I'll admit it, I've been sitting on these two recipes for far too long. October has been over for how long? But isn't that how it goes? Sometimes life rushes at you. Sometimes you get preoccupied (with politics, perhaps?). Sometimes you just don't realize where all the time has went (recouping from Daylight Savings time ending possibly?)
The benefits of eating locally and seasonally are many. But one of the reasons it's so delightful eating with the seasons has nothing to do with the myriad of health benefits--and there are a myriad of health benefits for you, for the local economy, and for the environment. Never mind those incredibly important benefits, I want to talk about the psychological benefits of eating with the seasons. It's comforting eating the same foods year after year for only those few weeks that they're best both taste wise and nutrition wise. Rather than blurring my days, weeks, years together into an unvarying, year round nosh of fast food, microwaved dinners, and hothouse grown tomatoes and cucumbers I want my meals to be meaningful. For me, this means eating pumpkins when pumpkins are beautiful and ripe in October and November. This gives me a tangible measure of who I am, where I'm at in this world, and who I'm with. It allows me to contemplate other Octobers, other feasts of pumpkins, other times both better and worse than the present. It frees me to think about how I've changed in the past year, what I've learned, what I've accomplished, and what I still need to work on.
Eating seasonally is a way for me to build reflection into my busy life, and that's almost as satisfying as a golden, earthy bit of fresh pumpkin flesh. Almost.
So, before it's too late and pumpkin season is over, here's what I did with the rest of Penelope the Pumpkin. First, I made Pumpkin Saute with Caramelized Onions, Green Beans and Sweet Balsamic Glaze and then I baked a batch of Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Quick Bread.
Both of these recipes are significant because they remind me of the last two autumns I spent in Boise. In the fall of 2006, I worked at Tapas Estrella, a trendy little Spanish tapas bar in downtown Boise. I used to go to my grad classes during the day and ride the city bus from school to work in the late afternoon. Those afternoons the sun would dance the way it only seems to in the fall, and you could tell soaking up the last brilliance of sun before the darker winter months descended was important. Many afternoons I'd order the Pumpkin Saute plate for a quick, early supper before customers started to arrive. Pumpkin Saute was a big hit because it was a perfect tango of sweet/salt/acid. Tapas Estrella closed that following spring. But in the fall, I find myself missing the food and friends from Estrella, so I replicated the recipe as best as I could from my taste memories.
The great thing about this recipe is the prep work can be done in advance and then sauteed at the last minute, which makes it a great recipe for dinner parties.
Pumpkin Saute with Caramelized Onions, Green Beans and Sweet Balsamic Glaze
about 1/2 a large pumpkin (again this is a recipe in which the amounts are flexible--I'm guessing I used about 7 cups of cubed, roasted pumpkin)
2 red onions, thinly sliced
3 T. butter
2 T. fresh thyme leaves
4 cups green beans, trimmed
3 T. olive oil, divided
2 T. brown sugar, or to taste
2 T. balsamic vinegar, or to taste
salt and pepper
Preheat oven to 400. Cut half of pumpkin into manageable pieces--about 5 inches by 5 inches and place in baking pan, skin side down. Drizzle with olive oil. Roast in oven until soft, about 45 minutes to 1 hour.
Meanwhile, heat butter in heavy bottomed skillet. Add onions and thyme. Cook over medium-low heat stirring occasionally until onions are caramelized, adding more butter if onions become dry. Don't rush this process or you'll burn the onions--you want to cook them very gently, for a long period of time to bring out their natural sugars.
Meanwhile, bring large pot of salted water to boil. Cook green beans until just barely al dente. Do not over cook! Plunge beans in ice water. Drain and set aside.
When pumpkin is roasted and cool enough to handle, skin pumpkin and cut into 1 inch cubes.
At this point all items can be kept refrigerated, separately up to two days before assembling the final dish.
Heat about 2 T. olive oil over high heat. Add pumpkin, stirring well to coat with oil. Cook until heated thoroughly. Sprinkle with brown sugar. Add green beans and onions, sauteing until heated through. Add balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper and cook for one more minute. Taste adjust seasonings as necessary. Serve immediately.
Last fall, I babysat three-year-old twin boys to supplement my graduate stipend, and their mom gave me this recipe for Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Bread, adapted from Cooking Light, December 2004. It is everything one could hope for in a quick bread recipe. It's dense, moist, and full of flavor, the pumpkin undertone allows the cinnamon and chocolate chips to compliment each other without overpowering one another. The thing that this recipe reminds me of most, though, is the way it was the twins' first "mixed" food that they would eat. They were notoriously picky eaters, who were finally won over (at least once) by the tempting combination of chocolate, pumpkin, and spice.
Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Bread
2 cups sugar
2 cups pumpkin puree (boil pumpkin until soft, about twenty minutes. Drain. Then puree with blender, food processor, or immersion blender. If pumpkin puree seems too watery, continue to cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally until thickened to desired consistency.)
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup vanilla yogurt
3 cups all purpose flour
2 t. ground cinnamon
1 1/4 t. salt
1 t. baking soda
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 350. Grease and flour loaf pans (either 2, 8 by 4 in or 3, mini loaf pans). Combine first 5 ingredients in a large bowl, stirring well with a whisk. Combine flour, cinnamon, salt, and baking soda in a medium bowl, stirring well with a whisk. Add flour mixture to pumpkin mixture, stirring just until moist. Stir in chocolate chips.
Spoon batter into prepared pans. Bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes in pans on wire rack, and remove from pans. Cool completely on wire rack--or for as long as you can hold out. Slices of this bread still warm from the oven are amazingly delicious slathered with cream cheese.