The Last Pumpkins (For a While…)

I’ve been having a great fall teaching classes and testing out endless  butternut squash/apple/turnip/pear/carrot/sweet potato/parsnip/pumpkin combinations in soups, gratins, purees, and stew-like creations. I had a hard time deciding what to share with you before TurkeyDay, the biggest food event of the year.

But the other day I cracked open Dorie Greenspan’s brilliant new cookbook Around My French Table for the first time. This is exactly the book I wish I’d written. Like her perfect Baking from my Home to Yours, the recipes are simple, versatile and flavorful, and the pages are saturated with spectacular pictures and peppered with “bonne idées” – good ideas to make each recipe your own. She takes the mystery out of fabulous French cooking from the simplest home meal to the most intimidating pastries. And so many of her recipes have blunt, adorable names – Spur-of-the Moment Vegetable Soup, Salmon and Potatoes in a Jar.

But once I saw “Pumpkins Stuffed With Everything Good,” I knew I’d found my starting point. The concept, taken from generations of French home cooking, is sheer perfection: so cozy, beautiful, and delicious. As Dorie says, “an outline is about the best you can do with this dish” – because there’s so many ways you can, and often must, vary it. She says she never makes it the same way twice.

It’s sort of like a fondue, only you spoon out the contents not skewer them. The concepts all depend on what you like, and the best thing about it is that you can serve it as an appetizer or a side dish on the Thanksgiving table, perfect for all friends and family. You can even easily make it vegetarian if that’s what makes you happy.

Here’s what you have to do:

You take a bake-able pumpkin, like sugar or Cinderella and cut off the top

scoop out the stringy stuff and the seeds (to toast) (or caramelize)

then crush some garlic, and maybe chop some herbs

fill it with your favorite chunks of bread, cheeses, herbs and a bit of bacon or pancetta or similar if you like

Pour in some cream

And bake it!

That’s it! And this is what you get in the end…

Then you scoop this with some of the pumpkin meat on to small plates. Together with a good glass of white wine and you’re in heaven after one taste. I’m not exaggerating.

Full, concise recipe after the jump!

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Too many Pumpkins…

For most people the holiday season begins with Thanksgiving. Here the “holidays” as they are collectively known, begin in (very) early October. I don’t know why the color orange and October make me so happy, but I am a sucker for all things autumn and Halloween, probably because Halloween is about fun, not office parties. Instead, it’s about apples and pumpkin picking, and laughing at the hysterical decorations and costumes so many people come up with.

More lawns than ever are populated with monsters and graveyards and not-so-scary whimsy, like this monster and mermaid I found in Essex, CT.

Our house is always the most over the top in the neighborhood, but we’ve even outdone ourselves this year with a witch that projects on to our house. It’s pretty spectacular, if I do say so myself.

We are so into the season that my youngest daughter isn’t allowed to wear anything that isn’t orange and black or doesn’t have a witch or ghost on it. I’m really not kidding. Thank goodness she’s only five and thinks it’s a blast.

A little odd, perhaps, but I did the same thing with Gabrielle and Isabella and they turned out pretty normal.

But of course, this is a food blog, and no post about October would make any sense without talking about all the spectacular cozy foods of autumn. We love teaching light and fresh meals at the Fig Cooking School in the summer – a chilled borsht made with organic beets on a sticky day is superb – but nothing beats hearty stews, rich pies and crisps made with apples or pears, or really anything made with the vast array of squashes and pumpkins now in season.

The best pumpkin has to have the best stem...

Of all the fall foods and decorations I go especially crazy for pumpkins. I can’t get enough of them. Francesca has a fantastic book called Too Many Pumpkins in which Rebecca Estelle thinks she hates those beautiful bulky balls of orange until a truck spills dozens of splattered pumpkins in her yard. The next year there are hundreds of pumpkins and so she has to make dozens of pumpkin pies, cookies, muffins and breads for the townspeople so they don’t go to waste. In the end, the pumpkins bring her happiness and community… totally my kind of story.

If you ask Mark and the girls they’ll tell how they have to pull me away from the pumpkin patch. It’s an addiction, really.

And I like gourds and weird pumpkins too!

So obviously, some of my favorite foods are made with pumpkins. This gorgeous vegetable makes the most wonderful soups, muffins and pies and, when roasted whole, a beautiful, edible bowl for your favorite autumn stew.

Since it is such a busy time of year, I try to keep it simple and create recipes that are hearty and delicious, so we have more time to be outside apple picking or taking scenic drives. I’ve created a delicious but simple pumpkin-butternut squash soup using canned organic squash and pumpkin. It’s so easy you will never be tempted to by commercial soup again. I promise.

Hopefully it will become part of your regular dinner plans. When you make it, be sure to let us know!

