Posts filed under ‘pumpkin’

Christmas menu for one

Salted caramelsI’m spending Christmas the way I generally prefer to: By myself. Least I sound like a latter-day Scrooge or some sad shut-in, let me state for the record that I love the winter holidays, every single one of them, that I spend most of December in the company of friends, and that I always wind up with multiple invitations to other people’s Christmas dinners.

But my own family – down to just us four siblings now – has never made a Big Family Deal out of getting together for the holidays. Since we’re scattered all over the Western US, that spares us foul-weather travel at the busiest time of year. And because I have a play in production that closes the Sunday after Christmas, my sweetheart and I decided to do our celebrating together at New Year’s, when I’ll take the train north to Seattle for a long weekend together.

So really, at the cost of protesting too much, I love having Christmas to myself. It’s a chance to wind down a bit from the madcap seasonal socializing. I can sleep in, turn on some rock-and-roll, and indulge myself in the pleasures of cooking for one, which are quite different from the pleasures of cooking for a crowd (for one thing, there’s a lot less worry about getting everything to the table at once. For another, I can dine in my jammies if I want.)

This year’s menu is still coming together in my head, but it’s bound to be full of locally sourced goodness, thanks to the new Corvallis Local Foods online market and my own freezer, which is full of good things I put up all summer and fall.

Here’s what I’m planning, although it could change on a whim.

  • Roasted duck, probably spatchcocked and roasted at high heat with a glaze of apple cider* syrup (a simple reduction of apple cider in a wide pan until it’s thick and syrupy). I’m pondering the notion of adding either ground chipotles* or smoked paprika* to the glaze for some smokey heat.
  • Roasted fingerling potatoes* (or perhaps roasted pumpkin* – or both!) and leeks*
  • Something green. Probably just a simple salad of Romaine dressed lightly with olive oil, balsamic vinegar and a lot of pepper.
  • Pie. Because (a) there must be pie and (b) I have in the freezer five pounds of beautiful white lard* from ethically grown pigs, bought for the entire purpose of making the best pie crusts ever. I’m pondering a hazelnut pie, built on my canonical pecan pie recipe, since I also have a pound of lovely roasted filberts*. Maybe with the addition of chocolate and bourbon?
  • And, no doubt, I’ll sustain myself through the day  on more than a few of the buttery-sweet-and-salty sea-salt caramels I made this week for gift-giving.  Because what’s Christmas without a sugar buzz?

* Local ingredients (which, among other things, means I don’t have to throw out my filberts for fear of  salmonella, yay!)

And then on Saturday I’ll render off all that good duck fat for future cooking use** and use the leftover duck and the last of the chanterelles* to make a decidedly nonvegetarian version of my friend Whit’s amazingly good wild mushroom pie, with some chopped dried apples* and pears* in addition to the cranberries and sour cherries*.  That hearty, savory main-dish pie has become my post-Christmas staple, and it’ll feed me for a week. (If you’re meat-averse or feeding those who are tomorrow, consider the original version of this recipe. It’s a terrific vegetarian main course – even vegan if you use an oil-based crust.)

** New readers of this blog may be blinking at all this talk of animal fat. Isn’t that supposed to be bad for us? But I’m anything but a fat-o-phobe, and my primary motivation for eating close to the ground is neither health nor politics – it’s because I find locally grown, seasonal foods taste a whole lot better than most of what I can buy in the supermarket. And, as it turns out, the whole animal-fat-is-evil message is yet another of those overblown nutrition myths.  As in all things, moderation is a grand idea, but a slice of pie on a heavenly lard-based crust isn’t going to send you to the emergency room.

December 24, 2009 at 11:41 am Leave a comment

Cooking from the larder

Two months till the farmers’ market opens for the season, and I’m in “OK, time to start polishing off the things I put in the freezer last fall” mode. Including, this week, a 4-pound boneless pork shoulder from Wood Family Farms.

Four pounds is a lot of pork roast for one person. But pork shoulder is a lovely cut. More fatty than the overrated tenderloin, but slow-roasting melts most of the fat away, basting the meat as it goes and leaving a tender, flavorful meat that’s not only lovely on its own – with a side of potatoes, perhaps, and some of the remarkably cheap California asparagus that’s been showing up in Safeway – but also useful in wonderful second- and third-day meals that turn the word “leftovers” into something magical. Cuban pork sandwiches, for instance, or a hearty, spicy New World stew.

Slow-roasted Pork Shoulder

Ingredients

  • 3 to 4 pound boneless pork shoulder.
  • Rub:
    • 2 Tbsp mustard seeds
    • 2Tbsp cumin seeds
    • 2 Tbsp black peppercorns
    • 1 Tbsp garlic powder
    • 1 Tbsp kosher salt
    • 4 Tbsp brown sugar

Method:

Make the rub by grinding together the mustard seeds, cumin seeds, peppercorns and salt. I keep an old electric coffee grinder for grinding spices; a food processor or mortar and pestle will do, too. Mix in the brown sugar.

