Halloween Pumpkins: Trick or Treat?

According to this NYT oped, my sentiments about delicious orbs of pumpkin being left on the stoop to rot are echoed in France, where Halloween is slowly but surely taking root.

skull photo by penywise

photo of miniature pumpkins and other autumn vegetables by Paul Prescott


Ginger and Chorizo-Infusion in Minutes "Splat"

Last weekend, there was a festive clam bake at the farmers’ market at Carrol Park. People were swarming around, slurping broth from shells, as they considered multi-hued potatoes, maple syrup and bunches of rainbow kale. They inspired me to finally buy a “splat bag” – a mixture of mussels and clams – from the fishmonger and lug it home. That evening it became the below:

Ginger and Chorizo-Infused Mussels and Clams

1 chorizo, sliced into thin bite-size sticks
1 onion, sliced thin
6 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
2-3 inch piece ginger, minced
1 small red chili, minced
2 ½ cups white wine, such as chenin blanc
juice of two small limes
1 Tbs butter

1/3 cup (or more) chopped cilantro
1/3 cup chopped parsley

1 5lb “Splat” bag of mussels and clams, well-rinsed, any open shells discarded.

In large deep sauce pan, brown chorizo. Remove and set aside. Add onion to pan and sauté, scraping up any brown bits left from the chorizo. Add garlic, ginger, chili, wine and lime juice. Bring to a boil, with cover on. Add back chorizo. Stir in cilantro and parsley. Add mussels and clams. Boil until all shells are open, 15 or so minutes. (Check the bottom, too.) Serve piping hot with plenty of broth, and maybe some toasted bread to sop it all up.

picture by Zheng Dong


Molasses-Olive Oil Pumpkin Bread

The first pumpkin recipe of the season! (Well, if you don't count toasted pumpkin seeds and mashed pumpkin with butter.) Pumpkin and molasses compliment each other beautifully, especially in baked goods. This bread turned out fluffy and moist in texture but dense and dark in flavor. The olive oil lets the molasses and pumpkin shine, without weighing them down.

Molasses-Olive Oil Pumpkin Bread


2 large eggs, at room temperature

½ cup olive oil

5 tbs water

1 cup pureed pumpkin (fresh or canned)

¼ cup sugar

½ cup molasses

1 ½ cups all purpose flour

½ cup oat flakes, divided

1 ½ teaspoon salt

1teaspoon ground nutmeg

1teaspoon ground cinnamon

1teaspoon ground clove

1teaspoon baking soda

1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnuts (optional)

Preheat oven to 350º degrees. Briefly beat eggs in a large bowl. Stir in olive oil, water, pumpkin, sugar and molasses. In a separate bowl, combine the rest of the ingredients except 1/3 of the oatmeal and the nuts. Add the mixture of dry ingredients to the pumpkin/molasses bowl in three parts. Stir to mix but do not over stir! Don’t worry if there are still lumps. Stir in walnuts. Pour batter in a greased standard-sized loaf pan (9" x 5"). Dust the top with remaining oat flakes. Bake for 45-60 minutes until a knife slipped into the center of the loaf comes out clean. Let cool before slicing.

picture by Dušan Zidar


Pumpkin Project Day

I love October. You have the end of the summer’s harvest and the first of the winter vegetables all at the same time. But even amidst all this plenty, October would not be October without Pumpkins.

I am not talking Jack o’Lanterns. While I am not against these haunted decorations per se, when I see them sprouting up in advance of Halloween, I shake my head, wondering why someone took one of the earth’s brightest bon-bons, turned it into a monster and set in on the stoop to rot. Pumpkin is far too yummy for decoration!

I’ll admit my October Pumpkin Project Tradition started with salvaging seeds from such candlelit carvings. Today, it has expanded to a half-day event that hordes every last spoonful of orange flesh and then freezes it away to be savored for at least the next three months.

Here’s the only rule to Pumpkin Project Day: Make too much. It is a true “project”, and if you are going to do it, you might as well get as much return on your effort as possible.

Besides, there is so much you can do with pumpkin! In addition to make puree for pie, bread, pancakes, soup and reduced into a side dish, I freeze raw pumpkin in thin slices (for sautéing, scalloping or layered dish-ing) and bite-size chunks (for roasting, curry-ing and frying).

And, of course, I still gotta roast the seeds.

To get started, pick out some pumpkins. In general, “sugar” or “pie” pumpkins are better for dessert preparations while conventional varieties such as Howden or Magic Lantern are better for more savory dishes. But don’t fret about the type; you can’t really go wrong when it comes to pumpkin.

