by Nancy Caivano
If you have been a regular reader of this column from the beginning, then you already know that autumn is my favorite time of the year. I'm lucky enough to live where there are seasons, and to live directly across the street from a huge park (Van Cortlandt Park in Riverdale, in the Bronx). When I look out of my bedroom window I see a huge bunch of trees in all their fall glory. The colors are simply magnificent and they brighten my day just by being there.
September is when we begin thinking about the holiday season ahead, and October is when we start preparing for it. Halloween, for me, is the real start of the holiday season. Heck, I have a friend (yes YOU Bob!) that has his Christmas shopping done, wrapped and ready to go by Halloween. October, for me, is when I start making my endless lists—cookie lists, menus, gift lists, schedules, etc., etc. Every year I declare that I'm going to do all the preparation very early, so that by the holidays I can relax, and every Christmas Eve I am running around like a mad woman! At least the lists were made early.
For this column, I thought I would focus on the star of October—the pumpkin. Pumpkins are absolutely delicious, and not just in pumpkin pie. It's a squash, with a mellow flavor, and a very ecologically friendly vegetable, as all of its parts are useable. We cook the pulp, roast the seeds, and use the shell as a holiday decoration. Many people associate pumpkin only with the stuff they find in cans. Fresh pumpkin has a sublime taste that cannot be matched by canned. I have given out recipes for my Pumpkin Pie Risotto many times, and many people ask why theirs doesn't taste the same. The first question I ask is "did you use fresh or canned pumpkin?" Nine times out of ten, they used canned, and that changes the dish. Now don't get me wrong; canned pumpkin is great for baking and pies, and I use it myself, even in the cake recipe at the end. It is in savory dishes that you really notice the difference. Treat yourself, and your family, and buy a pumpkin. Have fun drawing a silly face and carving it, then serve the guts for dinner. The family will be overjoyed.
I have three recipes for you. I am keeping in mind what Halloween was like at my house, and that was definitely not a day for an elaborate dinner. People were in and out and there was candy everywhere, but my mom always made sure we ate dinner, so that we wouldn't be inclined to scarf down so much candy. The pasta and risotto recipes I have are simple enough for a busy night like Halloween or just a regular old Wednesday. I've also included a dessert, because pumpkin does especially shine in sweet recipes.
The first recipe, Pasta with Pumpkin, Mushrooms and Mascarpone is a delightful dish. This dish uses the pumpkin (as a purée) and the seeds together with a variety of mushrooms, which come into their peak in the fall. The pumpkin purée mixes divinely with the mascarpone cheese to form a sauce you won't be able to get enough of. You can purée the pumpkin and toast the seeds ahead of time, making this pasta a snap to get on the table.
Our risotto this month, Risotto with Pumpkin and Leeks is a lovely dish, using chopped pumpkin. The pumpkin combines perfectly with the leeks, plus Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and sage. Again, you can cut up the pumpkin ahead of time, so that this luscious dish takes about 30 minutes from start to finish. Both dishes make great entrees, or perfect first courses for a sophisticated Halloween party.
Our finishing touch would be this stunning dessert—Spicy Pumpkin Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting. This is definitely NOT for the diet conscious! This cake is moist and delicious, full of pumpkin, brown sugar, myriad spices and crunchy walnuts and smothered in an interesting twist on the regular cream cheese frosting. This recipe includes molasses, brown sugar and orange zest. The combination of the cake and frosting is unbelievable. I know many parents host neighborhood parties for parents and trick-or-treaters alike, so maybe you can make the cake for the adults and the same recipe as cupcakes for the kids. Mini bundts would be fun made with this cake and frosting also.
This concludes our look at October and the Great Pumpkin. Judging by these recipes, I think Linus was onto something, anxiously waiting for the Great Pumpkin—now we know why he was so anxious, the poor kid was hungry! Join me next month, when we take a look at November and Thanksgiving.
Copyright © 2001, Nancy Caivano. All rights reserved.
This page created October 2001
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