Its 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.
Ive 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 wasnt 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 doesnt cut it for this recipe. Choose a pumpkin thats 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 pumpkins 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
For a printable copy of the recipe, click the link: