Saturday, March 14, 2009

Collective Kitchen, Episode 1: Cooking with Pumpkin

The Richmond Food Collective is always trying to think of new ways to grow, enjoy and spread the word about local food, sustainable agriculture and seasonal cooking. With much excitement, we have now leapt into the podcasting world with Collective Kitchen, a short podcast in which we will hopefully take you on some great adventures in the world of local food!

Click here to download Collective Kitchen, Episode 1: Cooking with Pumpkin! Use our RSS feed to subscribe through iTunes or your favorite podcast subscription software!

For our first set of podcasts, we will invite you into our homes to investigate our ingredient of the month as we cook, learn about and eat a seasonal item. Sometimes these dinners will also include some of our good, local food lovin' friends, whose opinions you may hear during the podcast. We will offer plenty of facts on our featured ingredient, as well as information on the Virginia wines, brews or spirits we pair with the meal. Look for other kinds of broadcasts in the future when the RFC 'steps out' to visit local businesses, farms and markets on our quest to learn more about finding, growing, and preparing great local food.

Our first podcast features pumpkin as the ingredient of the month! I played host this time, and for our meal I used a pie pumpkin I had purchased this past October from the Agriberry stand at Lakeside Farmers Market. For the entree I made a creamy roasted pumpkin sage sauce over fresh cheese and spinach ravioli from Cavanna Pasta; Natalie contributed a wilted white bean, rosemary and spinach salad; my dessert was a roasted pumpkin pie with fresh whipped cream.

First and foremost, the wine!

We drank some delicious wines during dinner! Here is a reminder of Erin's picks: the vineyard was White Hall Vineyard. The white we started off with was the 2007 Viognier, followed by the 2007 Cabernet Franc during dinner...dessert was the 2006 Touriga.

Roasted Pumpkin

The first step for a roasted pumpkin sauce or a homemade pumpkin pie is roasting the pumpkin. This looks like a long process in print, but it actually goes very quickly. I estimate about 30 minutes of prep and 40 minutes for the cooking (during which time you can be working on the other portions of your recipes.)
First, using a sharp chef's knife, carefully cut the top out of your pumpkin, just as you would when preparing a jack-o-lantern.
Then cut the pumpkin in half from top to bottom.

Once your pumpkin is opened up, scoop out all of the seeds and stringy parts from each half. To save the seeds, put the stringy, seedy mess in a large bowl with cool water and, using your hands, remove as much of the fleshy strings as possible. Then dump into a colander for the final cleaning.
Lay wet seeds out on a flour sack towel folded over them to dry. You can rub the seeds between the two layers of towel to catch any remaining pumpkin bits if necessary.

Once the halves are cleaned out, spray or brush a light coating of olive oil over the flesh, then place both halves flesh-side down on a baking sheet. Place in a pre-heated 350 degree oven and bake until the skin has taken on a slightly darker color and a fork can easily pierce through the skin. For a 4lb pumpkin this takes about 40 minutes, give or take. Remove from oven and allow to cool.

Next scoop all of the flesh from the skin and puree in a food processor.

This next step is very important. Place your pureed pumpkin on top of a doubled-up flour sack towel, or paper towels. Fold the flour sack towel over the top of the puree or add another layer of paper towels on the top. Lightly press the puree between the layers of towel to remove excess moisture. This sounds as though it will be a messy nightmare, but actually it worked out nicely. I scooped the puree onto a double layer of paper towels with more on top. Then I patted out some moisture and removed the top layer. Next, I picked up the bottom layers of towel from the corners and very easily dumped the now flattened mixture onto a flour sack towel to remove further moisture. As you can see, the puree pulled away from the towel easily with nothing left behind but liquid. You now have a versatile pumpkin puree. You can use your puree right away, refrigerate it for a few days, or divide it and freeze it to use when needed. This pumpkin produced about 3 cups of puree...perfect for one delicious pie and enough pumpkin sage sauce to serve 6.

Toasted Pumpkin Seeds with Cumin

To make use of the whole fruit, I toasted my cleaned pumpkin seeds on a baking tray in the oven at 350 degrees. All you have to do is toss the raw seeds with enough butter or olive oil to coat them and then spread them out in a single layer on the tray. Place the tray on the middle rack of the oven. Stir the seeds once or twice and take them out once they have turned slightly golden. Toss with salt and a little cumin. I used cumin just because I thought it would complement the pumpkin dishes well, and left the seeds out as a snack for the guests while the finishing touches were being put on the meal.

Roasted Pumpkin Sage Sauce

This recipe is my own concoction: a mix of ingredients I had around the house. I loved the way this turned out! One of the rewards of playing in the kitchen.

1 medium onion finely chopped
3-4 medium cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan
16 fresh sage leaves, finely chopped
1 cup pumpkin puree
1/2 cup whole milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 tbsp butter (I use Kerry Gold brand, unsalted for sauteeing)
Salt and fresh ground pepper to taste.

Note: we went all out and used unrefined grey Sea Salt or "Fleur De Mar." This salt is a bit pricey, but after some discussion, I think we all agreed it was well worth it. French grey sea salt should not be used for cooking, but instead sprinkled over the finished dish as a garnish. Penzey's Spices in Carytown offers both machine-processed and hand raked versions.

Sautee the onions in the butter until they become translucent (about 3 minutes). In a medium pot mix the pumpkin puree, milk, and cream. Begin to heat on low. Add the garlic to the onions in the skillet and toss with the sage. Remove the onion mix from the heat and stir it into the pumpkin mixture. Add the parmesan and pepper and stir. Simmer on low to medium-low for 10-12 minutes to let sauce thicken a bit. Immediately spoon sauce over plated pasta of your choice. I used a cheese and spinach ravioli from Cavanna. My husband added meatballs he made from CCL Farms' sage pork sausage and was very happy with his meal. Another great addition would be coarsely chopped toasted walnuts. This dish was fantastic and it was matched perfectly with Natalie's wilted spinach side dish. Most of us placed the salad alongside the pasta on the same plate so we could easily add a little spinach to our pasta as we liked.

Wilted White Bean and Spinach Salad

1/2 lb. Spinach
2 cups Cannellini or other white beans
1 Tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
2-3 cloves garlic
Parmesan or Romano cheese
2 Tablespoons olive oil

Heat olive oil in a skillet on medium-high heat. Saute garlic until fragrant, about 1-2 minutes. Take off heat and pour over cooked cannellini beans. Add rosemary, and allow to marinate while you wilt the spinach. Put the skillet back on the stove, adding a little more olive oil if necessary. Throw spinach into the skillet and toss until just wilted. Don't cook it for too long or it will get soggy and dark green. Remove from heat and put spinach on a nice serving plate. Spread beans on top. Cover with an ample dusting of parmesan cheese.

Pumpkin Pie

First let's make the crust. My crust recipe comes from the 'The Enchanted Broccoli Forest' , the old Vegetarian cookbook by Molly Katzen of Moosewood fame. Her basic pie crust recipe is so satisfying and simple to make that it has become a staple in my kitchen for everything from quiche to tomato-zucchini pie, to the wonderful winter dessert we are discussing here.

Here is Molly Katzen's basic pie crust recipe:

6 tablespoons cold butter cut into small pieces
1 1/2 cups flour (up to 1/4 of flour can be whole wheat)
Between 4-6 tablespoons water, milk or buttermilk (the amount depends on the humidity level of your kitchen)

Note: I always use the maximum amount of whole wheat four for this recipe and it turns out great, if not light and flakey as some. I also have always used plain whole milk for my liquid. The amount of liquid you will need depends in part upon the season. If it is high summer and the air is humid you are likely to need fewer tablespoons than if it is winter.

Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees. Mix dry ingredients together in a stand-up mixer or by hand. Add one tablespoon of liquid at a time until the dough holds together well but does not feel wet. After mixing, roll the dough out on a well-floured, smooth surface. You will get about a 12 inch round -- enough to cover the bottom and sides of a standard pie pan, with a little left over on the edges for pinching into that handsome pie crust edge. As soon as the crust is in place in the pie pan, lay parchment paper over the crust, covering the bottom and the sides. Store in the fridge until your filling is nearly done. Once your filling is underway, pour dried beans (saved just for this purpose) into the pie pan to use as a weight and put the weighted down crust into the oven to bake for 10 minutes. You need to use the dried beans, or a pie weight if you have one , otherwise the heat of the oven will cause your crust to collape into a gooy pile at the bottom of the pan. When the crust is done, remove from oven, let cool a bit and then carefully lift out the parchment and poor the beans into a colander to cool completely.

As I mentioned in the podcast, a lot of recipes for pumpkin pie call for evaporated milk. The RFC makes every possible effort to eat as close to home as possible, but also to limit our use of ingredents that have been industrially processed, so ith that in mind I wanted use only fresh cream and not evaporated milk.

The recipe I selected for the pie filling came from the Alice Waters Cookbook 'The Art of Simple Food'. I highly recommend this recipe both for its relative ease of preparation as well as for its delicious flavor and wonderfully satisfying texture.

Alice Waters' Pumpkin Pie Filling (with some extra commentary by me)

2 cups heavy whipping cream
2 tsp flour
1 1/2 cups pumpkin puree
3 eggs

1/4 cup brown sugar
1 tbsp granulated sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
1/4 tsp. ground ginger
1/2 tsp. salt
A pinch of fresh-ground black pepper
1 1/2 tsp brandy (optional)

In a small saucepan wisk together 1/4 cup heavy whipping cream with 2 tsp. flour, then heat the mixture on low until it starts to boil and thicken. Stir the mixture while it thickens. Slowly whisk in 3/4 cup cream. Continue whisking until the mixture returns to a boil. Remove from heat as soon as it is boiling. In a medium bowl wisk together pumpkin puree and 3 eggs. In another bowl combine the sugar and spices. Stir the sugar and spice mixture and the thickened cream into the pumpkin mixture. Whisk in 1 1/2 tsp brandy (I did not include this step.) Pour into your pre-baked pie shell and bake for 45 to 50 minutes, until the center is almost set. Cover the edges with foil if they are browning to quickly (I did have to do this). Let cool completely on a rack before cutting. I do feel that pumpkin pie is one of those things that taste even better the next day so making this recipe a day ahead and storing in the refridgerator is a nice option if you're entertaining. When it's time for dessert use remaining cup of heavy whipping cream and about a tsp. sugar and a dash of vanilla in a mixer to quickly whip up some whipped cream topping. On this occassion, my haste at the grocery store caused me to grab simple half-and-half by mistake. This will not produce whipped cream, so my husband and I made a quick dark choclate sauce instead. You can do this easily with your favorite chocolate chips or chopped chocolate pieces. Toss them into a heat-proof bowl set inside a sauce pan with about 1 inch of water at the bottom Add a couple tablespoons of butter and 1/2 cup to 1 cup of milk and/or cream to thin the sauce as it melts. Heat the water on med-low, then reduce to low while stirring the chocolate constantly. Drizzle immediately over individual slices of the pie. This was good, but to be honest I decided I prefered this delicious pie completely bare of all toppings. See what suits you.

Thanks to all the cooks, wine procurers and friends who made this a great night of camaraderie and food. Check back next month for our fennel-themed dinner and corresponding podcast!

1 comment: