins to soften a little, another 4 minutes.
Add the wine to the pot and cook until nearly evaporated, about 1 minute. Add the chicken broth, 2 cups hot water, the rice, cheese rind, and red chile flakes. Cover and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to low and simmer until the squash is tender, about 15 minutes. Discard the cheese rind. If you would like a thicker soup, increase the heat to medium-high and cook, uncovered, for 5 minutes more. Season with salt and pepper.
Ladle the soup into bowls. Serve immediately, with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano on the side.
Bannock Bread with Browned Butter and Sage
(Serves 6 to 8)
1/3 cup unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch cubes
8 to 10 large fresh sage leaves
1 1/3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/3 cup oat flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 cup buttermilk
3 large eggs, beaten
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. While the oven is heating up, place the butter and sage in a heavy 12-to 14-inch cast-iron skillet, slide the skillet into the oven, and cook until the butter is browned and the sage is crispy, about 15 minutes. Remove the skillet from the oven. Carefully remove the sage from the skillet, trying to keep the leaves whole, and set them aside. Let the butter cool in the pan a little while you make the batter.
In a large bowl, whisk together both flours, the sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add the buttermilk and eggs to the dry ingredients and scrape the melted butter from the skillet into the batter. Stir with a wooden spoon until just combined and there are no traces of dry flour in the batter. Do not overmix.
Scrape the batter into the skillet, smooth the top with a rubber spatula, and arrange the sage leaves on the top of the batter in a circle. Bake until the bread is golden brown and a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean, about 20 minutes.
Cut the bread into wedges and serve warm.
From “Easy Soups From Scratch with Quick Breads to Match” by Ivy Manning
More Soups to Enjoy: Cauliflower Soup with Aged Cheddar & Mustard Croutons