Pumpkin-Butternut Squash Soup with Pears

From: Heide Lang

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups of leeks, chopped
  • 1/3 cup shallots, chopped
  • 1 Bartlett pear, peeled and chopped into 1-inch cubes
  • 1 can organic butternut squash puree
  • 1 can organic pumpkin puree (unprocessed)
  • 4 cups vegetable or chicken broth
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/3 cup sour cream
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
  • 1/3 pound pancetta, sliced thin (optional)

Directions:

  1. Sautee shallots and leeks until they are wilted, but not yet brown, about 5 minutes
  2. Add squash and pumpkin and stir
  3. Add one teaspoon of salt and 1/2 teaspoon of freshly ground pepper
  4. Add the broth, pears, sugar and cayenne pepper and bring to a boil
  5. Let simmer for about 12 minutes, or until pears are soft
  6. Add both the pumpkin and squash and cook for another 7 minutes on a low flame
  7. Puree in a food processor, or with an immersion blender (you may also use a blender, but be sure to let the soup cool to lukewarm first)
  8. Add sour cream and mix well
  9. Fry pancetta in a small pan over medium-high heat, until crisp, and pat between two towels to absorb grease
  10. Serve with a dollop of sour cream and sprinkle chopped chives and crumbled pancetta on top

Fig Season is Here!

People often ask me if we sell figs or only teach classes that feature dishes made with figs. It’s fair question considering the names of this blog and my business, The Fig Cooking School, LLC. The truth is that the name was actually inspired by my three charming daughters, Francesca, Isabella and Gabrielle. But we also happen to adore figs and love cooking and baking with them when they’re in season, which is, sadly, oh so fleeting. We are now fortunately now in the height of fig season here in Connecticut and we’ve been cooking up a storm with them.

We thought we’d share with you one of our favorite recipes for honey roasted figs that is extremely versatile. Roasted figs on French bread paired with cheese and a bit of arugula and nuts make elegant hors d’oeuvres. They can also be used in a salad made of mixed greens, French string beans and fruits, or as a side dish with any roast in the early fall. Enjoy these recipes and tell us what you think. We’d love to get your feedback!

 

Honey Roasted Figs with Haricots Verts and mixed greens in a Shallot vinaigrette dressing

From: Heide Lang

Ingredients:

  • One batch of honey roasted figs (see above)
  • 1 pound of string beans
  • 2 cups mixed greens
  • 2 cups arugula
  • 4-6 ounces goat cheese, dolce Gorgonzola, or blue cheese
  • 1 large apple or pear sliced thin
  • ½  cup toasted walnuts or almonds
  • 1/3 cup dried apricots, cherries or cranberries (optional) or another favorite fruit
  • 3-4 tablespoons finely chopped shallots
  • ¼  cup balsamic (either traditional or white) or champagne vinegar
  • ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • ¾  teaspoon kosher salt
  • ½  teaspoon pepper

Directions:

  1. Cut the ends of the French beans and place into pot of boiling water for just two minutes (do not overcook)
  2. Quickly drain string beans into pot cold water with ice. Let string beans cool completely in the ice water in order to prevent the string beans from cooking further.
  3. When cool, dry the string beans in a tea towel or paper towels
  4. Place walnuts on a cookie sheet and bake at 350 for 5-7 minutes until just slightly browned. Put aside.
  5. Wash arugula and mixed greens and place in a large bowl or platter along with the string beans.
  6. Add the fresh fruit, dried fruit and nuts; toss gently
  7. Mix in a small bowl or measuring cup the shallots, oil, vinegar, salt and pepper. Pour over mixture and gently toss again.
  8. Arrange the figs on top of the salad along with the cheese, making sure that each guest receives some figs and cheese when served.

Basic Honey-Roasted Figs

From: Heide Lang

Ingredients:

  • 14 figs (about a pound)
  • 1/3 cup honey
  • 2 teaspoons of finely chopped fresh rosemary or thyme (optional)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees
  2. Slice figs in half and place cut side up on cookie platter lined with foil and lightly greased with olive oil
  3. Brush figs with honey and sprinkle rosemary or thyme evenly over them (herbs optional)
  4. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper
  5. Place in the oven for 15-20 minutes, or until the honey begins to caramelize. Let figs cool to room temperature

Honey roasted figs with French bread

From: Heide Lang

Ingredients:

  • One batch of honey roasted figs (see above)
  • 28 thinly sliced slices French bread
  • 6-8 ounces of your favorite goat cheese, dolce Gorgonzola, blue cheese, St. Andre, or mascarpone
  • ¼ cup coarsely coarsely chopped toasted walnuts
  • 28 arugula leaves

Directions:

  1. Spread cheese on the French bread and place one arugula leaf on each one.
  2. Place one honey roasted fig on each bread slice and top with a few pieces of chopped walnuts