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The Day of the Pumpkin – An Unwaffling Winner

We, at Penchant for Produce, have decided to dive, head first, into fall and embrace a key seasonal staple, the Pumpkin. This morning we ventured out on our usual Saturday morning foray to the Nashville Farmers market to find ourselves a Fairytale Pumpkin. And by Fairytale, I am not referring to a particularly purdy pumpkin, but to an actual variety of slightly oddly shaped but stunningly sweet, pumpkin. As an indigenous crop, there is evidence that pumpkins have been part of the New World diet since 5500BC. The pumpkin was introduced to the European Colonists by the Native Americans and the pilgrims quickly embraced the prolific crop for its versatility, using it to create side dishes, desserts, and alcohol.

Now most of the pumpkins which are later broken down and transformed into the puree that goes into producing the many different types of baked goods and side dishes that grace our holiday tables today come from the great state of Illinois. Yes, and a great number of those pumpkins are later processed by the Nestle Corporation, which is responsible for approximately 85% of the pumpkin puree that is consumed annually in the US. Chances are that if you had a slice of commercially produced pie in the last year it came from a can of Nestle produced pumpkin puree and can trace its roots to a pumpkin farm somewhere in Illinois.


Nutritionally speaking, pumpkins are a great source of Beta Carotene, one of the plant carotenoids converted to Vitamin A in the body. Pumpkin is also low in calories, high in fiber, and nutritionally rich in Vitamin C and Iron. Most parts of the pumpkin are edible, including the fleshy shell (which becomes quite soft once roasted), the seeds (an amazing snack when toasted), the leaves (commonly used as a source of greens in Asian Countries), and even the flowers, which can be stuffed or fried in a similar fashion to squash blossoms.

In the USA Pumpkin most commonly finds it way onto the dining table as a some sort of dessert item, typically in the form of a pie. As Dustin and I took it upon ourselves to roast an puree an entire 13 pound heirloom variety pumpkin (yielding over 15 cups of pumpkin puree) we are determined to test the limits of the pumpkins culinary versatility and will feature several recipes which highlight the fall crops many uses in the next several posts. To start off lets talk about how to transform a farm fresh pumpkin into a steaming vat of fresh pumpkin puree. Begin by locating an heirloom pumpkin, such as a Fairytale or Cinderella that is freshly picked. Look for a pumpkin with at least an inch of stem. If the stem is cut too short pumpkin may decay quickly and could even be decaying at the time of purchase. Avoid pumpkins with blemishes and soft spots. Pick a pumpkin that seems heavy for its size. Except for cosmetic purposes, the shape is unimportant.

To prepare a pumpkin for pureeing, begin by heating the oven to 350 degrees. Carefully slice the pumpkin in half and scoop out the seeds and pulp. Reserve the pulp and seeds for a future use. Puncture the shell in several locations with a sharp knife so that the steam that develops beneath the rind as it roasts has an avenue to escape (keep the pumpkin from exploding during the cooking process.) Find a large roasting pan with deep sides, place the pumpkin cut side down on the roasting pan and transfer to the preheated oven. Roast for an hour to an hour and a half or until the flesh can be easily punctured with a fork. Remove from the oven and allow to cool before scooping the flesh from the shell. Place the flesh in a fine mesh strainer and press lightly to extract some of the liquid. Finally place the pumpkin in a blender and puree in batches, store in the refrigerator for up to a week or freeze for later use.

As you all well know, Dustin and I are big fans of breakfast. So when I came across a recipe on Smitten Kitchen’s site for Pumpkin Waffles I was overwhelmingly excited to try them. And I am so glad that we did. These are not only the best waffles that I have ever produced in my own kitchen, but rival the best of the best that I have ever had the pleasure to indulge in at a restaurant. Even in our 25 dollar waffle iron, these beauties toast up to a perfect consistency, crisp on the peaks while remaining deliciously fluffy and tender on the inside. The flavor has a strong undertone of pumpkin and hints of spice from the cinnamon and ginger. All waffles should be cooked at once, the batter wont store too well in the fridge. Leftover waffles can be stored in a  zip lock and briefly reheated into the toaster. I hope that your family enjoys them as much as we did.


