Category Archives: Winter Squash/Pumpkin

Putting the pumpkin back in pumpkin spice.

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Photography by Sam Armocido

Photography by Sam Armocido

I got riled up the other morning.

This does not happen often. I am typically pretty happy-go-lucky, but Facebook took me over the edge.

It wasn’t a political statement, first-world problems or one of the uglier -isms, no it was pumpkin spice. In  a world where we increasingly vilify real food in favor of weird, processed and extracted things like the powders, bars and Big Macs that are slowly killing us, I hit my wall at this autumn’s onslaught of pumpkin spice.

The aforementioned lattes, scones and pancakes are delicious, I’m sure, but they owe their flavor to pumpkin as much as a green Jolly Rancher gains its tart/sweet bite from apple juice. Rather than stew, I stood up and entered the kitchen, pulling a container of freshly roasted Galeux d’Eysines pumpkin out of the fridge. I combined it with oatmeal and baking spices, two tablespoons of maple sugar and a pinch of salt.

And…? Success! Pumpkin spice that tasted like pumpkin. A breakfast with enough fibre to make every dietary organization in America faint with delight. Most importantly, it was hearty and delicious, the perfect start to a crisp fall or brisk winter day. You could even enjoy it with a latte.

Pumpkin Spice Oatmeal

Serves 4

Fresh pumpkin makes his extra special. Roast a peanut pumpkin, Speckled Hound, Long Island Cheese or Hubbard. Or open up a can. Just make sure there’s real pumpkin.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup fresh pumpkin purée
  • 1 cup oatmeal
  • 3 tbs maple or brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp ginger
  • 1/8 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/8 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/8 tsp ground all spice
  • Pinch of salt
  • 3 cups water

Directions:

  • Mix together all ingredients in a small saucepan.
  • Cook over medium heat, stirring as oatmeal thickens.
  • Cook to desired thickness, remove from heat and serve.

Pumpkin quesa-different.

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Photograph by Sam Armocido

Think of your favorite recipe. The one you’ve made for years. It’s flavors are burned on your tastebuds. You can recreate it from sense memory. Go into your kitchen and prepare it, writing down each step and each ingredient. Grab the cookbook off the shelf and let it fall open it to the familiar, splattered and stained page.

Surprise.

Even the recipes we know best change over time as our palates and our dinner partners, the markets we shop from and the popularity of ingredients evolves. Bland canned tomatoes give way to San Marzanos, or fresh stewed. Cayenne is replaced with smoky chipotle, ancho or complex Piment d’Espelette. Children demand simpler flavors, new boyfriends or wives shape your meals with their own experiences and preferences.

One year ago I served up sausage and pumpkin quesadillas. This year the heavy blend of cumin, chile powder and Spanish paprika overpowered the sweet hearty Hubbard squash. Chopped tomato brightened the rich flavors with sweetness and acidity. Savory andouille sausage was replaced with equally spicy but less earthy Mexican chorizo.

Change isn’t always good or bad. Sometimes it’s just different. Fortunately in the kitchen, it’s usually delicious.

Pumpkin Chorizo Quesadillas

*A pizza cutter is the best way to slice quesadillas. A knife pushes all the filling out.

Photograph by Sam Armocido

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 3 links Mexican (uncooked) Chorizo
  • 1 red onion, diced
  • 2 cups Hubbard or acorn squash purée*
  • 1 tsp Spanish paprika
  • 1 tsp Serrano Chile Honey vinegar**
  • 2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
  • 1 tomato, seeded and diced
  • 10-12 6” tortillas

*For squash puree, split and roast squash, cut side down, on a baking sheet, at 400 degrees. When flesh can be easily pierced with a roasting fork, like soft butter, it is done. Let cool, scrape pumpkin from skins and mash.

**I still can’t get enough of this vinegar from Sapore. You can substitute sherry vinegar and 1/2 tsp honey.

Directions:

  • Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a 12″ skillet at medium. Remove casings from chorizo and brown meat, crumbling a it cooks. Remove meat with a slotted spoon when fully cooked.
  • Add oil, if needed, to make up 2 tbs fat in the pan, and sauté onion.
  • When onion is soft, add squash purée and heat through. Season with paprika, Serrano Chile Honey vinegar, salt and pepper. Mix sausage into squash.
  • Assemble quesadillas on top of 1 tortilla, layering cheese, squash mixture, diced tomato and finally topping with more cheese and a second tortilla.
  • Cook quesadillas over medium heat, lightly browning both sides. Slice and serve.

The pumpkin whisperer.

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Photo by Sam Armocido

Good food starts with good ingredients. Like “haste makes waste” and the Lord’s prayer,  this simple truism about food is fixed in our minds, but its meaning is rarely considered. So is the fact that the best recipes begin with thoughtful consideration of the ingredients we use.

