The richness of pumpkin and the hearty onion flavor of leek have long been favorite partners in French soups. In 1766, when traveling through Burgundy Tobias Smollett wrote, “I observed a vast quantity of very large pompions (pumpkins) with the contents of which they thicken their soups and ragoûts.” French pumpkins are larger than most in the United States, so here I call for a piece rather than a whole pumpkin. Now that duck liver is produced in farmhouses all over France, the festive addition of a sliver of foie gras is almost expected!
- 2 pounds/900 g pumpkin pieces
- 2 baking potatoes (about 12 ounces/330 g total)
- 4 leeks (about 1 1/2 pounds/675 g total), white part only, thinly sliced
- 5 cups/1.25 liters water
- Salt and pepper
- Pinch of sugar (optional)
- 6 ounces/170 g fresh foie gras
- 4 tablespoons/60 g butter, cut into pieces
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives
Cut the peel from the pumpkin with a large knife and remove and discard the seeds and fibers, pulling them away with your hand. There should be about 1 1/2 pounds/675 g flesh. Cut the flesh into 1-inch/2.5-cm chunks. Peel the potatoes and cut them into chunks the same size as the pumpkin. Put the pumpkin, potatoes, and leeks in a soup pot and add the water and some salt. Bring to a boil, cover, and simmer until the vegetables are very soft, 30 to 40 minutes.
Working in 2 or 3 batches, purée the vegetables and liquid in a food mill or blender. Wipe out the soup pot and return the purée to it. Bring the soup to a boil. The consistency should be rich, but if it is very thick, add more water. Taste the soup and adjust the seasoning, adding the sugar if it seems bland. The soup keeps well in the refrigerator for up to 3 days, or it can be frozen for up to 3 months.
To finish, reheat the soup if necessary. Cut the foie gras into 6 thin slices, discarding any skin or membrane. Heat a small frying pan until very hot. Sprinkle the foie gras with salt and pepper and sear it quickly on each side, 30 seconds to 1 minute. Don’t cook it too long, or it will melt into a pool of oil. Stir the butter into the hot soup a few pieces at a time and spoon the soup into bowls. Set a slice of foie gras on top, sprinkle with the chives, and serve.
photo by France Ruffenach
Excerpted from THE COUNTRY COOKING OF FRANCE
by Anne Willan, Chronicle Books, 2007.