Monday, October 31, 2011

Discover "long" pie pumpkins

We're in that transitional time when the golden days of fall can suddenly give way to a burst of winter. I like to think of it as squash-stuffing season. In the last few weeks, I've made everything from zucchini boats (with the last of the summer squash) to, finally, one of my favorites, pumpkin-stuffed-with-everything-good (the well-deserved topic of a previous post.)

When stuffing a pumpkin, the hardest part is cleaning out the cavity at the beginning. In fact, I can't help comparing it to butchering a chicken! You have to continually reach into the slimy insides and pull out all of those slick but tough inner fibers to do it. Still, the effort is worth it. While many cooks will tell you canned pumpkin actually has the ideal texture for breads, pies and soups (and I would agree) a fresh pumpkin is the perfect vessel for cooking a savory stuffing and scraping the baked flesh from the hot shell is the best way to appreciate it in all of its culinary glory.

For the last couple of years, we've been the beneficiary of "long pie pumpkins" from Venetucci Farm, an heirloom variety first grown on the East Coast. It struck me this fall that at least two of my gardener-friends hadn't seen them before and observed them with fascination. Is it time for more people to discover this special secret ingredient? How fortunate we are that small farms grow so many wonderful varieties of produce and introduce us to little-known treasures like these! Resembling an oversized zucchini, these oblong pumpkins have an odd shape but are filled with tender meat. 

Most importantly, they are perfect for stuffing! By carving an opening lengthwise across the top, which can be lifted off and put back in place once the cavity is filled, it is easier to get inside and clean them and also to stuff them with wonderful fall food combinations. (See photo above.) For a recent version, I substituted fresh mushrooms for chunks of bread and added some greens: Swiss chard plucked from a backyard garden covered by the season's first snow.  Along with the hot breakfast sausage links from Doug and Kim Wiley's Larga Vista Ranch (my favorite sausage in the world), chunks of cheese, onion, sage and parsley, it was simple, quick to assemble, and... magnificent!