Sunday, November 30, 2008

FOOD: Pumpkins Aren't Just For Pie

One of the autumn foods I've learned to get excited about is pumpkin. I can't remember who first inspired me to think of pumpkin as being about more than just pie (and jack o'lanterns), but I think it was a couple years ago. I know Cliff's Edge served a great pumpkin ravioli, and somewhere I had a really good pumpkin soup. It makes sense when you think about it. We love acorn squash and butternut squash, and pumpkin is just another winter squash, like those other two, but with a slighly earthier flavor. The size is perhaps daunting if you only think of them as jack o'lanterns, but it's important to realize that the "sugar pumpkins" that you want for eating tend to be much smaller than the ones they sell for Halloween carving, and the smaller ones taste better too. You can find nice ones as small as one pound, certainly less than two. They're not too hard to prepare. Just put a few slits in them and stick them in a 350 degree oven for an hour or so. When you remove them, they're quite soft, and it's easy to scoop out the seedy mess in the center and peel the skin away from the flesh. (I haven't messed with the seeds, but I've heard those are good too, toasted.) I cut up the pumpkin flesh into small chunks which can be refridgerated for a few days, or can be put in a ziplock bag and frozen.

I had this notion that it would be really nicely complimented by corn and onions. So I got a couple ears of fresh corn and some cippolini onions from the farmer's market. (Cippolinis are those ones that look wide and flat, like a regular onion squashed flat, and they have a nice sweet bite to them.) I cut the corn off the cob, chopped up the onions, sauteed them in butter, then added some pumpkin chunks when they got soft. I added only salt and a little pepper, as I wanted the taste of the fresh ingredients. I thought it was marvelous. My husband though it was a bit bland and didn't like the texture of the pumpkin. He loved the corn/onion mix though. So the next week, as I still had half the pumpkin chunks in the freezer, I thought I'd try the same concept as a soup. I'd made some good pumpkin soups before, usually cooking the chunks with chicken stock and a splash of cream, and putting it all in the blender. But I thought I'd try something a bit different. I was thinking a light sweet curry theme might be good, so I heated some coconut oil and added the pumpkin chunks and a splash of soy milk, until they were soft. I then used a masher to mash them up like mashed potatoes. (An immersion blender would have been better, but I don't have one.) I continued to add the soy milk until I got a nice soup consistency. I added salt, pepper, curry powder, and some cinnamon. I still liked the idea of sweet corn and onions as a compliment, so I sauteed those up just as I had the week before, and added them into the soup, leaving them unblended so the soup would have some bits to bite into. It was delicious. Pumpkin is definitely a reason to be happy about fall.

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