Thursday, September 30, 2010

It’s the Great Pumpkin!

Here's my September article from the Petaluma Post:

If you ask anyone who knows me they will tell you that Autumn is my favorite time of the year. The harvest, the leaves falling, the cool weather, the family gatherings plus I look good in earth tones- haha.

Most people think of Fall starting about mid-October just in time for Halloween. But at my house I have to hold myself off till the first of September (I would start earlier but my husband thinks that is too early). It starts with the first decorations coming out, then by mid month we are on the road out to my favorite pumpkin place in Sebastopol to look for pumpkins to decorate the porch. Every year we go early and every year they don’t open till October 1. It’s Hale’s at 1526 Gravenstien Highway N, near Andy’s Produce. It has the best selection of pumpkins around. Blue Hubbard Squash, French Cooking Pumpkins (aka Fairytale Pumpkins), Gourds and anything that you can think of. A great day trip to the county.

I’m also (trying) to grow pumpkins this year. I have several different varieties planted, but the only one making progress right now is a French Cooking Pumpkin, currently about the size of a grapefruit.

I love to decorate with pumpkins but I also love to cook with pumpkin. By definition a pumpkin is a fruit and the interesting thing is that any thick orange or yellow fleshed gourd is a pumpkin. That can of Libby’s pumpkin you open is most likely butternut squash. My family will tell you of the many times that I have cooked pumpkins for the holidays, from roasting a small sugar pumpkin to the arugula and chèvre salad that I did last year in a roasted pumpkin (see my 12/31/09 blog). With only 49 calories per cup and full of great things it is a healthy addition to your diet.

I made a great salad recently that was a bit different. It used raw pumpkin. You don’t see raw pumpkin in too many dishes. But this was shaved paper thin and tossed, wow. To get it paper thin I recommend using butternut squash - the neck portion for longer pieces. Peel with a vegetable peeler, I happen to like the “Y” shape peeler. Then peel off long strips.

Pumpkin Salad
For 2 people
2 cup wild arugula
½ cup pumpkin strips
3 Tbl toasted pumpkin seeds
3 Tbl grated or shaved parmesan
3 Tbl pomerante arils (seeds)

¼ cup sherry vinegar
¾ cup olive oil (fruity would be great for this recipe)
1 Tbl honey (this helps cut the acidity)
Salt and pepper to taste
Combine dressing ingredients and whisk
Combine salad ingredients then toss together adding dressing to taste

Pumpkin has such a light flavor that I often roast it to bring out the sweetness and depth. Before you make your next pumpkin pie try placing your pumpkin puree (canned or fresh) in a 9x13 baking pan in the oven for about 30 minutes at 300 degrees, stirring every 8 to 10 minutes, it will dry out just a bit, however it will really bring out a great pumpkin flavor by caramelizing some of the natural sugars.

A great side dish (one of our favorites) is:

Israeli Couscous with Butternut Squash
2 cups butter nut squash (diced small)
2 Tbl olive oil
1 cup pearl couscous (aka Israeli couscous)
1 Tbl olive oil
2 cup vegetable stock
½ cup diced red bell pepper
½ cup parsley chopped
¼ cup currants
¼ cup pine nuts
Salt and pepper to taste

Toss the butternut squash with olive oil and a touch of salt and pepper. Place it on a cookie sheet in a single layer and bake till golden and tender, about 15 to 20 minutes. Bring the 2 cups of broth to a boil, stir in olive oil and then couscous; cover and remove from the heat allow to sit for 10 to 15 minutes until all the liquid is absorbed. If all of the liquid is not absorbed, return to stove for 3 to 5 minutes on low. Use a fork to fluff up the couscous. At this point, if serving warm, combine all the ingredients; this works great with chicken and pork. If serving cold, allow all ingredients to cool and then combine. Add a bit of pomegranate vinaigrette; this is great with a salad and a bit of cheese.

Pomegranate Vinaigrette
1 cup Pomegranate vinegar
2 cups Olive oil
¼ cup Honey
½ Tbl Salt
¼ tsp Pepper

For someone who loves pumpkin so much you might find it strange that the one thing that I do not like is pumpkin pie. Just not my favorite thing on the pie plate. However over the years I have found a great dessert recipe that I do love. It is an old fashioned “dump cake” the ideas is that you just dump all the ingredients in a pan and bake.

3 eggs
2 cups pumpkin puree
1 cup sugar
1 Tbl pumpkin pie spice
1 cup evaporated milk or cream

Whisk well and put in a 9x13 baking pan

1 package spice cake mix
1½ cup melted butter
½ cup chopped nuts (I like pecans)
Sprinkle the cake mix over wet mixture. Drizzle butter to cover everything. Sprinkle with nuts. Bake at 350 degree for 50 minutes, till it sets. This is one of those desserts that you just want to nibble the crunchy sides off of.

Summer is here but fall is just around the corner, hope you enjoy my favorite time of the year!

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