Then cut them into halves or quarters depending on the size. No one tells you how hard this is. I usually have to place the chopping block on the floor and go at with my full weight. I dream of investing in a hatchet those mornings, but it would be a uni-tasker in our kitchen and Pumpkin Project Day only comes once a year.

Once you have them open, scrape out the seed and stringy bits of flesh. Reserve the seeds in a big bowl of water, to start their cleaning process. Also reserve a few raw pieces of pumpkin for chunking. Place the rest of the pumpkin pieces in a large pan, such as the one you will use for turkey next month and roast and 400 degrees for about an hour, or until very tender.

When cooled, scrape the pumpkin “meat” out and puree. Freeze or use immediately in place of “canned pumpkin” in any of your favorite recipes. I also like to serve pumpkin puree as a side dish, hot with a bit of butter.

With the reserved raw pumpkin, use a peeler to take of the tough outside. And then cut into bite-size chunks. You can roast or add to stews and curries the way you would with potatoes.

With the seeds, work them free of the orange string bits in the bowl of water. (They can be allowed to soak overnight, if need be.) Pat dry and spread them out in a single layer on oiled cookie sheets. Stirring occasionally, roast at 300 until dry and crisp, about 20-30 minutes. Salt and snack.

picture by Dmitry Skalev


Tomato Cryonics

Tomatoes are on their way out for the year. But they are still plentiful in the market, so now is the time to stock up!

If you want to eat them fresh, buy from sellers that are still putting out slices to taste – otherwise you run the risk of getting a mealy one. But grab the value bags of tomatoes with abandon if you are making tomato paste or tomato sauce. Deborah Madison, in her farm-to-table cookbook Local Flavors, convinced me to make tomato sauce for the rest of the year, simply by sharing her trick to save room in the freezer: zip lock bags laid on the freezer floor freeze flat and thin, easy for storing AND thawing – you can just place the frozen bag in the same water you are bringing to a boil for pasta and before you know it you have spaghetti marinara.

The recipe itself is a cinch. No blanching, peeling, coring or seeding necessary. Just quarter the tomatoes and toss in a pot.

Tomato Sauce

~6 cups
6-7 pounds of tomatoes, rinsed and quartered (about 2 large “apple” bags from Fred Wilklow’s Orchard)
6 Tbs fresh basil or marjoram (optional), chopped
4 Tbs olive oil
salt, pepper

Throw the tomatoes and basil in the largest pot you own; cover and add medium heat. The tomatoes should begin releasing their juices immediately, but double-check to make sure the tomatoes don’t scorch. If they are still dry at the bottom after the first 4-5 minutes add a bit of water and cover again.

Let cook about 30 minutes until the tomatoes have completely broken down. Pass through a food press or blender, to make it a uniform consistency. Simmer with cover off, stirring occasionally for about 60 minutes, until sauce is desired thickness. Stir in olive oil and seasonings. Cool before portioning 1 cup allotments into ziplock freezer bags.


Joyless Pursuit of Perfection

There was a very pretty opinion piece in the NYT this week by Timothy Egan. It covers his trip during harvest time to lush and fertile Yakima Valley in Washington State, and dovetails on the recent story about the dancer paralyzed after eating an E. Coli tainted burger grilled by her mom. In addition to beautiful descriptions, even if some of the transitions are choppy, the piece offers a few fun tidbits (apples originated from Kazakhstan?!?!) and, of course, food politics.

My favorite parts, however, are his references to perfection. He does get deeply into it, but I think some misguided pursuit of this unattainable state indirectly causes rows of identical cookies, identical boxes of cereal, identical frozen meals and in, Egan's view, tasteless apples.

Here is an excerpt:

"Red Delicious, which is to a fruit bowl what plastic surgery is to beauty, is still the most popular apple — a polished piece of fruit that can keep its buffed pose year-round in near-freezing warehouses, but is utterly tasteless.

Honeycrisp, which is sunshine in a marbled orb, and Gala and Fuji are all coming on, as are innumerable varieties that had nearly been lost in the joyless pursuit of the perfect apple....

... How much of the danger from leafy vegetables can be blamed on the industrial model that produces cheap calories I don’t know. But as consumers follow Michael Pollan’s advice to get to know our food producers, we will learn to see the processed burger and the industrial vegetables for what they are — cheap global commodities that carry some risk.

The best antidote for such a thing is to see, touch and experience food as it comes off the fields. As imperfect as this harvest picture is, it satisfies a need that has never bred out of us as people."

honeycrisp apples via Dreamstime