Pumpkin Waffles
Adapted from several sources

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
2 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
4 large eggs, separated
2 cups well-shaken buttermilk
1 1/2 cup canned solid-pack pumpkin (home made or store bought, canned pumpkin are both OK)
3/4 stick (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted
Vegetable oil for brushing waffle iron or cooking spray

Lightly Whipped Cream for Serving

Preheat oven to 250°F and preheat waffle iron. Sift together flour, brown sugar, baking powder and soda, salt, and spices. Whisk egg yolks in a large bowl with buttermilk, pumpkin, and butter until smooth. Whisk in dry ingredients just until combined.

In a mixing bowl with a whisk attachment, whisk the egg whites until they hold soft peaks (as in, far softer than the over-beaten whites you’ll see in my picture above). Folk them gently into the waffle batter, until just combined.

Brush waffle iron lightly with oil and spoon batter (about 2 cups for four 4-inch Belgian waffles) into waffle iron, spreading quickly. Cook according to manufacturer’s instructions.

Transfer waffles to rack in oven to keep warm and crisp. Make more waffles in same manner.

A Summer Specialty – Squash Blossom Omelette

September 26, 2011 2 comments

My first culinary encounter with squash blossoms was in Florence, Italy.  I had traveled to Italy on a vacation with my mother and sister – a “girls getaway.” We spent a week in the country, starting with a requisite few short, bustling, days milling around the tourist destinations in Rome before moving on to Florence. In comparison to Rome, Florence was a breath of fresh air. The town was quaint and no where near as touristy, the markets were perused by foreigners and locals alike and the food was simply divine, the dishes we enjoyed were far more rustic than those we had tried in Rome, with a distinct flair for bringing out the best in fresh, regional produce. We quickly decided that we would spend the remainder of our time in Italy in this beautiful Tuscan City.

On our second day, after spending the morning and better portion of the afternoon walking around local markets, we wandered into a small hole-in-the-wall cafe for a late lunch. At that hour, they were in between their lunch and dinner seatings, but we were hungry and they agreed to cook us a snack. We happily volunteered to make lunch of whatever was easiest for the kitchen to prepare. What emerged about 15 minutes later were some of the most beautiful butternut squash raviolis in a butter sauce and a plate of crispy golden flowery parcels. These parcels turned out to be squash blossoms, which were stuffed with freshly made ricotta, deep fried and then plated up on a rustic platter surrounded by a shallow puddle of homemade tomato sauce. It was love at first bite.


When I saw these delicate little gems at one of my favorite stalls at our weekly farmers market I knew I needed to take them home and try my hand at making magic with the paper thin blossoms. The blossoms come from a local Tennessee farm, “Devlin Farms,” which hosts a stand and enviable CSA at the Wednesday afternoon market located quite literally (and luckily) on our block. As I didn’t want to pull out the deep fryer I needed to come up with an alternative to the stuffed squash blossom fritters I had enjoyed in Italy, something that would transforming the flowers into a homey meal for Dustin and myself without veiling the beautiful color and delicate texture of the blossoms. I remembered seeing a “squash blossom omelette” featured on a brunch menu at a small cafe back in Pennsylvania and decided to take a stab at making my own rendition.


True to our breakfast loving roots, Dustin and I are quite practiced at making omelettes. The fantastic thing about an omelette is that it serves as a fantastic palette for any seasonal produce we have on hand, well, with some notable exceptions (ask Dustin about the time he tried to make apple omelette, not exactly a stroke of culinary genius, but a valiant effort.) In any case, I started to think about flavors that would complement the blossom’s delicate nature, I indexed these musings with what we had on hand and came up with an egg dish that featured some nice nutty manchego cheese, bold and herbaceous cilantro, and slightly sweet caramelized onions. I have to say this one was a big winner and will likely make its way back onto our plates next year during squash season. Make sure you inspect the blossoms well before cooking, if yours are freshly picked as our were they may be harboring some friendly critters inside, also you will need to carefully remove and discard the pollen filled stamen from the center.

Squash Blossom Omelette with Caremelized Onions and Herbs

For 2 Omelettes:
5 Eggs
2 TBSP Whole Milk
1 TBSP Butter
1 Onion Sliced Thinly
Salt
4 Squash Blossoms
1 – 2 Oz Manchego Cheese Chopped into Small Pieces (about 1/2 inch little squares)
1 TBSP Chopped Cilantro
Freshly Cracked Black Pepper

In a medium sized bowl beat the eggs and milk together until frothy and set aside.

