Archive for the ‘Pumpkin’ Category

Autumn Ham Soup With Pumpkin & Barley

Sunday, November 7th, 2010

When I was roasting pumpkins a couple of weekends ago, I didn’t have a lot of fresh ingredients on hand for dinner. All I had left in the garden were some snow peas, a couple of baby fennel, and a few stray San Marzano tomatoes. I really wanted to stay home all weekend, and the idea of a 40 minute run to the closest decent market didn’t hold much appeal.  Between the root veggies and squash I’ve stored for winter, and a well stocked supply of dry goods and staples, and a freezer full of venison and an odd assortment of meats, I figured I should be able to pull something out of my hat.  I was very happy with the results, but I think I’ll try it with cannellini beans in place of the barley the next time. I keep forgetting that my guys aren’t fans of barley like I am.

Autumn Ham Soup With Pumpkin & Barley
Olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 or 3 cloves garlic, chopped
2 very small, or 1 medium fennel bulb, chopped
12 ounces ham cubes or trimmings
4 cups chicken stock
1 cup water
1/2 cup pearl barley
4 or 5 large roma style tomatoes, chopped (or 1 or 2 cans tomatoes – I highly recommend San Marzano tomatoes, which can be found at some of the better/larger grocers)
2 cups roasted pumpkin chunks (or any other winter squash)

In a large soup pot over medium heat, soften onion, fennel,and garlic in 3 or 4 tablespoons of olive oil.

** Bunny Trail Alert ** I have to mention  my enameled cast iron pot. When I was 5 years old, my family moved to Iceland where my parents were missionaries.  While living there, my mom was given this pot as a gift.  She cooked countless meals in the pot over the last 40 years. One of the ways my mom shows her love for people is by feeding them, and it’s a quality she passed on to me.  Over the years, the outside of the pot has become perfectly seasoned. The inside shows the years, and the vitrified enamel coating has some worn and pitted spots.  However, the imperfections in the enamel haven’t affected the pot’s ability to perform.  I’ve been wondering if it’s possible to have the enamel restored. If anyone has information about restoring enamel, I’d love to hear from you.

This pot represents all the love my mom has to give. For years I told my mom that I wanted her to be sure the pot be handed down to me when she was gone.  I was completely shocked and pleased when she wrapped the pot and gave it to me for Christmas last year. Knowing how much I love this pot, my mom wanted the pleasure of watching me cook in it instead of waiting until she was gone. My family is very small, and of the four grandchildren there is only one girl, my sister’s 7 year old daughter.  I hope Emma grows up loving to cook, because it would be a shame not to pass on this pot which represents the love of two generations.

OK, back to our soup. After softening the onion, fennel, and garlic, add the ham and cook for a few minutes longer.

Next add the chicken stock, water, and barley.  The ham trimmings I had in my freezer were rather salty, and after adding the chicken stock I realized that it needed a little water to tone down the salt.  Turn the heat down, and continue to cook the soup on a low simmer until the barley is tender.  As the soup cooks, you may need to make a couple of small additions of water as the barley absorbs liquid, and to account for evaporation.  Once the barley is done, add the tomatoes and pumpkin and cook a little while longer until the vegetables are heated.

While the soup was cooking, I threw together a nice crusty whole wheat bread which was perfect with the soup. As we head into the cold winter months, I’ll be baking bread and will share a few of my favorite recipes and techniques.

Pumpkin Risotto

Wednesday, November 3rd, 2010

I’ve been playing around with risotto quite a bit in the last few months, and it has become one of my favorite comfort foods. It’s warm, and creamy, and deeply satisfying. Of all the versions I’ve been playing with, this pumpkin version has to be my favorite so far. Risotto is one of those dishes that always prompts one of my cooking rants.  Let me dispel a commonly held misconception about risotto….. It.  Is.  Not.  Difficult.  Seriously!  It’s actually very simple. However, it is a little time consuming, but well worth the 20 to 30 minutes you’ll spend on it. This is a dish that needs to be stirred most of the time. In this particular recipe I don’t use any wine. I think pumpkin is rather delicate in flavor, and the flavor of wine gets in the way of the pumpkin, in my opinion. If you need instructions for roasted pumpkin, I did that the other day.

