Pumpkin Mussel Soup

Everyone who tastes this soup falls in love with it. Many different kinds of squash--buttercup, butternut, or red kuri, for example.---can be substituted for the pumpkin in this recipe. I like to roast pumpkin whole rather than boil or steam it because the pulp is less watery and the flavor is superior using this method. Save the pumpkin seed; toasted, they are good as a snack, in salads, or as an additional garnish for the soup. If you prefer a creamier soup, you can whisk in a small amount of heavy cream at the very end of the cooking process.

1. Preheat the oven to 350F
2. Wash the pumpkin very well, leaving the stem on. Put in a roasting pan to fit snugly. Fill the pan with 4 to 5 inches of water and cover with foil. Bake for about 1 1/2hours, until the pumpkin is tender (test with the tip of a paring knife). Remove the pan from the oven, take off the foil, and drain off excess water. Let the pumpkin cool to room temperature. When cool, cut in half, remove the seeds and strings, and scrape out the pulp to use in the soup.
3. Heat the oil over high heat in an 8-quart stockpot. Add the onions, garlic, thyme, pepper, and mussels. Pour in the wine, cover the pot, and cook the mussels un-til they just begin to open, about 5 to 8 minutes. Be careful not to overcook them, as they will shrink. Discard any mussels that haven't opened. Remove the rest of the mussels from the pot, reserving the liquid. Let them cool, then pull them from their shells, trying not to break them, and set aside in a bowl.
4. In a food processor or blender, or using an immersion blender, puree half of the pumpkin pulp with a small amount of the mussel liquid until smooth. Repeat with the remaining pulp. Put the pumpkin puree in a 4-to 6-quart pot and whisk in the rest of the mussel liquid, the fish stock, and nutmeg. Bring to a boil over mediumheat, then reduce the heat and simmer for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. The soup should have a creamy consistency, but should not be overly thick. Adjust seasoning, and finish with the lemon juice. Stir the mussels into the soup just before serving. Let the guests top their bowls with a few drops of truffle oil and a handful of fresh herbs.

Makes 1 gallon; serves 10 or more as part buffet

NOTE: Truffle oil--which can be found in many gourmet and specialty shops--is a wonderful infused oil made from fresh truffles; it gives you the taste of truffles with-out the expense. You need only a few drops, as it is very fragrant. Be sure to buy the best quality; the taste should be string and pure. This oil heightens the flavor of cooked pasta, risottos, chicken ragouts, fish, and many other dishes.
PLANNING AHEAD: The pumpkin can be roasted, and the pulp removes, up to 3 days ahead. Or you can do it even further ahead and freeze the pulp, in which case the pulp should be thawed before proceeding with the recipe. The mussels can also be cooked up to 3 days ahead and stored in the refrigerator in their broth until ready to use. The fish stock can be made well in advance and kept in the freezer until you need it.

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