In a 9 inch skillet melt the butter. Once melted, toss in the onions, sprinkle in a pinch of salt and allow them to cook over medium high heat until they just begin caramelize (about 6 or 7 mins) remove the onions from the heat and set aside on a small plate.

Clean the skillet and wipe it dry. Set it heating over medium heat and spray it with a bit of non stick spray (we use an organic one from Trader Joes.)  Pour in half of the egg mixture, allow it to cook for about 30 seconds and stir, allowing the runny bits on top to fall below the already cooked base. Springle some onions on top followed by the cheese, two blossoms, and the cilantro. Cover immediately and allow to cook for another minute over low heat before lifting the lid, check the omelette for doneness (if it is not done cover the pan for another 30 seconds or so before checking on it again.) Sprinkle on a liberal pinch of pepper.

Delicately fold the omelette in half and gently tip it out onto a plate.

Repeat the same steps for the second omelette and enjoy a wonderful seasonal meal!

Happiness is a Hot Breakfast – Bacon and Broccoli Frittata

September 18, 2011 Leave a comment

I was watching a preview for a new movie the other day – the movie focused on the impact that technology, and more specifically mobile technology and connectivity, has had on our lives. The movie centers on what has to be the biggest theme in film and literature in the past two or three years, globalization, and the effect that the new global economy and global society has had on citizens of this modern age. I worry that all of this connectiveness has, in some ways, taken us further away with the loved ones that are right in front of us.

Today is Dustin’ Birthday. As I am writing this we are in the car en route to Chattanooga TN, Dustin is on the phone with his parents and I am typing this post on my iPad. For us, who have so recently moved away from our long-time home base in Delaware, technology has enabled us to keep in touch, via phone, photos, chats and even blog posts with friends who are now hundreds of miles away. Also miles and miles away is the place where, almost exactly 4 years ago, Dustin and I met and fell in love. The last four have been the best years of my life so far and I am looking forward to many more with this amazing man of mine.

D started his new job this week. He has already thrown himself into his new work and is really enjoying it. It should come as no surprise to anyone who knows him that he is a pretty spectacular engineering in training. His supervisors are noticing his eagerness and team spirit shining through in even these first few days. And with all this, it already seems that the pace of our lives has quickened. Dustin is working long hours and I foresee that trend continuing. Despite the fact that life seems to want to speed up, I have my heart set on doing what I can to slow things down whenever possible.

As part of this effort to put on the breaks and spend quality time with my lover and partner in crime I am hoping to uphold one of our longest traditions. Breakfast. You see Dustin and I have been eating breakfast together, almost every morning, since we met. Even when life is at its craziest it is nice to have a few moments together in the morning to start the day with a cup of coffee and a warm meal in eachothers company. Dustin and I love to eat eggs for breakfast and this recipe is fairly easy to throw together at the last minute and makes a fairly impressive morning meal. The dish is fairly flexible and could easily be adapted to include whatever ingredients are in season. Feel free to improvise with what you have on hand. One of the best things about this dish is that it can easily  be sliced into portions to feed a few people (2-3) so share with your loved ones and enjoy the morning respite.

Bacon and Broccoli Frittata

3 Strips of Bacon Cut into 1/2 Inch Lardons
One Head of Broccoli Florets Chopped into Small Bite Sized Pieces
Pinch of Hot Pepper Flakes
5 Eggs
3 TBSP Milk
Good Cheddar Cheese Cut into Small Cubes
3 TBSP Chopped Parsley
Freshly Ground Black Pepper

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

In a small bowl whisk together milk and eggs an set aside.

In a 10 inch ovenproof pan fry bacon until crisp and browned. Remove bacon from pan with a slotted spoon and set aside on a small plate until needed.

Fry broccoli in the remaining bacon fat until just cooked. Add pepper flakes and stir.

Now this next part must be done fairly quickly so that the eggs don’t cook too much. Add egg mixture, cheese, and parsley and stir. Sprinkle liberally with freshly cracked black pepper and stir again.

Place the pan in the oven and cook for about 10 mins or until eggs are just set.

Cut into slices and serve.

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