Thursday, November 29, 2012

A Harvest of Marina di Chioggia squash

I love visiting the produce stand down the street from my house and finding edible treasures.  Like this delectable Marina di Chioggia pumpkin, from coastal Italy.  The winter squash charts at Dan's directed me to the bumpy gray-green gourd and its delicious flesh.  I tend to choose heirloom pumpkins for Halloween decorations - the ones with warts and weird shapes and vivid colors have always been my favorites, but who knew that some of them contain such caramel-y, creamy flesh? 

I bought a large one (about eight pounds) in early October and displayed it on my porch with Indian corn and a few other pumpkin buddies.  About three weeks ago, I finally sacrificed it, and roasted the seeds and the flesh.  Firstly, the thick skin needs to be cut with a good sharp knife.  Please be careful when cutting into the pumpkin.  The easiest thing to do is to carve it like a jack-o-lantern.

After scraping out the innards, I cut it into pieces, rubbed it with olive oil and roasted it in the oven at 450 degrees for 30 - 35 minutes.  I tested it with a fork to make sure the pumpkin was done, then let it stand for about 15 minutes.  When cool to the touch, I cut the flesh off of the skin - the consistency should be soft and creamy, not hard and crunchy.  You can cut it into cubes, or puree it in a blender or food processor.  The flavor really is exquisite, even tastier than butternut squash.

As I stood in my kitchen pureeing all of this flesh in my food processor I thought:

My gods, this is A LOT of pumpkin! What on earth am I going to do with all of it?

Luckily for me, (and my friends) I love gourds and I'm not afraid to experiment.

Here are some recipes that I have used the amazing di Chioggia in this month:

Thai Curry with Pumpkin and Basil

The first thing that I thought of as I was preparing the squash was Pumpkin Curry.  I knew the flavors would be perfect with coconut milk.

Thai Curry Sauce:

1 c. coconut milk
1 tsp. curry paste (I used red but any kind will be delicious)
1 tsp. tamarind paste
1 tsp. fish sauce
sugar to taste

Simmer the coconut milk and curry paste in a saucepan until the paste is incorporated.  Add the tamarind paste and simmer on low, continuing to stir, until the sauce is aromatic (about 5 minutes).  Add the fish sauce and sugar and cook on low for 5 more minutes.  

A note on Thai curries:  Any of these ingredients can be found in grocery stores with more extensive "ethnic" sections, or if you live in an area where there are Asian grocery stores, you can find them at your local Vietnamese/Thai/Lao supermarket.  I tend to pick up these items at Southeast Asian groceries in Oakland rather than at places like Whole Foods.  You can go there too of course - you'll just pay more for your supplies.
With the exception of the coconut milk, all of the curry ingredients will keep in your fridge for awhile and are worth having on hand if you love Thai curries.  I like making curries at home, and you can put anything you want in them.  I've made this one vegetarian.

As for the flavor, I start with the above measurements and adjust the ingredients to taste.  The curry paste adds flavor and spice.  The tamarind paste lends a sour note and the fish sauce adds salt and that distinctive fishy flavor.  Thai curry is on the sweet side, so some sugar is needed, but you can adjust the amount depending on how sweet you want it to be.

The veggies:

Chopped bell peppers, green beans, roasted di Chioggia pumpkin cubes, chopped dinosaur kale, and basil leaves.
Stir fry all veggies except the pumpkin with coconut oil for about ten minutes until they are cooked but still crunchy.  Toss with the pumpkin and curry sauce and cook on low for five minutes.

Enjoy with some khao niao (sticky rice).  Mmmmmm.....

Next we have a moist pumpkin spice cake made with the pureed flesh of the di Chioggia squash.  I'm including here a basic recipe for a perfect cake that can be fancied up with a handful of chopped walnuts or a delicious cream cheese frosting.  Or you could just eat the cake with a little butter and nothing else.  It's really, really yummy.

Moist Pumpkin Cake

1 stick butter
 1 1/2 c. sugar
2 eggs
1 c. pureed di Chioggia squash
1/2 c. warm milk
1 2/3 c. flour
1/2 t. nutmeg
1/2 t. allspice
1/2 t. cinnamon 
1/2 t. baking soda
1/2 t. baking powder

Beat the butter and sugar with an electric mixer until fluffy.  Add eggs, one at a time and beat until combined. Mix in the pumpkin puree and milk.

In a separate bowl, sift together all of the remaining dry ingredients.  Add into the wet ingredients a little at a time and mix until combined.  Be sure not to overmix.

Grease and flour a pan and pour batter in.  Bake at 350 degrees for 50 minutes or until a toothpick or knife inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.  

Delicious.  Okay, one more recipe for the divine di Chioggia pumpkin.  My friend Naomi and I have started taking turns cooking dinner for one another each week.  We both get the opportunity to experiment with various recipes and once a week, one of us doesn't have to make dinner!  Our only rules are that the meal should not cost more than about $10 to prepare and should be fairly simple in its execution.  

This week's meal for the two of us includes a twelve bean soup that I've managed to incorporate pumpkin puree into.  I bought a dry bean and lentil mix from the bulk bins that includes pinto beans, split peas, black eyed peas, and kidney beans, among others.  Isn't it pretty?

Twelve Bean Soup with Pumpkin and Sage:

 Measure out 2 c. dry bean and lentil mixture.
Soak overnight in enough water to cover.

Strain out the beans and place in a pot with 2 quarts of water, five sage leaves and one bay leaf.

Simmer, covered, for two hours or until the beans are tender.  Add 1 tsp.of thyme and 1/4 tsp. of mace.  Stir in 1/4 c. of pumpkin puree.  Add salt to taste.

You can mess around with the amounts of the herbs and spices to your liking, or use completely different ones.  This soup was divine with the pumpkin - it added a sweetness and depth of flavor that was DELICIOUS.
The flesh of the Marina di Chioggia squash is traditionally used to make ravioli and gnocchi as well - since I still have plenty of pumpkin I just might have to try making the gnocchi - I'll keep you posted.