Rinse the pork roast and pat dry. Turn the fatty side up and use a sharp knife to score it in a diamond pattern, making sure the cuts go clear through the fat and into the meat.

Using your hands, pat the rub firmly all over the pork, bottom side first; turn it over and massage the rub deeply into the cuts in the fat (the salt content will help draw moisture away from the surface and create a nice crust.) Cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate from 3 hours to overnight.

When ready to cook, remove the roast from the refrigerator, take off the plastic wrap and place the meat on a rack in a roasting pan. Pour a little water in the bottom of the pan to prevent smoking, and cover the pan with aluminum foil Let it sit at room temperature for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350F.

Roast, covered, for two hours; then remove the foil and continue roasting for 30 minutes to 1 hour, until an instant-read thermometer inserted at the thickest point of the roast reads 170F. Remove from oven; let rest for 10 minutes before slicing and serving.

Cuban-Style Pork Sandwiches

Now, that's what I call a sandwich.It’s been years since I had a real Cuban sandwich, bought from a stand-up roadside joint in Florida. I have no idea if this is authentic, but it’s the result of a good deal of Googling and some experimentation that led to the flavors I remember. I’m told that in Cuba, the mojo would be made with the juice of sour oranges, which aren’t available here, but lime juice is terrific.

Ingredients

  • Roast pork, sliced thinly.
  • Onions, sliced thinly
  • Hearty bread or Panini-style rolls, split. You want bread that’s substantial enough to stand up to the juiciness of the filling; I’d just made a loaf of the infamous New York Times no-knead bread, and it was perfect.
  • Mojo sauce (see below)
  • Butter

Mojo sauce

  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 6-8 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • Juice of a lime

Method

In a very small saucepan, combine olive oil and garlic. Heat till oil is bubbling, then reduce heat to a slow simmer. Cook 10-15 minutes until garlic is golden and soft. Stir in cumin and lime juice. Remove from heat.

Making the sandwiches

Heat a small amount of oil in a skillet. Add onions and sautee until they begin to soften. Add thinly sliced pork and stir until the meat is hot.

Brush both halves of a roll or two slices of bread generously with Mojo sauce. Pile meat on one slice of bread or half a roll; top with sauteed onions and the second piece of bread/roll

Wipe skillet clean and return to burner. Add a small amount of butter and heat till melted. Grill the sandwiches, pressing down with a spatula and turning when one side is done, until golden brown. Serve with beer and lots of napkins.

New World Pork and Pumpkin Stew

New World StewI had a lone sugar pumpkin left from my last market trip in the fall; stored in the cool basement, it’s kept well but I noticed a spot of mold forming on the skin and decided it was use it or lose it. Google turned up a number of recipes combining pork and pumpkin, many of them Thai or Burmese, along with an interesting-sounding stew that contained ingredients I’m not crazy about (turnips) or didn’t have on hand (kale). Improv time! I went for flavors native to the Americas, and what resulted was easy, relatively quick (as compared to starting from raw pork) and extremely tasty. That’ll be lunch for most of the week.

Ingredients

  • 2 lbs roast pork, cubed. If there are fatty bits, render them to substitute for:
  • 1 Tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 Tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp crushed dried red pepper (I used some peppers I bought at the market last year and threaded on heavy thread to dry. Hot, but not too incendiary).
  • 1 cup good vegetable or chicken stock (from the freezer)
  • New potatoes, scrubbed but with the peel left on, cut into bite-sized pieces to make about 1 cup
  • 1 small pumpkin, peeled, seeded and cut in 1–inch chunks
  • 1 can diced tomatoes, drained.
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Method:

Put oil or rendered pork fat in the bottom of a heavy, lidded pot or dutch oven. Heat and add onions and garlic; cook until golden brown. Stir in the cumin and chiles. Add the cubed pork, and cook, stirring, till thoroughly heated (if you roasted the pork with a rub, the yummy browned crust will come off and incorporate into the onion/garlic/spice mixture. This is a feature, not a bug). Remove meat to a bowl with a slotted spoon.

Add potatoes and pumpkin to the pot. Stir to mix well with spices and onion. Add stock; bring to a simmer and cover. Cook for 30 minutes or so, until vegetables are tender. Add tomatoes and pork, stir well, and simmer for another 10-15 minutes to combine the flavors.

Like most good stews, this one’s even better the second day. Serve with a green salad and hearty bread.

February 15, 2009 at 7:54 pm 1 comment

Market season: Not done yet

Chanterelles

Chanterelles

Our little farmers’ market traditionally closes the weekend before Thanksgiving, and while the number of vendors has dropped sharply, there’s still wonderful autumn food to be had. Yesterday it was wild mushrooms – one vendor literally had bushel baskets full of chanterelles, and another was offering more unusual varieties. I should have brought more cash. But at $15 a pound, I did score two pounds of lovely, orange-fleshed chanterelles, my favorite autumn mushroom. And I had enough money for a pound of ground lamb.

The mushrooms got spread out on newspapers to dry out enough so I could brush away the pine needles and forest duff, then separated into paper bags: One containing the largest mushrooms, which I’ll slice and dry in my food dehydrator tomorrow night; one to make a batch of pan-roasted mushrooms*, and one, along with the lamb, for tonight’s dinner (and this week’s lunches): A white-sauced lasagna of mushrooms, lamb and pumpkin. Which in the oven as I type this, and filling the house with savory autumn smells.

Pumpkin and wild mushrooms – or stronger flavored tame ones, such as Crimini or Portobello – are gorgeous together. Think of a pumpkin-mushroom soup with lots of garlic, or a creamy pumpkin-mushroom risotto. Adding lamb might be considered gilding the lily (and indeed, there’s no reason you couldn’t convert this to a vegetarian dish by omitting the lamb and using more mushrooms ), but I’ve had Morroccan and Afghan dishes that combine pumpkin and lamb to wonderful effect. So, feeling experimental and having a long Sunday evening to play in the kitchen, I came up with this.

Lasagna with pumpkin, lamb and wild mushrooms

Lasagna with pumpkin, lamb and chanterelles

Lasagne with pumpkin, lamb and wild mushrooms

Ingredients

  • 1 small pumpkin (edible variety) or large butternut squash
  • 1 lb lean ground lamb
  • 3/4 cup butter (1 1/2 stick), divided
  • 1/2 pound chanterelles or other flavorful, meaty mushrooms, cleaned, trimmed of any bad spots and sliced lengthwise
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 3-4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2 Tbsp fresh sage, minced
  • 2 Tbsp fresh thyme, minced
  • 1 Tbsp fresh rosemary, minced
  • 1 15-ounce container whole-milk ricotta (2 cups)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup grated parmesan cheese, divided
  • 20 oz. fresh mozarella cheese,
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 4 cups flavorful vegetable stock
  • Olive oil
  • 1 package no-boil lasagna noodles

Method

Preheat oven to 350F

Cut pumpkin in half and scoop out fibers and seeds (you are saving your pumpkin seeds to toast, right?) Oil the cut edges, and place cut-side down on a baking sheet. Bake for 30 minutes, until flesh is tender but not too soft. Remove from oven and allow to cool until you can handle it without burning your fingers. (Do not turn the oven off unless you plan to wait a while to finish the dish).

Meanwhile:

In a large skillet over medium heat, brown the ground lamb, breaking it up as you go. Stir in half the fresh herbs. Using a slotted spoon, remove the cooked lamb from the skillet and set aside.

To the juices in the skillet, add 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter and allow it to melt. Add mushrooms, onion and garlic, stir well and reduce heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is translucent and the mushrooms are cooked. Stir the cooked lamb into the mushrooms and remove from heat.

Mix ricotta, eggs and half the parmesan. Slice the mozarella on the diagonal into pieces about a third of an inch thick.

In a small pan over medium heat, melt the remaining stick of butter and whisk in the flour to make a smooth roux. Gradually add the stock, whisking all the while, and the rest of the herbs. Simmer until it is thickened (This is a sauce velouté, the non-dairy version of a bechamel), remove from heat.

When the pumpkin is cool enough to work with, use a paring knife to cut around the stem and blossom ends, then grasp the peel and pull it off; it should come away easily. Slice the pumpkin radially into half-inch-thick crescents.

Assembly:

Brush a little olive oil in the bottom of a 9x13x2-inch baking dish, and layer as follows:

  • The ricotta mixture
  • Layer of noodles
  • The pumpkin pieces, arranged to cover the noodles
  • Half of the sauce velouté
  • Layer of noodles
  • The lamb and mushroom mixture
  • The ovals of mozarella, distributed evenly over the lamb.
  • Layer of noodles
  • Spoon the rest of the sauce velouté over the final layer of noodles and spread evenly. Sprinkle with remaining parmesan. Cover with oiled foil.

Bake at 350 for 30 minutes. Remove foil, and continue baking for 25 minutes, or until top is nicely puffed and browned. Remove from the oven and let stand 10 minutes to firm up before serving.

Like all lasagnas, this one can be assembled a day in advance and then refrigerated until time to bake.

Makes 8 servings.

*I’ll blog the pan-roasted mushrooms recipe in the next day or two, when I make it. It’s a little fiddly, but produces delicious results.

