With all of the political hullabaloo this election season, I've decided that the only party I wish to be a member of these days is the Dinner Party.
A good meal has the ability to heal us in many ways, and I believe that if our elected officials, as well as those running for office, were forced to sit at the same table and break bread together on a regular basis, our country — and the world — would be a better place.
This savory pumpkin soup, which I think I'll rename "Apolitical Pumpkin Potage" just for this season (I am a sucker for alliteration), would be a perfect starter for a lively dinner party. Its pleasing autumnal aromatics will fill the room with comfort and warmth and, if you serve it in a fresh pumpkin shell, even your most curmudgeonly guest may be charmed into the conversation.
It has long been said that one of the cardinal rules to ensure a successful dinner party is to steer clear of discussing politics and religion, but since both of these topics have been front and center in our news coverage lately, maybe they deserve some discussion. Maybe we need to create a new rule, one that doesn't preclude any topic, but instead insists upon creating discussion that is courteous, stimulating, meaningful and even, perhaps, enlightening.
Wouldn't it be fun to fill a table with a diversity of folks from different faiths, political backgrounds and careers? Imagine the possible groups you could create: a local member of the clergy and an atheist, a rancher and a vegan, a liberal and a conservative, a nonagenarian and a millennial, a banker and a social worker, an opera singer and a football coach, a farmer and an urban planner... the possibilities are endless.
In fact, the more I think about this imaginary guest list, the more convinced I am that a dinner party of this variety is long overdue in our home.
For inspiration and guidance, I did just a little digging online to see if there are others out there who have explored this idea. In the process, I stumbled upon a page from Marquette University promoting their Kantian Dinner Party Initiative, which is described as "the world's first free public dinner in Milwaukee, Wis., following rules set by the 18th-century philosopher Immanuel Kant.
"The site detailed four of Kant's most important rules for a dinner party, which are defined in his book "Anthropology From a Pragmatic Point of View" and include: the size of the group (no fewer than three, no more than nine guests), the host, who is responsible for maintaining "an open, inclusive and flowing conversation," a duty of secrecy, in order "to establish the trust necessary for a genuinely open conversation," and finally, respect for fellow guests, to ensure that "mutual respect and benevolence always shine forth."
What a refreshing idea. Last week I decided to eschew watching television for the foreseeable future in favor of more soulful pursuits like cooking, reading, broadening my knowledge of jazz and classical music, and examining my faith. I think I'll add Kant's book to my reading list, and start planning the menu, music and guest list for what I hope will be the first of several Kant-inspired dinners in our home.
Because the reality is, no matter who gets elected on Nov. 8, we'll all still be standing come Nov. 9, and we'll all still need to eat. Fortunately, unlike our nation's politics, a good dinner party never disappoints.
For more information on Marquette's Kantian Dinner Party Initiative, visit their webpage at www.marquette.edu/kdpi/rules.php.
Pumpkin Soup, or Apolitical Pumpkin Potage
Serves: 6 to 8
1 sugar or "pick a pie"' pumpkin (2-4 pounds), halved from top to bottom, seeds and pulp removed OR 8 ounces pureed pumpkin from can (pure pumpkin only, no seasonings)
1 medium onion, roughly chopped
1 celery stalk, roughly chopped
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon whole cloves
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
4 tablespoons (half a stick or 2 ounces) unsalted butter
4 to 6 cups chicken stock, low sodium (32-48 ounces)
¾ cup heavy cream
Garnish with any of the following:
- Dollop of sour cream
- Drizzle of fresh heavy cream
- Dried cranberries
- Roasted pumpkin seeds
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. With a sharp knife, remove the pumpkin's stem and slice pumpkin in half, from top to bottom. Use a sharp spoon to scoop out the seeds and stringy pulp until flesh is smooth. Reserve seeds to roast later if desired.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and lay each pumpkin half face-side down. Roast until skin is quite soft to the touch (fork tender) and the edges have turned a rich golden brown (not black), about 45 to 60 minutes. Oven temperatures and timing may vary, so start checking for doneness at 40 minutes.
Remove from oven and cool until just ready to handle. Use a spoon to scoop out the flesh, discarding the skins, then set aside.
In a stockpot over medium-low heat, melt the butter then add the onion and celery, stirring until all pieces are coated in butter. Cook over medium-low heat until the vegetables have softened and the onions are translucent, stirring occasionally, being careful not to caramelize the onions, about 10 minutes.
Stir in the pumpkin, spices and 4 cups of chicken stock. Simmer over medium-low to low heat for 45 to 60 minutes until all vegetables are fully softened, adding more stock if mixture becomes too thick.
In the same pot, use a handheld immersion blender to puree the mixture until completely smooth, with no lumps remaining. Strain the mixture into another large pot to remove any extra bits of pulp and ensure a silky consistency.
Add the heavy cream and stir to incorporate, then simmer over medium-low heat for 10 minutes before serving. Taste and add salt and pepper as desired, starting with a half-teaspoon of salt and ¼ teaspoon of pepper.
Ladle into serving bowls and garnish as desired.
To store: Refrigerate in an airtight container for up to 1 week, or freeze for up to 3 months.
- For an elegant and festive presentation, carve out small sugar pumpkins to use as serving bowls.
- Add 1 cup of roasted butternut squash to the mix for even more fall flavor. Be sure to increase the amount of chicken stock accordingly.
- For a sweeter version, add 2 tablespoons of maple syrup or brown sugar when adding the pumpkin.
- Since this soup is pureed, the onions and celery can be roughly chopped into 1-inch pieces, or thereabouts.
- Heavy cream is added for its sheen and to build a richer flavor, but may be omitted if desired.
- For a vegetarian option, use vegetable stock in place of chicken stock.
- Some pumpkins are riper than others, so taste the roasted pumpkin to determine its depth of flavor and add some canned pure pumpkin to the soup if needed, starting with half a can and adding more as desired.
- A liquid blender or food processor may also be used to puree the soup.
"Home With the Lost Italian" is a weekly column written by Sarah Nasello featuring recipes by her husband, Tony Nasello. The couple owns Sarello's in Moorhead and lives in Fargo with their 12-year-old son, Giovanni.