Pumpkin Sausage Soup inspires a reluctant cook

My husband was so happy with his first attempt at Low Carb Pumpkin Soup, he even photo-documented it. It's not the prettiest soup in the world but it is delicious and easy to make. Rob Russell/Special to The Day

As I have explored vegetables, greens and grains on my way to a plant-based, whole-grain, planet-friendly life, my husband, Rob, has enthusiastically come along.

Don't get me wrong, he'd really rather have a meatloaf sandwich, but I'm impressed not only with his willingness to try whatever is put in front of him but also his eagerness to embrace the flavors and textures he discovers that he likes, no matter that he's never had them before.

Thinking back now, I realize that this was one of the ways he won over my mother. The very first time he sat at her table he earned her lifetime affection by asking whether he could please have "some more of those little yellow square things" — rutabaga that she had cubed, boiled and doused with butter, salt and pepper. He'd never seen them before, but he knew he liked them.

Most people turn their nose up at things they've never tried. Not Rob. In fact, the last time we were in Canada, he ordered seal pie from a restaurant menu. He was disappointed and I was eternally grateful when the waiter told us that unfortunately, it hadn't been a very good season and they were all out of seal.

But despite his enthusiasm for trying new things, Rob is a reluctant cook.

He makes a mean pot of chili. He makes a fabulous focaccia dough that he expertly turns into pizza. He makes BLT and corn on the cob lunches for me all summer long. But usually, when it comes to meal planning and preparation, he'd really rather not.

I love to cook and Rob does plenty of other household things — dishes, laundry, I don't think I've run the vacuum since 1987 — so I can't complain about his lack of interest in cooking. But it is a puzzle to me. And sometimes, I can't help but provide some encouragement.

A couple of months or so ago, I had procrastinated in the face of a deadline and so it was late afternoon before I headed to my desk to write. I knew that dinner time was approaching and that I probably could finish my work in time to eat dinner at a reasonable hour, but probably not in time to cook and eat dinner at a reasonable hour.

So I planted a seed.

I had purchased the ingredients to make Low Carb Pumpkin Sausage Soup with a recipe my sister-in-law had posted on Pinterest via Food.com. I liked the recipe for a several reasons. It looked tasty and easy and it had flavors and ingredients that Rob and I usually like. I printed it out, made some notes and left in on the kitchen counter with a couple of the key ingredients — the can of pumpkin, the box of chicken stock, an onion. Then I went to my desk and got to work.

About an hour or so later, Rob came to find me. He'd looked at the recipe on the counter, he said, and he thought he could handle it, so he was going to go ahead and start dinner.

"OK, that's great," I replied, trying not to sound too delighted that my plan was working. "Just yell if you need me."

He went back to the kitchen and very soon I heard pots banging and smelled sausage browning. The recipe calls for cream, which Rob knew I wouldn't use, so we consulted on that one ingredient and decided to substitute 1 cup of milk for the called-for ½ cup of cream and ½ cup of water.

The next I heard from him, he was calling me to come and eat — music to my ears!

The soup was delicious. So good, in fact, that I made it again a couple of weeks later and it was just as good, even when I was the one putting it together.

This is the kind of recipe you can easily swing from one flavor profile to the other by substituting a couple of ingredients. It calls for breakfast sausage and Italian seasoning. Instead I use sage or thyme with the breakfast sausage, but I think if you used Italian sausage with the Italian seasoning, that would be tasty.

Mushrooms are a major player here, so don't use canned. Spring for the fresh ones and try some of the exotics — crimini or Portobello, shitake, oyster or whatever you can find that looks good.

I also finish the soup with a couple of tablespoons of sherry vinegar (the acid really helps cut the fatty richness of the sausage) and a drizzle of something spicy — a harissa infused olive oil or even just a sprinkling of cayenne pepper added with the other seasonings. The heat nicely complements the natural sweetness of the pumpkin.

Enjoy!

Low Carb Pumpkin Sausage Soup

1 (12-ounce) package Jimmy Dean sausage (I actually buy the 16-ounce tube of bulk Jimmy Dean, sage flavor, and save the remaining 4 ounces to use in a frittata later)

½ cup onion, minced

1 garlic clove, minced

1 tablespoon Italian seasoning (I substitute sage, thyme or a combination to complement the breakfast sausage)

1 to 2 cups fresh mushrooms, chopped (fresh only, and the best ones you can find)

1 15-ounce can pumpkin (not pie filling, just the plain pumpkin)

4 cups chicken broth

½ cup heavy cream*

½ cup water (*I substitute 1 cup of milk for the cream and the water)

Brown sausage, breaking it up as it cooks (a potato masher works great for this). When it's browned, pour off the fat. Add the onion, garlic, seasonings and mushrooms and sauté until the onions are translucent and the mushrooms are tender.

Add pumpkin and mix well. Then stir in the broth and mix well. Simmer 20-30 minutes.

Stir in the heavy cream and water (or substitute 1 cup of milk for both) and simmer on low another 10-15 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Original recipe from www.food.com, where nutrition information indicates the soup serves six and (with the cream) has 346 calories per serving.

Just one final note: I'd like to thank all of you who posted a comment or sent me an email after my last column about my brother's death and his favorite Wacky Cake. I am moved and humbled by your kind words and your willingness to share them with me. Thank you all so much.

Jill Blanchette works at night at The Day. Share comments and recipes with her at j.blanchette@theday.com.

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