Red Curry, Blue Hungarian and the Turk’s Turban
You may have guessed that you’d be seeing pumpkins on the blog this week, with Halloween real soon and my affinity for markets, which are just overflowing with gorgeous pumpkins this month. Around this time last year, I was baking my pumpkin chocolate chip cake, a recipe I make all year long, thanks to my trusty cans of Libby purée from the States. But from now on, I’m going can-free. Jack McNulty (gastronomic encyclopedia) and his wife Silvia Gautschi McNulty of Laughing Lemon Food & Wine, give fun, educational and delicious cooking classes here in Zürich (Oerlikon). I signed up as soon as I could for the October pumpkin class (recipes below). One of the few occasions Jack and Silvia color-coordinate their outfits!
I have always loved cooking and baking with squash of all kinds (pumpkin and squash can be used interchangeably). There are endless varieties, with fabulous colors, funny shapes and all different sizes. Yet I tend to stick to my basic recipe – roasted in the oven with butter, maple syrup and sea salt. It’s really simple and really delicious. But after my Cooking with Pumpkins class, it looks like I’ll be straying from that norm.
Quickly trying to jot down all the great information Jack was sharing, I have pages and pages of notes about the four categories of squash, fun facts including the origin of the Jack-o-Lantern, the subtle or sometimes flagrant differences in flavor and texture of squash varieties, as well as notes on the fine art of making risotto. All this from a man who despised pumpkin and never ate it as a child! I suppose that’s what commercial pumpkin pie mixes and their distinctive aromas will do to you! Thankfully (for us), he discovered fresh pumpkins in Northern Italy and has been passionate about them ever since. On the class menu: toasted pumpkin seeds and Kabocha fries, pumpkin purée on homemade ginger snaps with pomegranate molasses, butternut squash and ginger soup with pumpkin oil, baked spaghetti squash with tomato walnut tapenade, butternut squash risotto with Parmesan and Pecorino and for dessert, pumpkin pie.
Here are my Top 10 highlights from Cooking with Pumpkins (fun facts, tips, tastes and more):
1. There is a growing popularity of pumpkins here in Switzerland. For just 8 weeks between September and November, they are abundant and easy to stock up on at local farms. I have Jack and Silvia’s precious address noted down for next year’s pumpkin festival in Berg am Irchel (the farm has 150 pumpkin varieties!). I already can’t wait.
2. The roll call of squash names is as fun as their crazy looks: Bambino Gigante, Big Max, Blue Hungarian, Red Curry, Muscade de Provence, Sweet Dumpling, Spaghetti Squash, Acorn, Butternut and last but certainly not least, Turk’s Turban. What’s your favorite squash name?
3. Don’t throw anything away. The skin, the seeds and any trimmings – toss it all in a pot to make a deliciously flavorful broth. Then use that broth to cook with, in a risotto for example.
4. Things to look for when buying squash: an intact stem at least 1-2cm long (otherwise it will decay faster), no green veins on a butternut (sign that it is unripe), no blemishes and it should be heavy for its size.
5. Any guess as to how Spaghetti Squash got its name? Developed in Japan, the squash was a big flop when introduced in the US in the 1930’s. It looked like a melon, but had no aroma and people didn’t understand what to do with it. A quick name change (thanks to a marketing genius) to Spaghetti Squash, and voila – instant popularity! (Once the squash is cooked, a fork will remove the flesh in strings, looking just like spaghetti!)
6. My favorite dish of the evening: “Vegetarian Spaghetti Bolognese” = baked spaghetti squash with a tomato walnut tapenade. So creative, fun and divine. (See below for the recipe.)
7. Try any squash raw – it’s surprisingly good. I’ll be cutting up little cubes to add to salads for sure. The Kabocha tasted almost like a cucumber, which makes sense, since they are both members of the gourd family.
