by Betty Thompson
Photo by Brandi Easter
ONE OF THE BEST FALL sights is pumpkin or squash scattered in the fields among tangled vines and leaves. Shapes, sizes and textures are as varied as the colors, only the tastes are much the same -- sweet and nutty.
All squash and pumpkins belong to the "cucurbita" family and in some areas the words are used interchangeably. The word pumpkin may have evolved from the Greek word "pepon" which means cooked by the sun.
Many dishes using pumpkin and squash are made in Latin American countries. These include squash soup, fritters, baked pudding and a most appealing whole-meal dish from Argentina called "carbonada criolla," a beef stew in a pumpkin shell. The favored variety for this dish is the West Indian pumpkin called the "calabaza," but a fleshy pumpkin or a baby hubbard makes a good substitute.
The success of the dish does not depend on serving it in the pumpkin. One can simply serve from the pot. Any of the winter squashes such as acorn, butternut, delicata, hubbard and buttercup are suitable for the chunks of squash in the stews or to serve under it.
If serving from a pumpkin, choose a 5- to 6-pound one that is nicely rounded in shape. Test to see that it rests securely on its base. It should be heavy for its size, meaning it has thick fleshy walls. Jack-o-lantern pumpkins are watery and stringy but would make an acceptable container.
Cut a 4- to 5-inch lid on the top, scoop out the seeds and scrape the pumpkin as clean as possible with a spoon. Place the top on the pumpkin. Bake it on a cookie sheet at 350° for about 40 minutes, depending on the size of the pumpkin. Bake until the flesh is barely tender when pierced with a fork from the inside.
Don't poke a hole all the way through or bake so long the pumpkin will collapse. It can be underbaked as it will continue to cook when the hot stew is added.
When serving, scoop some of the pumpkin flesh into each serving. Any favorite stew recipe could be served in a baked pumpkin.
Baked acorn-squash halves make suitable individual soup bowls. Cut them in half lengthwise, scoop out the seeds and sprinkle with salt and pepper and bake for 40 minutes or wrap each half in plastic wrap and microwave on high about 8 minutes for one squash. Scoop out bits of squash to eat along with the stew.
Fill the baked pumpkin or squash with prepared stew and bake an additional 15 minutes. Place a few autumn leaves, ears of Indian corn or colorful gourds around the base and serve with garlic bread sticks or chunks of cheesy jalapeño corn bread.
These recipes look lengthy but most of the work is just cutting up vegetables. The stews can easily be done ahead and are delicious reheated.
This beef stew, adapted from "The Book of Latin American Cooking" by Ortiz, demonstrates the Argentine flair for combining meat and fruit.
1/4 cup olive oil
2 pounds lean beef, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 large onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
1-2 fresh hot peppers, seeded and chopped (optional)
3 medium tomatoes, peeled and chopped
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon tomato paste
Salt, freshly ground pepper
about 1 cup beef stock
about 1 cup dry red wine
1 pound sweet potatoes, peeled and sliced (1 large)
1 pound red potatoes, peeled and sliced (2 medium)
1 pound winter squash, peeled and sliced (4-5 cups)
3 small peaches and or pears, peeled and sliced
3 ears corn, each cut into 1-inch rounds
Optional: One 5- to 6-pound pumpkin, washed and prepared as in text.
Heat oil in a large, heavy casserole and sauté the beef until it is lightly browned all over. Push it to the side and add the onion, garlic and chilies. Sauté the onion until soft. Add tomatoes and cook 5 minutes longer.
Add the oregano, bay leaf, sugar, tomato paste, salt and pepper to taste, stock and wine. Cover and simmer for 40 minutes or until the meat is almost tender.
Add the sweet potatoes, potatoes and squash and a little more stock if necessary to cover. Simmer for about 20 minutes.
Add the fruit and corn and simmer for a further 10 more minutes or until the ingredients are tender.
If using the pumpkin, transfer the contents of the casserole to the baked pumpkin. Replace the lid and bake in 350° oven for 15 minutes. Serve directly from the pumpkin taking care when scooping out the cooked pumpkin not to break the shell.
Chunks of butternut squash melt into a thick sauce seasoned with salsa and peanut butter.
2 tablespoons corn oil
1 pound diced chicken breast
1 large onion, chopped
2 tablespoon hot salsa
1/4 teaspoon each clove, cinnamon, nutmeg
1 3/4 cups chicken stock
1 1/2 pounds butternut or other winter squash (4-5 cups)
1 green pepper, cut into 1-inch squares
4 carrots, cut into thick slices
3 tablespoon peanut butter
1 tomato, peeled and cut into wedges
1/2 cup toasted sunflower seeds
Optional: Two acorn squash prepared as in text.
Heat oil in a Dutch oven, add chicken and cook, turning until browned lightly. Add onion and sauté until tender. Add salsa, seasoning, stock and squash.
Cover and cook 10 minutes; add green pepper and carrots and cook another 10 minutes until vegetables are tender. Stir in peanut butter and a little additional water if necessary. Taste for seasoning. Add tomato and barely heat through.
Spoon into halves of acorn squash or serve over steamed winter squash or rice. Garnish with toasted sunflower or pumpkin seeds.
Betty Thompson has taught cooking classes locally since 1974.
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