Sunday, December 28, 2014

Pumping up pumpkin: 5 chefs' ideas

Soup, salad, side dish: The gourd is ripe for creativity.

Pumping up pumpkin: 5 chefs' ideas

Sweet and Sour Pumpkin atop Butternut Squash Soup via Pumpkin Restaurant.
Sweet and Sour Pumpkin atop Butternut Squash Soup via Pumpkin Restaurant.

Every fall, pumpkin becomes the cool kid.

Nearly every food in the supermarket wants to be seen with it, and more than a handful of these items start to play it off like their friends. Here come the pumpkin pancakes, the Pumpkin Pie Pringles, the pumpkin spice bagels, and Jello and almonds and oatmeal.

But what about the actual large, orange, thick-shelled squash? Those are a hard find at the grocery store, particularly once jack-o'-lantern season sails away.

Chef Yianni Arhontoulis of Mica compares the flavor to butternut squash. When eaten raw, chef Jason Cichonski of Ela notes that it tastes almost like a melon.

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They, along with three other local chefs, each share a recipe that’ll help move you beyond pumpkin-less spiced lattes, and bring some of the real action to your plate.

 

From chef Jason Cichonski of Ela

Thoughts on pumpkin as an ingredient: “I love experimenting with all of the new ways to play with it when it first comes into season. I have a love for raw pumpkin. I feel like it has such a cool texture and almost melon-like flavor. Most people don't realize that and it gets neglected and saved for pies and soup.”

Inspiration for the following recipe: “There's nothing better than grilled squash or melon in the summer, so I wanted to evoke that feeling from the pumpkin.” 

What to expect if you head to Ela: Currently on the menu is a short-rib dish topped with whipped pumpkin, and served alongside chestnut farro and cherry gremolata. Wheels are spinning in the kitchen to get a smoked pumpkin tart on the menu soon.

 

Shaved Charred Pumpkin Salad with Brown Sugar-Smoked Paprika Vinaigrette

 

1 pound Japanese pumpkin, peeled, seeds removed and cut into quarters

1 tablespoon soybean oil

1 small bunch chives, finely sliced

1 head radicchio, thinly sliced

Salt and pepper, to taste

 

For the dressing:

1/4 cup brown sugar

2 tablespoons molasses

1 tablespoon Spanish smoked paprika

1 clove garlic

1/2 cup cider vinegar

2 sprigs sage

1 egg

1/2 cup soybean or vegetable oil

Salt and pepper, to taste

Place a cast-iron pan on high heat and let it get very hot (about 5 minutes). Rub the 4 pumpkin quarters with oil and place in the pan. (Do two at a time if necessary not to overcrowd). Char the pumpkin lightly on whatever sides you can. Note, you won't get the entire surface charred because of the natural shape of the pumpkin. That's fine; a little goes along way in terms of the flavor it will provide.

Immediately remove from the pan and place in the refrigerator to cool and prevent the pumpkin from continuing to cook. After the pumpkin has chilled for about 40 minutes, use a vegetable peeler, mandolin, or very sharp knife to shave it as thin as possible into long, thin noodle-like strips. When ready to serve, toss with the other ingredients and dressing (see below). Serve with a good piece of grilled bread smeared with ricotta cheese.

For the dressing: Place all the ingredients but the oil in a blender and blend on medium speed. Slowly begin to incorporate the oil in a steady stream. Once smooth, strain through a fine mesh sieve and season with salt and pepper, to taste.

 

From Chef Greg Vernick of Vernick Food + Drink

Thoughts on pumpkin as an ingredient: “I love it, both in its sweet and savory form. For savory, I like it best as the main component of a dish, hot or cold, and building upon it with a garnish. The seeds are also great to use. And, soups are always a great application.”

Inspiration for the following recipe: “This is a variation on a dish I had at my friends restaurant in NYC a few years ago, and really enjoyed.”

What to expect if you head to Vernick: The pumpkin toast below, along with a salad featuring roasted pumpkin, pear and parmesan.

 

Pumpkin Toast

2 medium-size pumpkins, halved, seeds and pulp removed

2 tablespoons butter

Salt and pepper, to taste

1/2 cup crème fraiche

1/4 cup honey

Preheat oven to 350F.

Season each pumpkin half with salt and black pepper. Put butter in the cleaned cavities of each pumpkin. Place the halves back together and cover with aluminum foil.

Roast in oven until tender all the way through. Scoop flesh away from skin and hang in cheesecloth until excess liquid is drained. (Overnight is ideal). Mix with crème fraiche and honey, and season with salt to taste. Spread on toasted bread, and top with Brown Butter Vinaigrette (see below).

Brown Butter Vinaigrette

8 ounces unsalted butter

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1 1/2 teaspoons light soy sauce

1 tablespoon honey

1/4 cup sherry vinegar

1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 1/2  teaspoons kosher salt

Brown the butter in a small saucepan. Scrape browned milk solids off the bottom of the pan with a metal whisk. When browned, place in a bowl. Chill over an ice bath until butter firms slightly. Put all ingredients in a blender and mix until emulsified.

Garnish suggestions: Toasted sunflower seeds, finely sliced scallions and crushed red pepper flakes.

