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Pumpkin-White Bean Chowder*

Serves 6 to 8

2-1/2 qt chicken stock
1-1/2 C white beans, soaked overnight and drained
1 medium pumpkin (about 5 to 6 lb)
8 oz Canadian bacon or ham
1 medium onion, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
1 carrot, diced
1 red bell pepper, seeded and diced
1 yellow bell pepper, seeded and diced
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
2 T fresh thyme, chopped
1/4 C white wine
4 slices French or sourdough bread
1 T olive oil
1 T roasted garlic
1 pomegranate
1/2 C crème fraîche
1 T heavy cream
4 T chives, chopped

Bring 1/2 qt (2 C) of the chicken stock to a boil and add the soaked beans. Lower the heat and simmer for 30 to 45 minutes, until tender.

Meanwhile, slice the pumpkin into 4 pieces and remove seeds. Place 3 pieces, skin-side down, on a cookie sheet and bake at 350° for 30 minutes. Have a bowl of very cold water ready. Peel the reserved piece and cut into 1/4-inch dice. Bring a pan of water to the boil and cook the diced pumpkin until tender, about 1 minute. Drain and then plunge boiled, diced pumpkin into the bowl of cold water. When cold, drain and set aside.

Cook the Canadian bacon in a large saucepan over medium heat for 1 minute. Add the onion, celery, carrot, bell peppers, garlic, and thyme. Cook for about 3 to 5 minutes, or until vegetables become translucent. Add white wine and remove pan from heat.

Remove skin and seeds from roasted pumpkin. Cut into pieces and add to vegetables. Return pan to heat, add remaining 2 qt chicken stock and simmer for 45 minutes. Ladle soup into a blender and purée. Pass through a strainer and return to a clean saucepan. Add reserved diced pumpkin and white beans. Heat thoroughly.

To make the croutons, cut the crust off the bread and cut the bread into 1/2-inch cubes. Combine the olive oil, salt, and roasted garlic in a mixing bowl; add the bread cubes. Mix thoroughly so the croutons are well seasoned. Place on a sheet pan and bake 350° until croutons are golden brown, about 5 to 7 minutes.

To make pomegranate crème fraîche, cut the pomegranate into quarters and reserve one of the quarters for garnish. Squeeze the other three quarters into a saucepan and reduce to a syrupy glaze over medium heat. Let cool, then whisk in a mixing bowl together with the crème fraîche and heavy cream. Remove seeds from the reserved pomegranate quarter to use for garnish.

To serve, ladle soup into warm bowls and garnish with croutons, pomegranate crème fraîche, chives, and a few of the reserved pomegranate seeds.

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