Galeux d’Eysines is a pale, peach-skinned pumpkin covered in peanut-like warty growths. Those “peanuts” are the result of abundant sugars building up under the skin. The dense, bright-orange flesh is relatively non-fiberous, delivering the smoothest purée of any pumpkin I know and, though sugary-sweet, the flavor is delicate.

While hearty Hubbard squash and Marina de Chioggia pumpkin inspire rich recipes, the peanut pumpkin wants a lighter touch: a stock infused with its flavorful seed mass, savory boar sausages and mildly-earthy, sweet Shitake mushrooms deglazed with dry Madeira wine.

Being the pumpkin-whisperer probably won’t get me my own television series, but it did deliver a spectacular soup recipe. And that’s far more important, isn’t it?

“Peanut” Pumpkin Sausage Soup

Ingredients:

  • 4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
  • 6-8 Shitake mushrooms, thinly sliced, stems reserved
  • 3 cups Galeux d’Eysines pumpkin purée, seed mass reserved
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 thyme sprigs
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 3 Wild boar sausages, casings removed*
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1/4 cup Madeira or brandy
  • 1 tbs chopped, fresh thyme
  • Fig Balsamic Vinegar*

*If you can’t get to Canales Quality Meats at Eastern Market in DC, grab a pork and sage sausage, or just a pork sauce and mix in some dried sage leaves. Fig Balsamic should be on the shelf at your grocery store, but you can definitely order this really good stuff from Sapore Oil and Vinegar

Directions:

  • Simmer stock in a 2-3 qt saucepan, for 20 minutes, with the Shitake stems, pumpkin guts, bayleaf and thyme sprigs.
  • Meanwhile, in a 4 qt soup pot, brown sausage in 2 tbs olive oil. Breaking it up as it cooks. When browned, remove with a slotted spoon and reserve.
  • Add 1 tbs olive oil and onion to pot and cook until softened.
  • Return sausage to pot, strain in stock and cook for five to ten minutes.
  • While the soup simmers, sauté Shitake mushrooms in 1 tbs olive oil over medium heat. When mushrooms have softened and edges begin to brown, deglaze pan with Madeira, scraping up any brown bits on the bottom of the pan. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  • Add pumpkin purée to pot and cook five minutes longer.
  • Season to taste with salt, pepper, and a tablespoon or two of butter. Serve garnished with mushrooms and Fig Balsamic Vinegar.

What I haven’t cooked yet.

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Two weeks ago, Dave and Valerie from Sunnyside Farm gave me a Cinderella pumpkin, saying, “We bet you haven’t cooked this yet.” They were right. I’ve cooked Blue Hubbards, warty Peanut pumpkins and dark-green, lumpy, Italian Marina de Chioggia. But I had never cooked a Cinderella pumpkin.

The first thing I wanted to know was how it tasted. Grey and oblong, Blue Hubbards are sweet and rich. If you want classic pumpkin, for pie or soup, Hubbard is the squash for you. Peanut pumpkins, also know by their French name, Galeux d’Eysines, is mild and sugary. The “peanuts” are the result of sugars building up under the skin. Chioggia, on the Adriatic coast of Italy, is known for its candy-striped beets and it’s namesake pumpkin. Sweet, rich, drier and dense, it is the pumpkin of choice for gnocchi.

The Cinderella pumpkin, red and flat, is a French heirloom also known as Rouge vif D’Etampes. It is likely the pumpkin the Pilgrims and Wampanoags served at the first Thanksgiving. It is mild and not particularly sugary. It cooks down into a beautiful bright orange purée. Tasting more like dinner than dessert, I began to think of Asian flavors and dumplings.

Light Tamari soy, sweet palm sugar and rich, toasted sesame oil delivered the asian flavor profile. Purchased gyoza skins were a valuable shortcut for wrapping the dumplings. Riffing on sweet chile sauce (thanks Renee!), we combines Merken Chile Oil, Tropical Spice Vinegar, Lancaster County honey for sweetness and red miso paste for depth. The satiny texture and rich color of the sauce paired beautifully with the cooked dumplings.

And now I’ve cooked a Cinderella pumpkin.

Cinderella Pumpkin Dumplings

Makes 15-18 full dumplings or 25-30 half dumplings.

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups Cinderella pumpkin purée*
  • 1 tbs palm sugar
  • 2 tsp soy sauce
  • 1/2 tsp toasted sesame oil
  • 1/2 tsp fresh ginger, minced
  • 1/2 tsp Serrano Chili-Honey Vinegar**
  • 1 package round gyoza skins, thawed or 1 package of square wonton skins, cut round with a biscuit cutter.

