Stephen Fries: Versatile ingredient can be used in myriad ways
I was reminded too soon fall was on its way when pumpkin ornaments were displayed in the stores and the back-to-school ads blanketed television screens in July. In August, displays of pumpkin spice coffee beans were plentiful in coffee shops and supermarkets. Don’t you wish retailers would let us enjoy the season at hand without the reminder of fall and the long and cold winter we experience here?
Last week, at the farmers market I finally gave in and purchased the mini-pumpkins I give to a few friends and some that adorn the mantle each year. I guess the changing colors of the trees put me in the autumn spirit. Along with the changing leaves and the colder weather to come, autumn brings us some of the year’s most delicious food. Apples were “center stage” a couple of weeks ago. Cranberries and sweet potatoes, other fall favorites are on the docket as well.
Pumpkin bread and muffins, pumpkin spice lattes and, of course, the quintessential pumpkin pie are common treats this time of year. Has the extension of the use of the gourd and pumpkin spice gone too far with potato chips, gum, yogurt, protein powder, tortilla chips, beer, cream cheese and bagels? How about body powder and air freshener? For the obsessed, there is a wooden sign to hang that says “I Love Everything Pumpkin Spice.” Why not let the world know?
With its subtle taste, pumpkin is a blank canvas and is such a versatile ingredient, because it can be baked, boiled, steamed, fried and roasted. The seeds are a healthful snack. Pumpkinseed oil is used to make salad dressing. The classic symbol of fall means so much more than jack-o-lanterns.
“The Pumpkin Cookbook: 139 Recipes Celebrating the Versatility of Pumpkin and Other Winter Squash,” by Deedee Stovel (2017, Storey Publishing, $16.95) offers diverse options for enjoying the icon of fall year-round.
The first chapter discusses types of pumpkins and how to store, prepare and cook fresh pumpkins; and for those who find it a challenge to cut and peel the gourd, fear no more. Be creative with using the gourd as a serving bowl; Stovel will show you how. Baked or roasted, steamed or microwaved, canned unsweetened, puree, or pepitas, there are recipes for many styles and parts of this orange treasure. Here are two of Stovel’s recipes to try. For the recipe for pumpkin corn bread visit http://bit.ly/2yuXIyz
The author writes, “Israeli couscous, a larger version of Moroccan couscous, is the size of peppercorns, has a nutty flavor, and is ideal for salads. Toasting the couscous deepens its flavor and enhances this savory and colorful mix of pumpkin, fennel, and cranberries, brightened with specks of parsley.”
Microwave the chunks of pumpkin on high for 5 minutes, or until almost tender. When cool enough to handle, peel the pumpkin, and coarsely chop enough to make 2 cups. Store the remainder in the refrigerator for up to a week or in the freezer for up to 3 months.
Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the couscous and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, until the couscous browns a bit. Add the apple juice, reduce the heat, and simmer, covered, for 15 to 20 minutes, until the liquid is absorbed and the couscous is almost tender, stirring occasionally. Add the pumpkin and cook for 1 to 2 minutes longer, stirring to blend the flavors and color.
Transfer the couscous to a large bowl, sprinkle with the salt, and cool slightly. Toss with the parsley, cranberries, fennel, and onion. Stir in the grapeseed oil and vinegar. Season with a few grinds of pepper. Taste and add more salt, if desired. Serve at room temperature. Serves 6.
The headnote says, “The wonderful thing about Thai curry is the heat you feel at the back of your throat while enjoying the smooth coconut, ginger, and pumpkin flavors in your mouth. This velvety soup makes a lovely light lunch with crunchy crackers, pita bread, or naan. Thai green curry paste is available in the Asian section of the supermarket, or in Asian or gourmet food stores.”
Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Sauté the onion, ginger, and garlic in the butter, about 3 minutes, until the onion is soft. Place half of the pumpkin, the coconut milk, milk, curry paste, and thyme into a blender. Add the onion mixture and purée until smooth. Pour the soup back into the pot, add the remaining pumpkin, and continue to cook over medium heat, about 3 minutes, until it is heated through but not boiling. Season with the lime juice, salt, and pepper to taste. Adjust the seasonings. Serve hot. Scatter a bit of the cilantro on each serving. Add a few chopped peanuts, if using, over each serving. Serves 4.
Bishop’s Orchards, 1355 Boston Post Rd., Guilford 203-453-2338
Lyman Orchards, 32 Reeds Gap Rd., Middlefield, 860-349-1793
Clover Nook Farm, 50 Fairwood Rd., Bethany, 203-393-2929
Patricia Garcia, of New Haven wrote, I would love to have the recipe for the unbelievable lobster risotto from Assaggio restaurant in Branford. Their signature dish is blackened sea bass accompanied by the risotto. I would be happy to just know what the “base” of it is. It is orang-ey in color, but without any noticeable tomato flavor…it keeps me awake at night. We have been there several times over the summer and I have to have it each time…it is incredibly unctuous! I keep trying to tease out the flavors of it, but alas, I can’t. I would love it, if they would share it.”
Patricia, Wow!…you made me very curious about this dish with your description. I will see if the chef will share the recipe.
Which restaurant recipes or other recipes would you like to have?
Which food products are you having difficulty finding? Do you have cooking questions? Send them to me.