November 9, 2008 at 9:39 pm Leave a comment

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

Autumn harvest: Pumpkin soups

I’m not that fond of pumpkin pie. I mean, I love pie, but presented with a table full of pies, I’ll reach for apple or pecan or even mincemeat else before I bother with pumpkin.

Sugar pumpkins

I think it’s partly that I don’t have much of a sweet tooth (Salt tooth? Fat tooth? Tooth for sour-or-bitter? Hell, yeah), particularly when it comes to sweetened vegetables, and I consider pumpkin to be a veg, not a dessert. I can be dogmatic that way, sometimes.

But come fall, these cute little sugar pumpkins start showing up at the market, and it would be a shame to waste their tender flesh and tasty seeds on jack-o-lanterns. So I’ve been developing a repertory of savory pumpkin dishes with just these babies in mind.

Pumpkins, even small, thin-skinned pumpkins like these, can be a handful to prep; I’ve had a basketball-sized pumpkin I was attempting to pare escape my grasp, roll off the counter and smash to the floor, and even halved, it’s hard to peel.

For most recipes, I take the easy route, cutting the gourd in half with my biggest chef’s knife, using a big metal spoon to scoop out the stringy innards and seeds*, oiling the cut edges and setting them face down on a cookie sheet. Roast for 45 minutes to an hour in a 350°F oven, until the flesh is tender enough to pierce with a fork, let it cool enough to handle, peel off the rind and you’re good to go.

* Don’t let the seeds go to waste: Dump the stringy pumpkin guts into a colander and use your bare hands to squish the seeds loose from the fibers. I like to give the seeds a 15-30 minute soak in a cup or so of water in which I’ve dissolved a handful of kosher salt – just enough to leave them slightly salty.

Drain them, toss with a little olive oil (and ground spices, if you like), then spread on a baking sheet and toast in the oven on the rack below the pumpkin. Check and stir every 10 minutes or so until they’re toasty brown – you’ll hear them starting to pop open when they’re nearly done. Cool and reserve for garnishing the soup, or to nibble while you’re cooking. The variety of pumpkin I buy has what the vendor, Cyndee, calls “naked seeds” – the hulls are so lightweight that you don’t risk a mouthful of splinters when you munch them unhulled.

That’s how both of these soups begin, and they’re really variations on a theme: Creamy, savory, rich and a little spicy. The first is my own improvisation, born from a need to use up a few heads of garlic before they started to sprout. I owe the second to my friend Kathy Walton, whose kitchen prowess makes me look like a piker. Both are fantastic, either as a hearty first course or a main dish with a hunk of crusty bread and a good glass of wine or fresh-squeezed cider.

I. Curried Pumpkin and Garlic Soup.

Ingredients:

1 small sugar/pie pumpkin, prepared as above
2 heads (yes, heads) of garlic, roasted and squeezed from their papery skins
Olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
1 medium carrot, diced
1 Tbsp (or more) good curry powder
1/t tsp garam masala
4 cups low-salt chicken stock, or good vegetable stock for a vegetarian option
1/2 cup plain yogurt (I like Nancy’s brand, full-fat)
Seeds from the pumpkin, dusted with curry powder before toasting

Preparation:

  • Roast pumpkin as described above; cool and peel from the skin
  • In a heavy-bottomed pot or dutch oven, heat 1 Tbsp olive oil; add onion and carrot and sautee, stirring, until onion is translucent.
  • Add pumpkin flesh, roasted garlic, curry powder, garam masala and stock. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 30 minutes or so to give the flavors time to meld.
  • Remove from heat and use a wand blender to puree to smoothness. Stir in yogurt and return to heat briefly, stirring until it’s heated through.
  • Correct seasoning if necessary. Serve garnished with toasted pumpkin seeds.

To make this dish vegetarian, simply substitute hearty vegetable broth for the chicken broth; to make it vegan, omit the yogurt.

Serves 6 as a starter, 3-4 as a main course (or 2 with plenty left over).

II. Creamy Pumpkin Soup With Bacon

Go to Kathy’s foodblog for the recipe.

My adaptations:

  • I oven-toasted the whole seeds instead of acquiring hulled pepitas and pan-toasting them, and I dusted them with a bit of ground chipotle to add spice and pick up the bacon’s smokey flavor.
  • Lacking chicken demi-glace, but having a cup of stock left over from the 32 ounce container I had on hand, I simmered the excess stock until it was reduced to a few tablespoons, and stirred that into the soup for added chicken intensity.

I suppose the vegetarians among you could substitute smoked … something or other … for the bacon, but I’ll leave that to your imaginations. I’m of the “everything’s better with bacon” persuasion, and it’s one of the things that will likely keep me from ever abandoning my carnivorous ways.

October 19, 2007 at 4:02 pm 3 comments


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