For sauce:

  • 1 tbs Merken Chile Oil**
  • 1 tbs Tropical Spice Vinegar**
  • 1/2 tsp honey
  • 1/2 tsp red miso paste

*To cook your pumpkin, scroll to the bottom of the directions.

**I’ve been shopping at Sapore again. Substitute Sherry vinegar for the Serrano-Chile Honey. Use a chile infused olive oil for the Merken and add white wine vinegar with a pinch of sugar in place of the Tropical Spice.

Directions:

  • Combine pumpkin purée with palm sugar, soy, sesame oil, ginger and Serrano Chile Honey Vinegar. Season to taste with a pinch of salt.
  • Wet the edges of two gyoza skins or wonton wrappers. Place a teaspoon of filling in the middle of one wrapper.
  • Cover with second wrapper with wet sides faceing. Press together pushing out air. Cut around the filling with a biscuit cutter leaving 1/4” of wrapper outside the filling. Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment.
  • OR place a scant teaspoon of filling in the middle of a gyoza skin, wet the edges and fold in half, pressing out the air and making sure the dough seals all the way around without filling squeezing through. Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment.
  • Boil dumplings for 3-4 minutes, about 1 minute after they float to the surface.
  • Whisk together sauce ingredients and serve over cooked dumplings.

Cooking your pumpkin:

Method #1: Roasting

  • Cut your pumpkin in quarters.
  • Scoop out the seeds.
  • Rub inside with olive or vegetable oil and roast at 400F until the flesh can be easily pierced, through to the skin, with a fork.
  • Remove from oven, let cool, and scrape pumpkin flesh from the skin.

Method #2: Stove top

  • Quarter your pumpkin and scoop out the seeds.
  • Peel the skin with a vegetable peeler or knife.
  • Cut into a 1/2″ dice.
  • Warm 2 tbs olive oil in a large pan or 6qt soup pot, Cook until pieces begin to brown on edges, add 1/4 water at a time until pumpkin cooks down into a smooth puree, mashing as it softens.

I’m still wearing white shoes.

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*Sincere thanks to Jenny Lehman for this beautiful photo of the soup she made at home from this recipe.

Spring and fall in Washington easily compensate for summer’s most humid days and the city’s damp, insipid attempt at winter. One of the great joys of these seasons is their length. In New England, where I grew up, spring announces itself with a six-week flurry of daffodils, Forsythia and Rhododendron that fade as quickly as they arrive. DC’s season’s last months, lingering over spring flowers and the long change to autumn, marked by crisp leaves, bright mums and jaunty scarves and caps.

Why force it then? I’m puzzled by the appearance of pants and sweaters on the first 75 degree day in September while I’m still enjoying the end of summer in shorts and a tee. I feel the same way about food. Hearty soups are inappropriate on a warm, humid day no matter what date the calendar marks.

Presented with the year’s first Delicata squash, I wanted to serve up a soup that was light and celebrated this cultivar’s sweet, floral notes*, saving rich, sugary Hubbards and Kabocha’s for colder weather. A double stock, flavored with anise-y fennel, the season’s last tomatoes and earthy Shitakes bring out the lighter notes in Delicata. Using the seed mass beefs up the squash taste. This soup delivers so many layers of flavor, for so little work, the first bite caught me by surprise. Farm-fresh butter adds welcome richness. In a rare decision, we left out vinegar. Even rich balsamic dulled Delicata’s delicate sugars.

*”Seriously, floral notes and light sweetness? Next you’ll be telling me about lingonberry accents in my Pinot.” My parents and I actually conducted a squash tasting at home one night. That’s just how we roll.

Delicata Squash Fennel Soup

Ingredients:

  • 6 cups vegetable stock
  • 1-1.5 cups fennel stems and fronds
  • 2 tomatoes, roughly chopped
  • 4-6 Shitake mushrooms, stems and caps
  • 2 sprigs thyme
  • 6 parsley stems, about 3″ each
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 tbs olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 4 Delicata squash, peeled, seeded and cut in 1” cubes. Seed mass reserved.
  • 1-2 tbs butter

Directions:

  • While you chop the squash and onions, simmer the vegetable stock with fennel, tomatoes, mushrooms, herbs and bay leaves for 20-30 minutes.
  • Warm oil in a 4qt soup pot over medium heat. Add onion and sauté until translucent. Add garlic and cook one minute until fragrant.
  • Add squash and sauté 5-7 minutes.
  • Strain the stock into the vegetables and cook until squash is easily pierced through with a fork or tip of a knife.
  • Purée soup in a food mill or with an immersion blender. I prefer a food mill for this soup because of the smoother purée it produces.
  • Season to taste with butter, salt and pepper.

Midnight blood sacrifice.

