November 1, 2006

NOW THAT'S GOURD EATS:

Pumpkin pie recipe wakes napping taste buds (CHRISTINA LONGO, 11/01/06, SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER)

When the Pilgrims celebrated the first Thanksgiving nearly 400 years ago, they might have finished their meal with a savory squash dish completely different from our current notion of pumpkin pie. Cooked in its own shell over the smoldering embers of a fire, spiced with herbs like rosemary and thyme, barely sweetened with honey or maple syrup and moistened with milk, this pumpkin porridge of sorts wouldn't evolve into pumpkin pie as we know it for another 200 years.

As the American melting pot simmers with ever more diverse cultures contributing flavors to the milieu, the number of us who can trace our ancestry back to Colonial America continues to dwindle. But regardless of faith or ethnicity, we give thanks for family, friends and, like the early Americans, a bountiful harvest. For most modern Americans, what it really boils down to is the food on our table. When the tryptophan-laden turkey and starch courses begin putting us to sleep, why not awaken our palates with a pumpkin dessert that dazzles the senses?

If your mother or grandmother earned her baking chops sometime between the 1940s and 1960s, chances are she has a pumpkin chiffon pie somewhere in her repertoire. Chiffon pies, also known as "fairy tarts" or "pouf pies" in their heyday, usually consist of an airy mousse piled in a prebaked crust. The beauty of such a filling is its light, ethereal texture -- the perfect antidote to a heavy meal. You need only bake the crust, and if you choose a prebaked pie or cookie-crumb crust, you can save even more time in your hectic holiday schedule. In a season when retro fashions are all the rage, it makes sense to look back at dessert trends of the not-so-distant past to find inspiration for something new. Does the word chiffon give you visions of Jell-O pudding pies? Rest assured the following recipe shares nothing with that prefab version but the inclusion of gelatin and ease of preparation.

One of the best ways to perk up an old recipe is to mix in an unexpected component that complements the original so well it seems it should have been there all along. For instance, the addition of freshly grated orange zest to the familiar pumpkin pie spices of cinnamon, nutmeg and clove adds a brightness of flavor that makes an ordinary squash sing. Similarly, a fluffy toasted meringue topping echoes the lightness of the chiffon filling and adds a new textural dimension.

Sometimes all it takes to update a classic is an upgrade of its basic ingredients. It is easier than ever to find quality pie pumpkins, most commonly the "sugar pie" variety, at local farmers markets and supermarkets. Starting from scratch requires a little more time and work, and the end result will be less smooth than a canned product, but knowing the source of your ingredients can be worth the effort. Using a distinctly flavored honey or pure maple syrup in place of the ubiquitous and bland corn syrup called for in some pie recipes is a small change that pays off big in flavor. Simple things like the freshness of your eggs and quality of milk also play a huge part in the final product.

For some, perhaps pie itself has become too staunchly traditional. [...]

PUMPKIN CHIFFON PIE

MAKES ONE 9- TO 10-INCH PIE

# 10 ounces cooked pumpkin puree
# 3/4 cup brown sugar
# 3 ounces milk
# 5 egg yolks
# 1/4 teaspoon salt
# 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
# 1/2 teaspoon allspice
# 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
# 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
# Finely grated zest of one small orange
# 1 tablespoon powdered gelatin
# 2 ounces water
# 4 egg whites
# 1/2 cup granulated sugar

Prepare your favorite pie crust recipe and blind bake the crust, or use a prepared crust.

In a medium bowl, combine pumpkin, brown sugar, milk, egg yolks, salt, spices and zest. Whisk the ingredients gently until smooth. Set the bowl over a pan of simmering water. Cook, stirring frequently, until the mixture thickens and/or the temperature of the mix reads 185 degrees on an instant-read thermometer. Remove from heat and set aside.

Soften the gelatin in the cold water. Add to the hot pumpkin mixture and stir until dissolved. Cover surface of mixture with plastic wrap and chill until thickened and cool to the touch, but not fully set.

Beat the egg whites until they form soft peaks. Slowly add sugar and beat until a stiff, glossy meringue is formed. (This step can be done by hand or with an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment).

Fold the meringue into the pumpkin mixture gently until fully combined, being careful not to over mix or deflate the whites. Fill baked pie shell with mixture and chill until set.

MORE (via Mike Daley)
Overstuffed Pumpkin with Cornbread, Apples and Turkey Sausage with Sauvignon
Blanc

1 (4 to 5 pound) pumpkin
1/4 cup melted butter
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 celery ribs, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 Granny Smith apples, peeled and cubed
1 teaspoon celery seed
1 teaspoon fennel seed
2 oranges, zested
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley, divided
1/4 cup chopped fresh sage, divided
2 pounds ground turkey sausage
1 cup Sauvignon Blanc wine
1 cup heavy cream
1 (16-ounce) package cornbread stuffing
3 cups chicken broth
2 eggs, beaten

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Cut off the lid of the pumpkin and set it aside. Pull out the seeds and
strings from inside the pumpkin. Brush the inside flesh with melted butter,
season with salt and pepper. Place pumpkin on a roasting rack set inside a
pan; bake for 15 minutes.

In a large skillet, heat oil over moderate heat. Add onion, celery, garlic,
apples, celery seed, and fennel seed. Sprinkle in orange zest and 2
tablespoons each parsley and sage. Cook, stirring often, until fragrant,
about 3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Add the ground sausage,
breaking up the meat with a wooden spoon, and brown until no longer pink,
about 10 minutes. Deglaze the pan with wine, cook down 2 minutes to
evaporate the alcohol. Stir in the cream, check seasoning.

Scrape the sausage mixture into a large bowl and fold in the cornbread.
Gradually blend in the eggs and chicken broth, until the stuffing is evenly
moistened. Add remaining parsley and sage. Fill the pumpkin with stuffing,
return to the oven, and bake 20 minutes until the eggs are cooked and the
stuffing has a little lift. Serve stuffing in the pumpkin bowl topped with
lid.

Posted by Orrin Judd at November 1, 2006 7:43 AM
Comments

I felt my chest tightening just reading the ingredients.

Posted by: Bruno at November 1, 2006 9:16 AM

I bow to Julia Child's judgment that the incremental value of homemade pumpkin pulp is just not worth the time and effort.

Bruno:

Actually not too bad as desserts go - less than one egg yolk per slice in the filling. Watch out for the commercial crusts, though.

Posted by: Rick T at November 1, 2006 11:32 AM
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