It's fall and that means soups, sweet potatoes and pecans. Locally, sweet potatoes are abundant at the farmers markets and further south pecan trees are yielding their nuts.
This soup is evocative of the cooler weather and shorter days of fall. It combines the sweet creaminess of the potato, with the saltiness of rendered pancetta and the crunch of the spiced pecans to give lots of flavors and textures in each spoonful. This recipe and its' presentation is inspired by a pumpkin soup I had about a year ago, at Majestic (then The Majestic Cafe) in Old Town Alexandria. The bowl came with pulled pork and the soup was ceremoniously poured in the middle. Toasted pumpkin seeds were then placed atop as a garnish. I hope you enjoy this recipe as much as I do.
2-2 1/2 cups pecans
1 stick butter
1 cup brown sugar
1 t. pumpkin spice
4-5 "shots" of sriracha or other hot sauce
1 T. olive oil
1/2 medium onion, cubed
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 lb. sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
4 cups chicken stock or broth
1 t. cumin
1 t. curry
3/4 cup half and half
salt to taste
1/4 t. white pepper
1/4 pound pancetta, sliced into cubes or sticks
Heat olive oil in a heavy bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Add onions and cook until translucent, about 3-4 minutes. Add garlic and cook an additional 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Add sweet potatoes and a pinch of salt. Stir to combine. Add chicken stock and bring up to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer and cover. Allow potatoes to cook for 20-30 minutes, until they are soft and yield easily to a fork.
Transfer the contents of the saucepan to a blender. Blend in batches if needed. Place a thickly folded dish towel over the blender's top opening to allow for steam to escape. Pulse the mixture a few times until you're sure the soup isn't coming out of the top of the blender. Turn blender on high for 2-3 minutes, until mixture is liquefied.
In a saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the sugar, pumpkin spice and sriracha. Stir frequently until the butter and sugar incorporate, about 5 minutes. In a mixing bowl, combine the pecans and butter mixture to coat thoroughly. Transfer pecans to a baking sheet (use a silicon mat or non-stick spray) and spread out evenly. Place the pecans in a pre-heated 350 degree oven. Bake for 5 minutes. Remove from oven and toss the pecans lightly. Bake an additional 5 minutes. Allow the pecans to cool completely, approximately 1/2 hour.
Place pancetta in a non-stick pan over medium heat. Cook until fat is rendered and pancetta is crispy. Transfer to a paper towel to drain.
Place a few pieces of pancetta in a bowl. Pour soup over pancetta and garnish with chopped spiced pecans.