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My husband, Jason, first met my extended family at my sister’s wedding. My mom is one of seven, all married with children.My dad is one of three. In total, there were more than 50 family members present. I love Jason’s retelling of this first meeting.

“I was waiting for a blood sacrifice at midnight,” he says. “They were all so friendly. Every single one of them. I thought it was a cult.”

So, it shouldn’t surprise you then, that when my happy family gets together, conducting a squash tasting seems perfectly normal. This is exactly what Mom, Dad and I did last fall after visiting the local farmers market. We took four squashes – Buttercup, Ambercup, Delicata and Sweet Dumpling – roasted them with thyme and olive oil and compared. Delicata was the clear favorite: sweet, mild, firm and smooth textured*. It is also the perfect squash for this recipe.

Easy to peel, Delicata is perfect for breaking down to a 1/2″ dice. It’s light, sweetness balances beautifully with the cider glaze, mellow herbs and brightened with a splash of Sherry vinegar. It is tender enough to cook in just about 15-20 minutes.

How good is this recipe? I made it last week for dinner guests. Our friend Gerry pulled me aside before dinner and said, “Don’t be offended if I skip the squash. You really don’t want me to eat it unless you want to see me throw it back up. I hate squash.” After dinner, with a glint in his eye, he said, “I admit it. I tried a bite. It was delicious!” I was glad. Throwing up at the table would have really killed the mood.

*Buttercup was our second favorite. Richer, but still mild and sweet. Ambercup could be easily mistaken for sweet potatoes. Sweet Dumpling was similar to Delicata. It’s a reasonable substitute in a pinch, but grab Delicata if you can find it.

Cider Glazed Delicata Squash

Ingredients:

  • 2 tbs butter
  • 2 tbs chopped sage
  • 2 tbs chopped thyme
  • 4 cups Delicata squash, in 1/2 cubes. 1 large or 2 small
  • 2 cups apple cider
  • Sherry vinegar
Directions:
  • Heat a 12” sauté pan over medium heat. Melt butter in pan.
  • Add herbs and sauté without browning, 1-2 minutes
  • Add squash, and sauté 3-5 minutes, browning the squash lightly.
  • Add cider, bring to a simmer and reduce heat and cook uncovered.
  • As the squash cooks, the cider will reduce to a glaze. Add additional water, 1/4 cup at a time, if squash needs more cooking time.
  • Season to taste with salt, pepper and a splash of Sherry vinegar.

It was the kind of morning when you could not fail.

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Today was the perfect day for this stew. Despite my earnest promise of a crisp, clear fall day, we woke to gusty rain. Jason and I set off to Eastern Market and started cooking. I offer my sincere thanks to those of you who stood out in the rain, huddled under umbrellas, waiting 45 minutes from the first wafts of rich, beefy goodness until bowls of streaming stew were served up hot!

When I came across the inspiration for this stew, I was excited, but it disappointed. The squash was flat and grassy. The beef? Barely there. Roasting the squash and a homemade beef stock would solve the problem. While well worth the effort, I’m sure, the average weeknight doesn’t afford me the twelve hours a good beef stock takes. How to speed this up?

Carrots added with the squash brought out butternut’s sweetness and a splash of cider vinegar brightened it up. Brandy, and miso gave the beef flavor depth, while butter – good, rich, creamy, grassy, Amish butter – gave the soup the richness it needed.

Beef and Pumpkin Stew

Ingredients:

  • 1.5 lbs lean stew beef, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 2 tbs olive oil
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 medium butternut squash, cut in 1/2inch cubes
  • 1 large carrot, diced
  • 6-8 cups stock
  • 6 thyme sprigs
  • 2 bay leaves
  • Cider vinegar
  •  Brandy
  • 1-2 tbs butter
  • 2 tbs red miso, mashed with a tbs water into a thin paste

Directions:

  • Heat a 6-8 qt heavy-bottomed stock pot or dutch oven over med-high heat. Add oil and heat until smoking. Cook beef in batches, seasoning lightly with salt and pepper. Sear until brown. Remove beef to a bowl and reserve. The beef juices will brown on the bottom of your pot. Don’t worry, this is pure flavor!
  • Add onion to pot, cook until soft. Add garlic, and cook 1 minute until fragrant.
  • Add 1 cup stock and deglaze pot, scraping up the rich brown bits off the bottom of the pot.
  • Add squash, carrot, thyme, bay, reserved beef and remaining stock. Simmer until squash is soft. 30-45 minutes.
  • Remove half the squash and carrot, and mash or run through a food mill.
  • Return the mashed squash to the pot. Season to taste with a splash of vinegar and brandy, butter, miso paste, salt and pepper. Cook 5 minutes to thicken.