Archive for October, 2008

Confession: I hate pumpkin pie

Roasted pumpkin

Roasted pumpkin

I know, it’s almost un-American. And a little illogical, since I’m a huge fan of pies in general, pumpkin and other winter squashes, and the usual pumpkin pie spices – cinnamon, nutmug, cloves, ginger.

But so many of the pumpkin pies I’ve encountered – and even made – have turned out heavy and wet and so sweet as to disguise the subtle flavors of the squash. Not very appetizing, frankly.

I blame canned pumpkin, in part. It always seems so high in water content, no wonder the pie filling so often winds up turning even a perfectly good pie crust into sodden mush. Using whole pumpkin helps, as long as you get a variety that’s bred for eating, not carving, cook it simply and blend it to a puree. But pumpkin pie still isn’t high on my list of favorite desserts.

Still: Pumpkin, spices – nothing to dislike there. So every year when pumpkin season rolls around, I experiment with other ways of combining them in not-pie form. I’ve made pumpkin cheesecake, pumpkin custard, pumpkin fudge and cute little puff pastry turnovers folded around diced cooked pumpkin and drizzled with caramel sauce. All tasty.

This year it’s ice cream. I have a second-hand Donvier ice-cream maker, the sort with the metal cylinder you keep in the freezer and then pop into its plastic housing whenever the urge for ice cream strikes. It’s very handy, and way less fuss than traditional churn-till-your-arm-falls-off freezers.

As usual, I looked at a bunch of recipes, borrowed a bit from this and a bit from that, and came up with what a rich, flavorful ice cream that has all the good qualities of pumpkin pie, and none of the objectionable ones. I chose an eggless ice cream base, because it makes a slightly softer ice cream that doesn’t fight back when you’re trying to scoop it, doubled the spices other recipes called for and reduced the sugar, because I wanted the pumpkin to shine through. And to give it added texture interest, added nuggets of pralined pecan for a little sweet, nutty crunch – and turned the pumpkin seeds into a spicy garnish. The resulting ice cream is rich and spicy, not too sweet and very pumpkin-y, and would make a great Thanksgiving dessert. Even alongside pumpkin pie.

Spicy pumpkin ice cream

Ingredients

  • 1 small pie pumpkin
  • Light-flavored oil (I used peanut oil)
  • 6 Tbsp brown sugar
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/2 tsp ground allspice (optional)
  • 1 tsp powdered ginger
  • 1 Tbsp bourbon (or good vanilla)
  • 2 cups heavy cream

For praline

  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 2 Tbsp water
  • 1 cup pecan pieces

Method

Preheat oven to 350F. Prepare the pumpkin by removing the stem and quartering the squash. Use a big spoon or ice cream scoop to remove the seeds and fibrous material; set aside. Lightly oil the cut surfaces, place on a baking sheet and roast for 45 minutes or until flesh is very soft and edges have begun to brown, turning the pieces once during cooking.

While the pumpkin is cooking, make the praline:

In a small saucepan, combine 1/2 cup sugar and 2 Tbsp water. Stir to blend and bring to a boil. Without stirring, continue cooking over medium-high heat until the sugar melts and turns dark golden-brown, about 5-7 minutes. Watch carefully at the end, and when done, remove from heat. Add pecans, stir to coat and turn out onto a piece of buttered foil or a silicon banking sheet. Let cool completely, then peel off the foil/baking sheet and break into nuggets . A rubber mallet or the handle of a heavy tableknife is useful for this task. Set aside.

When pumpkin is very tender, remove from oven, allow to cool, and remove the peel (it should come off the flesh easily; if not, use a spoon to scrape all the good pumpkin from the skin. Allow pumpkin to finish cooling to room temperature.

Using a wand blender or food processor, puree pumpkin flesh until smooth. Add the sugars, spices and bourbon, and stir well to blend. Whisk in the cream and pour the mixture into your ice cream maker. Chill according to manufacturer’s recommendations.*

When the ice cream is almost firm, stir in the praline pieces. Spoon the finished dessert out of the ice cream maker and into a lidded freezer container; return to freezer overnight to allow it to “cure.”

