Monday, October 23, 2006

Working with Pumpkins: Part 2

So what did I do with the leftover pumpkin from my first pumpkin article? Hash browns. Remember back when I made hash browns with sweet potato instead of regular potatoes? It's the same kind of concept. This time I went with half of a sugar pumpkin, diced and steamed. I sauteed it in a little oil (I think I went with peanut oil again), until it had some nice color going on it. I added some diced smoked sausage while I was at it, and let that get nice and caramelized too. Funny thing about smoked sausage is, it's one of those foods that actually tastes better with some black on it, just so long as there's not too much black. I added maybe half a cup of diced red bell pepper, and about a quarter cup of diced jalapeno. This was also about the time that I added a couple of splashes each of Worcestershire sauce and chipotle Tabasco sauce, and a few shakes of chile powder.

Now, up to this point I had been making a pretty standard hash brown recipe. But I was about to deviate with a technique that I've been using a lot with my hashbrowns. I added about half a cup of chicken broth. One might think that this would make the potato (or pumpkin in this case) soggy, but that's not the case. You see, the potato/pumpkin is pretty well-cooked on the outside, but it's still kind of raw on the inside. The problem is, if you let it keep sauteing like this, the outside is going to get burned before the inside finishes cooking. The water in the broth drops the external tempurature of everything in there, while still being hot enough to cook the inside. By the time the liquid has evaporated, the inside of the veggies are cooked, and the outside has just another layor of additional flavor. I cook until the liquid has completely evaporated, and then let it saute just a minute or two longer to crisp up the outside of everything again. Then of course, I serve with grated cheddar.

And yet, my pumpkin experiments were not over! I had another creation in mind. Something... Italian. The problem was, I was out of steamed pumpkin. But that's okay. For this dish, I needed to use raw pumpkin. But I didn't need very much of it. So despite the diminished size, I went with one of the tiny, ornamental pumpkins. I plucked the stem off and cut it in half. I scooped out the seeds, peeled it, and then diced it.

While I was doing this, I had a pan heating up over medium. I added a wee bit of oil and a cup of arborio rice, and toasted it a bit. I also had another pan with three cups of vegetable broth heating up on another burner. That's right, I was going to make risotto. Now, risotto's an easy recipe, and yet it never seems to work out for me. The reason is simple: it takes at least half an hour to cook, and I'm impatient. This time I used a timer. I added a cup of hot stock to the rice and gave it a stir. Then I set my timer for thirty minutes.

Now, chefs will tell you that risotto needs to be stirred constantly the whole time it's cooking. That's not entirely true, but it does need to be stirred a lot. This is markedly different from a standard rice pilaf, in which you want to stir as little as possible. With pilaf, excessive stirring makes for gummy rice. With risotto, stirring causes the rice granules to rub off against each other, which actually forms a nice little creamy sauce. So you need to stir. But you really only need to stir about half the time. Keep stirring until the water looks nearly evaporated, and then add another quarter cup or so of hot broth. If you play your cards right, then it should take about half an hour to stir in all of the broth. Sometimes you need more broth, sometimes you need less, so you may want to have more than three cups of it standing by.

At about the 15 minute mark, add the diced pumpkin. If you add it right away like I did, you'll still have a pumpkiny risotto, but you won't really be able to see the bits of pumpkin, because they'll have dissolved into the sauce. It still tastes good, but the chunks are nice to look at. If you add pre-cooked pumpkin instead of raw, it will dissolve a lot quicker, even if you add it at the 15 minute mark.

When you've reached half an hour, take a taste test. Is the rice still crunchy? If so, you've got more cooking to do. But chances are, it'll be nice and creamy. Go ahead and stir in a quarter cup of Parmesan cheese (yes, the stuff in the green tube is okay, but only if you don't have the real stuff) and serve, with a little more grated Parm on top.

Now we've tackled pumpkin steamed and well, not quite raw, but not pre-cooked at all either. But there's still one more step to go: roasted. Go ahead and grab another sugar pumpkin, break the stem off, and chop it in half. In fact, you may even want to go with quarters on this one. Carefully! The bigger the pumpkin, the more unweildly. Now, brush it with melted butter, or if you're lazy like me, spray it with cooking oil. Sprinkle with Kosher salt and toss it into a 350-400F oven (cut side up) for, oh, one to two hours. Don't pull it out until the flesh is fork-tender. Like steaming, this will concentrate the flavors without washing them away in boiling water. But unlike steaming, this will also add enough heat to caramelize some of the pumpkin, which is definitely not a bad thing.