8. In a rush, but really want to have pumpkin purée (not out of a can)? Instead of an hour in the oven, how about 8 minutes on the stovetop? Another technique I’ll be adding to my repertoire. Simply put chopped pumpkin in a pot with salt and a touch of water, cover and cook over medium heat for less than 10 minutes. Drain and then mash.
9. A new ingredient I learned about was pumpkin oil. With a very dark green color, it almost resembles a vinegar rather than an oil. If you’re going to buy a bottle (to use as flavoring, not to cook with), make sure it’s from Austria. Jack let us know that 90% of the world’s best pumpkin oil is from Austria. It’s high in Vitamin E, but can leave mean stains!
10. And last but not least, what to do with that pumpkin oil, other than drizzling over salads and soups? Drizzle over vanilla ice cream! A must try for me. I’ll be doing just that and perhaps using Jack’s recipe for a delicate pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving this year.
Thanks to Jack & Silvia, and especially for letting me share sweet and savory recipes with my readers below!
Let me know what your favorite pumpkin/squash variety is and how you like to cook or bake with it. Have a happy Halloween, and remember that all those pumpkins and gourds aren’t only for decoration and/or carving – they’re delicious too!
Recipes from Jack McNulty of Laughing Lemon Food & Wine
makes one 25cm tart
240 grams flour
64 grams powdered sugar
pinch of salt
1 egg yolk
180 grams very cold butter, cut into cubes
500 grams pumpkin puree (use butternut or orange knirps)
25 grams all purpose flour
1.5 tsp cinnamon
freshly grated nutmeg
1 tsp ground cloves
1.5 tsp salt
180 grams brown sugar
40 grams corn syrup
4 dl (1 3/4 cup) milk
Make the crust: Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius (350 degrees Fahrenheit). Sift the flour, sugar and salt together. Beat together the egg and egg yolk. Work the butter into the flour with fingers until the mixture is coarse. Add the egg mixture to the flour and briefly mix together until the dough holds together. Form into a disk, then refrigerate for 1 hour or more. Roll the dough out until it is several centimeters larger than the pan. Carefully place the dough into the pan, making sure there is no air between the pan and the dough.
Make the filling: Place the pumpkin in the bowl of a mixer fitted with the whip attachment (or use a hand blender). Sift together the flour, spices and salt. Add the flour mixture and sugar to the pumpkin. Mix at second speed until smooth and well blended. Add the eggs and mix in, making sure to scrape the sides of the bowl. Turn the machine to low speed. Gradually pour in the corn syrup, then the milk. Mix until blended. Let the filling stand for 30-60 minutes.
Stir the filling. Fill the pie shell, then bake at 220 degrees Celsius (425 degrees Fahrenheit), no fan, for 15 minutes. Lower the heat to 170 degrees Celsius (340 degrees Fahrenheit) and bake until set, about 30 more minutes.
Baked Spaghetti Squash & Tomato Walnut Tapenade
makes about 6-8 servings
1 to 1.5 kg spaghetti squash, cut in half lengthwise
4 Tbl. butter or olive oil
salt, pepper, freshly ground nutmeg
1/2 cup toasted walnuts
1 cup sun-dried tomatoes
3 Tbl. balsamic vinegar
1 tsp. spicy paprika
1 Tbl. honey
Bake the lightly salted squash halves in a 180 degrees Celsius (350 degrees Fahrenheit) oven in a baking dish with enough water to come to 1/4 inch up the sides of the squash. Cover the baking dish with aluminum foil, and bake until it is soft when poked with a knife (about 45-60 minutes). When the squash is cooked, spoon out and discard the seeds, and then scrape out the pulp with a fork, pulling the strands lengthwise. You should end up with a bowl of stringy “spaghetti.”
To make the tapenade, begin by reconstituting the sun-dried tomatoes in hot water for 30 minutes. Remove, drain and dry well. Combine all of the ingredients, except the honey, in a food processor and pulse until a thick paste is formed. Remove the tapenade to a clean bowl and fold in the honey. Check the seasoning and add salt and pepper if necessary.