Weekend Gourmet

Pumpkin is not just for pies

CorrespondentNovember 10, 2012 

Slow Roasted Pumpkin.

COURTESY OF FRED THOMPSON

  • Slow-Roasted Pumpkin 1 small pie pumpkin, sliced and seeds removed 2 tablespoons olive oil Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper 2 tablespoons unsalted butter 1/4 cup white wine 2 cups thinly sliced leeks, about 2 2 1/4 inch pieces pancetta or slab bacon cut into very small cubes 1 tablespoon ginger, finely minced 2 cloves garlic, finely minced HEAT oven to 250 degrees. COAT the pumpkin with olive oil and a good sprinkling of salt and pepper. Place parchment paper on a baking sheet and add the pumpkin. Roast for 3 hours until pumpkin has softened but is still a bit firm. Remove and set aside to cool. When you can handle the pumpkin, cut off the peel and cut the pumpkin into cubes. Set aside. MELT the butter in a large sauté pan over medium heat. When it stops foaming, add the leeks and sauté until limp, about 3-4 minutes. Add the pancetta, ginger and garlic, and sauté until soft, about 2-3 minutes. Carefully add the wine and cook a couple of minutes longer. Add the pumpkin to this mixture and toss. Cook for about 5 minutes. Transfer to a serving bowl and serve hot. Serve with: Pork, turkey, some fall greens, a cornbread dressing or right by itself. To drink: Let your protein be your guide. I like zinfandel with fall dishes. Yield: 6 servings

It’s a little bit sad that I had to leave this country to realize that pumpkin is more than pies, puréed soup, canned and jack-o-lanterned. Truth is, there is actually a fruit behind the scary face.

I’ve had the good fortune to visit the Umbrian region of Italy twice, both times in the fall. While Umbria is in the north central part of Italy, next to Tuscany, the foods have a real Southern feel. Pork is on their dinner tables regularly. They like to cook with pork fat, eat bitter greens, cure hams and make quick breads. Brown overtakes the typical red sauces that most of us associate with Italy. Their reverence for farmers markets and cooking with fresh ingredients all add up to the genetics of Southern foodways.

And like those of us in the South, they seek out the mom-and-pop places, where the entire family is in the kitchen and the front of the house. It was in such a place that I discovered that pumpkin could be a side dish too, during a meal blessed with a coterie of fellow foodies, a roasted pork shoulder, awesome greens, pasta with homemade cheeses, pickled root vegetables and slow-roasted pumpkin.

After the meal (and we closed the place down), we went to an absurdly small kitchen to thank the cooks – Mama and her son. I asked about the squash-like dish. “Surprised” is an understatement when he told me it was pumpkin, and I spent the next half-hour getting the gist of the recipe. When I got home I played with it to develop this mouth-watering version.

Americans have been in love with pumpkins ever since the settlers landed on our shores and learned about them from Native Americans, and history tells us this ungainly fruit helped many survive. Legend has it that the Connecticut colony once delayed Thanksgiving because the molasses for the pumpkin pies wasn’t ready. If we have a national pie, it would definitely be pumpkin.

I think we should recognize pumpkin for the great side dish it is as well.

Start with a pie pumpkin. These smaller pumpkins are more tender. A big, bright orange jack-o-lantern pumpkin just doesn’t cut it for this recipe. Choose a pumpkin that’s free of blemishes and feels heavy for its size. When you get it home, slice it into six slices, remove the seeds and slowly roast.

Preparing the pumpkin this way allows you to easily get the flesh from the skin, plus the roasting develops the pumpkin’s natural earthiness. You can also use this recipe with most fall and winter squash. Roasting the pumpkin up to two days ahead is fine.

So throw a curve ball for Thanksgiving or any cold-weather meal by serving pumpkin without a piecrust.

Fred Thompson is a cookbook author and publisher of Edible Piedmont. Reach him at fdtfx1@earthlink.net.

For a printable copy of the recipe, click the link:

Slow Roasted Pumpkin

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