Pumpkin ice cream

Spicy pumpkin ice cream

Serve with a garnish of spiced pumpkin seeds (see below). Makes about 1 quart.

* If you don’t have an ice cream maker, it’s possible to make ice cream in a steel mixing bowl or even a baking pan: Just pour the mixture into the metal container, put it in the freezer and every 15 minutes or so take it out and use a rubber spatula to scrape the frozen bits from the side and bottom into the center of the mixture to break up the ice crystals. Continue this procedure until thoroughly frozen. The texture won’t be as smooth, but it’ll still taste good.

Spiced pumpkin seeds

Ingredients

  • Pumpkin seeds (however many your pumpkin holds
  • Oil
  • A couple of teaspoons of sugar
  • Cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, allspice, ginger (any or all of these)

I never throw pumpkin seeds away. Cleaned and toasted, they make tasty snacks and garnishes. The only difficult part is cleaning them completely of the fibrous material that they grow in. I dump them into my big colander, set it in a bowl of water and go them with both hands, squeezing the seeds from the stringy stuff and tossing it into the garbage disposal as I go. Once you get most of the orange stuff out, you can rub the rest out through a coarse strainer. Lay the seeds out on a dish towel, pat dry with another.

Preheat oven to 250F. Toss the seeds with a small amount of oil to coat, then toss with sugar and spices. Spread the mixture out on a baking sheet and bake for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the seeds are crisp, dry and golden brown. Cool, then store in an air-tight container until ready for use.

October 27, 2008 at 9:42 pm Leave a comment

The last of the tomatoes

The last of the harvest

Green tomatoes

Last weekend, belatedly, I found time to get out to the garden and strip the last tomatoes from the vines. For all my complaining about the late ripening – and for all my desultory gardening habits – it was a good year for tomatoes; once they finally got around to ripening, my six heirloom plants kept me in ripe tomatoes for nearly two months before they succumbed to the advancing autumn. Lots of BLTs, salads, and just plain sun-ripened, sliced tomatoes, and a few interesting experiments in stuffing the Pepper Tom variety (a tomato that ripens like a bell pepper, with sturdy outer walls and an almost-hollow center.

Two weeks ago, a surplus of very ripe tomatoes heading toward over-ripe prompted me to make a couple of pans of my infamous Tomato Goo: tomatoes, onion and garlic, flavored with the last of the basil from my herb garden, slow-roasted until nearly all the liquid is gone and shoveled into serving-sized freezer bags for the winter.

This week it was time to deal with the remaining, unripe tomatoes. In other years, I’ve wrapped them lovingly in newspaper, put them in a box and set them down in the cool of my unheated basement/garage; stored that way, unblemished tomatoes will continue to ripen right into winter, a few at a time. I’ve had ripe tomatoes for Christmas, some years. Not quite as luscious as sun-ripened, but miles better than anything you can buy in a supermarket.

This year’s green tomato harvest was modest, though, with lots of smallish fruit, so I decided to deal with them immediately, and make food for what promises to be a busy weekend: A green tomato salsa, and a delicious tart-and-savory curried tomato soup.

Does anyone invent recipes from thin air? I rarely do. Rather, I read cookbooks (and other people’s foodblogs) avidly, consider what ingredients I have on hand and what flavors I like together, and improvise, taking notes as I go. What results may or may not be recognizable as the original recipe.

That’s almost certainly true of this soup, which started out as a found-on-the-Internet recipe for a chilled summer soup. The basic elements are still there – green tomatoes, potatoes, loads of onion and garlic, curry powder – but I wanted a something warm and hearty for fall. The original called for lots of cilantro and mint; I don’t much like cilantro, but I still had lots of aromatic basil on hand, and my Italian parsley is coming back strong after the summer bolt. The original directed me to peel the tomatoes and potatoes – not a bad idea if you buy them from the supermarket, to eliminate pesticide residues, but mine were grown organically, and there’s a lot of nutrition in those peels, so I left them on. It also called for sugar – rather a lot of it – to balance the tartness of the tomatoes. Why cook with sugar when you’ve got a couple of nice, sweet-tart heirloom apples on hand? And so it went, an adjustment here, another there, until my soup barely resembles the original at all. You can do the same, and make the recipe your own.