 

From chef Ian Moroney of Pumpkin

Thoughts on pumpkin as an ingredient: “Using pumpkin in savory dishes is my preference. Gourds are super delicious on their own. Roasted with a little salt and olive oil is one of my favorite things. People tend to over sweeten and spice pumpkin, but he simpler the better.”

Inspiration for the following recipe: “We love this as a simple and seasonal recipe to garnish pumpkin soup, foie gras, or game like quail or squab.”

What to expect if you head to Pumpkin: One of Moroney’s fall favorites is a pumpkin gnocchi, served with escargot, sweet garlic and pecans. Expect it to pop up on the menu in the near future.


Sweet and Sour Pumpkin

2 pounds pumpkin, diced (a small to medium pumpkin, no bigger than a soccer ball)

1 large onion, cut into quarter-inch dice

2 1/2 cups hard apple cider

1 3/4 cup honey

Salt, to taste

1 teaspoon ground allspice

3/4 cup apple cider vinegar

Put pumpkin, onion, cider, honey, salt and allspice in a pot. Bring to a boil. Turn down heat and simmer for 10-15 minutes until pumpkin is tender.

Over a separate pan, strain the solids from the liquids. Add vinegar to the pot with the liquids. Bring to a boil, then pour over pumpkin in the other pot. Refrigerate for 12 to 24 hours, and then bring to room temperature to serve.


From chef Yianni Arhontoulis of Mica

Thoughts on pumpkin as an ingredient: “We think of pumpkin as a squash a lot. It's very similar in flavor profile as butternut or acorn squash. Pumpkin is a little earthier with a subtle nuttiness that goes very well with acidic jams, cabbage, sweets etc. The trick is just finding the balance between all five tastes.”

Inspiration for the following recipe: “ I enjoy using seasonal ingredients. That's what inspires my cooking every day.”

What to expect if you head to Mica: In addition to the salad, look for a panna cotta topped with pumpkin soon to come, and possibly a pumpkin cocktail as well.

 

Pumpkin and Brussels Sprout Salad

For the salad:

2 cups Brussels sprout leaves (see below)

1 cup sugar pumpkin

1/2 cup shaved Virginia-style ham

3 tablespoons candied cashews

1 tablespoon quince paste

 

For the dressing:

3 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar

1 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 lemon, zested

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

1 tablespoon chopped chives

 

Preheat oven to 375F. Cut the whole sugar pumpkin into quarters and remove all the seeds with a spoon. Toss pumpkin with canola oil and salt. Place pumpkin skin side up on a roasting rack and place in the oven. Cook for 35 minutes, or until cake tester slides into the pumpkin with no resistance. Remove the pumpkin from the oven and let chill. When ready, gently peel the skin from the flesh. Dice the pumpkin into half-inch cubes.

Place a medium pot of salted water on the stove and let come to a rapid boil. Using a half-inch melon baller, take Brussels sprout heads and scoop the core of each to yield raw Brussels sprouts leaves. Make an ice bath large enough to contain the leaves. Making sure the water is rapidly boiling at all times, drop the Brussels sprout leaves into the water and cook for 1 minute. Remove the leaves from the water and shock immediately in the ice bath. Let chill completely. Remove the leaves from the ice water and dry any excess water.

For the dressing, combine the vinegar, salt, pepper and lemon zest, and whisk to incorporate. Then, slowly pour the olive oil into the bowl while whisking to emulsify. After all of the oil has been incorporated, check the seasoning and add the chives. The vinaigrette will hold for one day under refrigeration.

To compose the salad: Place Brussels sprouts leaves, pumpkin and thinly sliced ham into a mixing bowl. Shake the vinaigrette to emulsify and spoon 3 tablespoons into the bowl. Season the salad with salt and ground black pepper, and toss gently. Smear 1 tablespoon of quince puree per plate, and place the dressed salad on top. Sprinkle the candied cashews over the salad and enjoy.

 

From chef de cuisine Steve Howells of Blackfish

Thoughts on pumpkin as an ingredient: “Pumpkins are really versatile. You’re able to use them in both savory and sweet applications, which leaves an endless varieties of dishes to create. ”

Inspiration for the following recipe: “We always enjoy using pumpkin as a feature ingredient of our rotating seasonal soup. The taste reminds everyone of fall, the changing of seasons and the holidays right around the corner.”

What to expect if you head to Blackfish: This soup currently holds down the menu, but look out for a yet to be finalized, pumpkin-themed salad later on in the season.

Pumpkin and Apple Soup 

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 tablespoon steel cut oats

1 sweet onion, sliced

Chicken stock

2 pounds peeled, chopped Cinderella pumpkin

3 Macintosh apples, peeled and chopped

Salt, to taste

Melt butter in a pot over medium heat. Add oats and toast until fragrant, stirring constantly so as not to brown the oats and butter. Then add the onion and season with a little salt. Cook over low heat until tender, about 15 minutes, until onions are translucent.

Add the pumpkin and again season with a little salt. Cover with a lid and cook over low heat until tender, 20-30 minutes. Stir in a little chicken stock, if needed, to keep from developing a brown spot on the bottom of the pot. Once the pumpkin is tender, stir in the apples. Pour in enough chicken stock until it reaches 1 1/2 inches above contents in the pan. Slowly bring to a boil and simmer for 10 minutes for the flavors to come together. Puree in a blender, and adjust salt and pepper, to taste.

 

Grace Dickinson writes at FoodFitnessFresh Air.

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