When it's nice and tender, go ahead and pull it out and let it cool for a few minutes. Don't let it cool too much though, before scooping it. Now, a certain very famous chef recommends using an ice cream scoop to get all the meat out, and that's not a bad idea. But I found that for me, it was faster and easier to just don my calloused chef's hands and peel the skin away from the flesh, instead of the other way around. Okay, so I got help from a paring knife. But I also had far less veggie meat stuck to the skins, and it took less time.

Now that you have all the meat out, the best thing to do next is puree it all in a food processor. It may be soft and tender, but there's still a lot of fibrous tissue left there. However, I don't personally have a food processor. But that doesn't mean I don't need to take care of that. I just decided to save that step for later. I did take the liberty of mashing it all up with a potato masher, however.

With that done, it was time to make ice cream. That's right, pumpkin ice cream. The goal here is to make a frozen version of pumpkin pie. And what, in essense, is pumpkin pie? It's a custard pie. All we need to do is convert a baked custard into a stirred custard, and then churn and freeze it. Let me start with a list of ingredients:

3/4 cup white granulated sugar
1/4 cup water
1/8 teaspoon cream of tarter
1 cup cold heavy cream
1 pint whole milk
1 cup pumpkin puree
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
pinch of salt
5 egg yolks

Now, pumpkin pie usually uses what kind of sugar? Brown sugar, and occassionally white sugar. Something inside of me told me to stick with white sugar. But that doesn't mean it has to stay white. I put the sugar, the water and the cream of tartar in a saucepan with a heavy bottom and let it come to a boil. Now, you don't want to move the pan at all until steam stops rising from it. In fact, don't mess with it until it starts to caramelize and get brown. At this point, there may be spots in the pan that are hotter than others. When you get to this point, things are going to happen pretty quickly. Go ahead and pick up the pan and swirl the melted sugar around to distribute it. You can use a wooden spoon to stir it instead if that makes you feel better. I tend to move the pan on the heat and off again a few times, just to keep it from burning. Eventally it will turn to a nice mahogany color. As soon as you start seeing little wisps of smoke, it's time to make your next move.

Move the pan off the heat and pour in the heavy cream. This will cool things down considerably. Go ahead and pour in the milk and put it back over the heat. The sugar will have hardened, so you need to dissolve it again before you do anything else. When it is all dissolved, go ahead and add the pumpking and spices. If you haven't pureed the pumpkin before now, then now is the time to do so. Pull out your trusty immersion blender (dirt cheap at most department stores) and give it a whir, until all the pumpkin fibers are obliterated. This won't be necessary if you'rve already purees the pumpkin, or you cheated and used canned pumpkin.

Now, by this point the milk is probably already at a scald. Go ahead and pour a little into your egg yolks, whisking the whole time. After a moment, pour in a little bit more, still whisking. Then start whisking the pan of hot milk, and pour the egg yolks into it. For the uninitiated, this is called tempering the yolks. Keep whisking the mixture on medium heat until it thickens a little. Then move the pan straight to an ice water bath and whisk until it cools. Move the cooled mixture into a resealable plastic container, and move that to the fridge overnight.

The next morning, you will notice a very thick and viscous mixture. This is perfect for churning. Go ahead and churn in your ice cream maker, according to the manufacturer's instructions. While this is happening, get ready to up the ante. Use the time to roughly chop about half a pound (that was half a box for me) of ginger snaps, and to open up a jar of Nutella. When the ice cream is frozen, fold in the chopped ginger snaps first. When you don't see any dry pieces of cookie, fold in about a cup of Nutella. Don't stir, and don't try to integrate. You're looking for swirls here. Dump it all back into a half gallon container and put it in the freezer for a few hours to harden. If you did this in the morning like I did, then by dinnertime you will be met with the most delicious Pumpkin Gingersnap Nutella Swirl ice cream you have ever tasted.

Now, I think that's going to be it for my pumpkin adventures for this year. I'm all pumpkined out. But I think I did come up with some excellent pumpkin recipes that are easy enough for just about anyone to make.

1 comment:

  1. This ice cream was so good it makes me want to cry. The next morning I woke up in withdrawal. I am still craving it so much that I am almost certain it was laced with something illegal.

    Unfortunately, this recipe seems beyond me and my kitchen tools.

    You need to open your dessert restaurant soon so I can make you a very rich man.


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