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Big Cooks for Small Fry

Chef Carla Hall works some magic with Gavi Villar, 9, of Herndon. (Imagination Stage)

Recognize the woman in the hat? "Top Chef: Season 5" finalist Carla Hall has not taken up the witch's wand. She was the first of some high-profile Washington area chefs scheduled to teach monthly children's hands-on cooking classes at the Just Imagine Cafe in Bethesda's Imagination Stage.

Recipe Included

On Tuesday in the afterschool-activity hours, the owner-exec chef of Alchemy Caterers showed a group of 15, ages 9 to 12, how to make pumpkin soup and a baked-apple dessert. Both recipes featured ingredients from local producers (all the rage these days).

Penn Staples runs the show. She's a former CSPI'er and founder of Fresh Course Foods, which stocks the cafe's pantry. On the menu: seasonal salads, panini and fresh fruits and vegetables, served in biodegradable packaging -- not to mention chef Carla's pumpkin soup. Not on the menu: artificial flavorings and colors, trans fats and all that old-fashioned sticky stuff.

The next class will take place on Nov. 3 at 4:30 p.m.; chef K.N. Vinod of Indique Heights will perform feats of autumn fare. Other chefs scheduled to get next to kids include Ris Lacoste, Todd Gray and Jose Andres.

For information on the classes, click here or call 301-280-1685.

P.S. Keep reading to get Carla's soup recipe. We haven't tried, but it looks easy and good.

-- Bonnie Benwick

Carla Hall’s Pumpkin Soup
8 to 10 servings

1 medium pumpkin (about 3 pounds)
1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 rib celery, coarsely chopped
2 carrots, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 leek, white part only, cleaned well then coarsely chopped
3 cloves garlic, smashed
Freshly ground black pepper
4 cups vegetable broth, plus more as needed
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 bay leaf
1/4 cup chilled heavy cream
Toasted pumpkin seeds, for garnish

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Cut the pumpkin in half and place the halves cut-sides down on a rimmed baking sheet. Pour the water around the pumpkin. Bake for 40 minutes, or until the pumpkin is soft. Allow to cool, then discard the seeds/stringy stuff. Use a big spoon to scoop the flesh out of pumpkin shell into a bowl. (This step may be done 1 to 2 days in advance.)

Heat the oil in a medium pot on on medium-low heat. Add the roasted pumpkin flesh, celery, carrots, onion, leek and garlic. Cook until the onions and leeks are translucent. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add the cumin, coriander, cayenne pepper and bay leaf; stir to incorporate.

Add the broth and increase the heat to medium-high; bring just to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low, cover and cook for 40 to 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Remove from heat. Discard the bay leaf. Puree the mixture (either with an immersion/stick blender or in small batches in the blender, with the center knob removed to vent the steam) until silky smooth.

Return the soup to the pot over low heat; add the cream and stir to mix well and heat through. If the soup is too thick, use a little extra broth to achieve the desired consistency. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed. Divide among individual bowls and serve warm, with a garnish of toasted pumpkin seeds on top.

By The Food Section  |  October 8, 2009; 2:00 PM ET
Categories:  Chefs  | Tags: Bonnie Benwick, Carla Hall, Top Chef  
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