Pumpkin Risotto
32 ounces chicken stock (vegetable stock if you would like to keep it ovo-lacto vegetarian)
3 or 4 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, finely diced (I’m a little onion crazy and used more)
1 garlic clove, finely minced
1 cup Arborio rice
1 cup roasted pumpkin (I use 1/2 cup cubed and 1/2 cup mashed)
3 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated (please, please, Please use freshly grated, and not that horrible sawdust in a shaker bottle. It really does make a difference)
Salt to taste

Place chicken stock in a pan, bring to a simmer, then turn down the heat.  Keep chicken stock just shy of simmering while preparing the risotto.  While you’re heating up the stock, in a wide shallow pan, over medium high heat, soften onion in olive oil .  Once the onion has softened a bit, add the garlic and Arborio rice.   Cook the rice for 3 or 4 minutes stirring constantly, making sure you don’t brown the rice.  You just want it to be a little translucent around the edges.

Next, add one or two ladles full of your chicken stock, stirring frequently until the stock is absorbed. The rate at which to add the stock is one of those hotly debated subjects among chefs.  Some say never add more than 1 ladle at a time.  Others say you can add as much as 1/4 the entire amount at the first addition.  Personally, I’ve tried it both ways, and didn’t seen any difference in the finished recipe.  Anyway, after your first addition of stock, continue adding one ladle full at a time, allowing each to be absorbed before each new addition. While the rice is cooking, you will need to stir frequently. I know most chefs out there make a HUGE deal out of stirring constantly. Honestly, I stop stirring for a minute or so while I attend to other small kitchen tasks. I’ll wash a couple of dishes ….stir, stir, stir.  I’ll walk over to the table to set out plates and silverware….stir, stir, stir.  I’ll set out the drinking glasses and silverware….stir, stir, stir.  I’ll put away a few dry dishes, wipe down the counter top….stir, stir, stir.  You get the point.  Since I will be serving a meal as soon as the rice is finished, I use the time between stirring to make sure the rest of the meal will be ready.

When the last addition of stock is almost completely absorbed, gently mix in the pumpkin. Cook it another couple of minutes so the pumpkin heats through and the liquid finishes absorbing. Add the butter and Parmesan cheese, stirring until melted into the rice.  Add salt to taste and serve with a fresh grating of nutmeg.

Roasting Pumpkins

Sunday, October 31st, 2010

A couple of weeks ago a friend told me he had a Japanese friend who wanted to know  if the decorative pumpkins sold in grocery stores could be prepared to eat. The small pumpkins (about the size of a cantaloupe) are usually sugar pumpkins (aka pie pumpkins), and are the best type for eating.  Each fall I usually get a few organic sugar pumpkins from a neighboring organic farmer.  I roast them and then freeze for later use (pumpkin ravioli, pumpkin risotto, pumpkin cookies… stuff like that). Pumpkins sold for carving are edible, but don’t taste as nice as sugar pumpkin.  I don’t know if I’m imagining it or not, but it always seems that I get the best flavor from smaller pumpkins, so I try choose the really small ones…. a little larger than a softball, but no larger than one of those mini basketballs.  Additionally, the smaller size is so much easier to handle.

I’m sure you can find a bazillion different instructions online for roasting pumpkin. This is just my way of doing it.   One quick tip: a good sharp 8 or 9 inch chef’s knife makes quick work of the job. Just be sure to take your time and be safe.

First, remove the stem end.

Next, flip it so it’s standing on the flat, cut end (safety precaution) and slice it in half.

Scoop out seeds and pulp.

I usually just roast the halves, but this time I wanted some chunks for pumpkin risotto, so I roasted some both ways. I cut a couple of the halves into wedges, peeled with a vegetable peeler, and diced.

Place pumpkin halves on a foil lined baking sheet, cut side down, and roast in a 400°F oven.  If you place them cut side up, water will collect in the hollow, keeping the sugars from caramelizing. Caramelization is what you want, and where all that nice roasty pumpkin flavor comes from.

** Bunny Trail Alert ** I learned something from my oldest teenage son a couple of years ago. Did you know there are lock tabs on the ends of aluminum foil boxes?  I didn’t, and they’re absolutely genius. They keep the roll of foil from coming out of the box when you’re trying to tear a piece off.

I removed the diced pumpkin from the oven after about 15 minutes, and then shoved the halves back in for a total roasting time of about 30 minutes.  Roasting time may vary depending on the size and thickness of the pumpkins. Roast until fork tender and slightly browned. My skins bubbled up a bit, and there was a beautiful clear, thick orange liquid on the baking sheet.  Be sure to use the juice, as it’s packed with flavor.

Scoop the roasted flesh from the skins to use in your favorite recipes.  You can also freeze for later use. In my next couple of blog posts, I’ll give you my recipes for Pumpkin Risotto and Autumn Ham Soup with Pumpkin & Barley.