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.
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
- 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.
- 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.
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
- 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.
- 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.
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
- 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
- 1-2 tbs butter
- 2 tbs red miso, mashed with a tbs water into a thin paste
- 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.