Curried green tomato soup

Curried Green Tomato Soup

Curried Green Tomato Soup
(Makes 4-6 servings)

Ingredients:

  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 3-6 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 medium union, finely chopped
  • 1 Tbsp good curry powder
  • 1 large (or 2 medium) potatoes, cubed
  • 2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
  • 2 cups chopped green tomatoes (4-6 large tomatoes or a bunch of small ones
  • 1 large (or 2 small) apples, cored and chopped
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh basil
  • 2 Tbsp chopped fresh Italian parlsey
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • Additional parsley and curry powder for garnish

In a large saucepan, heat olive oil over medium-low heat. Add garlic, onion and curry powder. Cook, stirring often, until onion begins to soften, about five minutes. Add potatoes, stir to blend, and brown slightly. Add stock. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes until potatoes are tender.

Stir in the tomatoes, apple, basil and parsley; cover, and continue simmering for 10-15 minutes more.

Remove from heat and use a wand blender or food processor to blend until fairly smooth. If you want a silky soup free of bits of peel, pass it through a coarse strainer and return to burner if necessary to reheat. I didn’t bother; the peel is tender and adds some texture. Stir in cream. Taste; add salt and pepper if you like.

To serve, ladle into bowls, and garnish with a drizzle of cream, a sprinkle of curry powder and a sprig of parsley. Serve hot.


Even easier:

 

Green tomato salsa

Green Tomato Salsa

Green Tomato salsa
Makes 3-4 cups

Ingredients (measurements are approximate and not critical. Use what you have):

  • 1 pound green tomatoes
  • 1-2 ripe tomatoes
  • 1 seranno (or other) pepper, minced (seeds and all); use two if you like your salsa fiery
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne (or more, as above)
  • 1 small onion
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • Juice of 1/2 lime
  • 1-2 tsp salt, to taste

Cut the fruits/vegetables into chunks; mince the chiles. Dump everything but the salt into a food processor and pulse until it’s chopped fine, but not pureed. Taste, correct seasoning. Transfer to a lidded bowl and allow to ripen at room temperature for an hour or so, then refrigerate. Keeps several days in the fridge.

Besides making a great dipping salsa (I like it with flour tortilla chips, but use what you prefer), this stuff would be fabulous with fresh seafood…


Oven Roasted Tomatoes (aka Tomato Goo)

 

A method. Make as much or as little as you like. I often make two pans at once, rotating them between the upper and lower shelves of my oven a couple of times during the cooking.

Ingredients:

Per batch:

  • 8-10 Garden-ripe tomatoes, quartered (cut off any green stem bits and or bad spots)
  • 1 medium onion, peeled cut in wedges
  • One head of garlic, separated into cloves, peeled and slightly crushed with the flat of a knife
  • A generous handful of fresh basil
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil

Preheat oven to 250F. In a large roasting pan, spread the tomatoes, onion and garlic in a single layer. Scatter with basil and drizzle with olive oil.

Roast in oven for 2-4 hours or longer*, stirring every half hour or so, until almost all of the liquid is gone, the onion and garlic have caramelized and the tomatoes have taken on a deep red hue. Cool; spoon into serving-sized freezer bags, squeeze out the excess air and freeze.

* If your tomatoes are especially juicy, or you pack too many into the pan, it can take an entire afternoon to reduce the liquid down. This is a fine project for a lazy fall afternoon, and will fill your whole house with the aromas of tomato, onion and garlic.

The result is a frozen slab of a rich, chunky paste/sauce, slightly sweet from the caramelized onion and garlic and with the same intense flavor as sun-dried tomatoes. Thaw to use, or simply cut off frozen chunks. Use as a basis for a home-made tomato sauce, toss it with pasta, spread it on toasted Italian bread rounds, add it by the spoonful to home-made soups and stews – anywhere you want a jolt of garden tomato in the deep of winter. Best. Stuff. Ever.

October 17, 2008 at 12:37 pm 1 comment


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