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From October 2014: Pumpkins and Winter Squash
This is The Season of The Ginormous Pumpkin. Big ones, meant for Halloween jack o’ lanterns, dominate most farm stands. Some are so big that they loll about on farm carts like a reclining odalisque in a Renaissance painting.
But those pumpkins are for display, not for cooking. If you want to cook with pumpkin, look for baby “sugar” or pie pumpkins, which are less stringy than their giant brethren, and have firmer flesh due to a lower moisture content. For pie, a six to eight inch sugar pumpkin yields about the same amount of purée as a 15-16 ounce can of pumpkin, or a little more.
You’ll also find acorn, butternut, kabocha, kuri, Hubbard, and turban, along with thinner-skinned delicata and spaghetti squash in many markets, along with other exotics. Some of the more gnarly looking ones are more for display than eating, and, in fact, the Texas A & M University website states, “The genetic history of the pumpkin is so intertwined with the squash and the gourd that it’s sometimes difficult to tell them apart. Generally speaking a pumpkin is something you carve, a squash is something you cook and a gourd is something you look at.”
Whatever squash you bring home, be careful cutting into it. A dull knife really is a hazard, especially when cutting through hard foods. A serrated blade can make the first cut easier, and then you can use a larger chef’s knife or cleaver for the actual splitting.
I’ve made the recipe below for Chicken Thighs and Delicata Squash my own over the years, in part because it doesn’t ask you to peel the squash. Delicata’s thin skin becomes tender, and with acorn, it’s easy to strip the skin from the flesh of the squash right on your plate using your knife and fork.
Most recently, I used cut-up butternut that I had on hand. In a rush, I just dropped all the other ingredients onto the chicken and squash right in the baking pan, turning it all to coat before putting it in to bake. I didn’t blanch the lemon, and since I didn’t have scallions, I thickly sliced halves of red and white onions from my crisper instead, roasting them along with everything else. I didn’t bother with butter, sticking to olive oil. The lemon, sage, coriander, chile powder, and maple syrup make for delicious flavors, so I always use those. So, you need the chicken, lemon, any orange squash (for color), a form of onion, and the seasonings, plus oil.
The Baked Pumpkin with Sautéed Greens has a vaguely similar flavor profile, but makes a vegetarian meal on its own, with quinoa or wild rice, although it could also go with roast chicken or broiled fish.
Pumpkin is used all over the world, from colorful “zucca” in Italy, to Thai red curry, to filling for dumplings and pastries in Uzbekistan, to stews in Mexico. Mark Bittman’s hearty Mexican mole-inspired Pumpkin With Tomato Sauce, Cocoa, and Pumpkin Seeds needs nothing more than rice or another simple grain to accompany it. The unsweetened cocoa will not be prominent in the finished dish, but adds a umami-like savory element to the sum, and warms the spirit for the cold weather ahead.
Chicken Thighs and Delicata Squash
Adapted from The New York Times “A Good Appetite,” Melissa Clark (10/24/12)
1/2 large lemon (or a whole small one), end trimmed, seeds removed, and thinly sliced
4 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs (about 1 1/2 pounds)
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon chopped sage
1 and 1/2 teaspoons coriander seed
1 and 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 cup maple syrup
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into cubes
Large pinch chile powder
1 delicata or acorn squash (1 1/4 pounds), seeded and sliced into 1/4-inch-thick rings
1/4 cup thinly sliced scallions, white and light-green parts
Blanch lemon slices in boiling water for 2 minutes and drain. In a large bowl, toss chicken with lemon slices, 1 tablespoon oil, sage, coriander, 1 teaspoon salt and pepper. Let stand 30 minutes.
Heat oven to 425 degrees.
In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine syrup, butter, remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and chile powder. Simmer for 3 minutes. Toss mixture with squash.
Spread squash in a 9-by-13-inch pan, and put chicken thighs on top. Roast 15 minutes. In a small bowl, toss scallions and remaining 1 teaspoon oil. Scatter over chicken and squash, and roast about 20 minutes more, until chicken is no longer pink.
Baked Pumpkin with Lemon, Sautéed Greens, and Toasted Cumin Dressing
Adapted from Very Fond of Food: A Year in Recipes, Sophie Dahl, Ten Speed Press (2012)
Note: You could also use sliced acorn or chunked butternut squash for this. If you want it vegan just omit the minor amount of crème fraîche. F.B.
For the Pumpkin:
2 pounds pumpkin, seeded and chopped into coarse slices
1 large red onion, peeled and coarsely sliced
A few fresh sage leaves, coarsely torn
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons cumin seeds or ground cumin
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon crème fraîche or sour cream
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 clove garlic, peeled and finely chopped
A handful of Swiss chard
A handful of curly kale
Preheat the oven to 425°. Put the pumpkin in a roasting pan with the onion and sage. Season and pour over the olive oil. Roast about 30 minutes, or until the pumpkin is tender.
While the pumpkin cooks, make dressing. In a small frying pan on a medium heat, toast the cumin seeds. This should only take a minute, before it scents the kitchen. Cool for a minute, then squeeze in the lemon juice and add the olive oil. Put this into a pitcher and set aside, stirring in the crème fraîche just before serving.
For the greens. In a big frying pan, heat the olive oil and garlic. Throw in the greens and cook until tender, 5 to 10 minutes. Take the pumpkin out of the oven. Put the greens on a plate, top with the pumpkin, and cover with the dressing.
Panfried Pumpkin With Tomato Sauce, Cocoa, and Pumpkin Seeds
Adapted from How To Cook Everything Vegetarian, Mark Bittman, Wiley (2007)
Note: Think of this as a vegetarian mole with pumpkin standing in for poultry. For the chile, use a jalapeño if you want some spice, otherwise a mild Italian or New Mexican pepper. F.B.
1/4 cup neutral oil, like grape seed or corn, plus more if needed
2 pounds pumpkin, peeled, seeded, and cut into large chunks
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 large onion, chopped
2 tablespoons minced garlic
2 tablespoons minced fresh chile, or to taste, or hot red pepper flakes or cayenne to taste
1/2 red wine, any vegetable stock, or water
3 cups chopped, ripe tomatoes, or canned tomatoes with their juices
1 cup toasted pumpkin seeds
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 small bunch cilantro, chopped
In a deep saucepot with tight-fitting lid, sauté the pumpkin in the oil, in batches over medium-high heat until pieces are browned on both sides, about 5 minutes per side. Add a little more oil, if needed, as you go along, and remove each chunk to a side dish as it’s done. (You’ll add them back in near the end.)
When all the pumpkin is cooked, pour off all but 2 or 3 tablespoons of the oil and add the onion, garlic, and chile. Cook, stirring frequently, until softened, about 3 minutes.
Pour in the wine, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Let the liquid boil off for a few minutes to thicken, then stir in the tomato and its juice. Bring the sauce to a boil, then lower the heat a bit so it bubbles along nicely. Cook, stirring occasionally, until it thickens, about 10 minutes.
Return the pumpkin to the pot and let the mixture come back to a boil. Cover and turn the heat to low. Cook, stirring once or twice, until the sauce has thickened even more and the pumpkin is tender but not mushy, about 10 minutes. Add the pumpkin seeds, cocoa, and cinnamon, and garnish with cilantro.