My Survivor Pumpkin
When we added raised beds to our garden a few years ago I became more daring. Confident that anything would grow in such lush, well-drained soil, I planted a rouge vif d’étampes pumpkin plant, the so-called Cinderella pumpkin that is squat with deep orange skin and flesh. The plant took to the sunny spot, maybe a little too much. It quickly sent out long shoots, entangling itself with the eggplants and tomatoes I hoped could share the space. The pumpkin was a bully—it wanted the entire bed. At first I trimmed it judiciously leaving most of the small flowers intact. My pruning became more aggressive when I returned from a vacation to find that it had crossed a path and was choking the roses. After a watchful summer of cutting it back as needed and hoping to still get a few pumpkins, it became apparent that only one would survive. I harvested it on the first of November. Its heft surprised me as I carried it up the stairs to the kitchen—close to twenty pounds, I thought. Since I knew it was over the six-pound limit of my kitchen scale, I used the bathroom scale to determine its weight. I checked it twice—the thing was thirty-six pounds!
My husband, Sidney, and I planned a dinner to feature our prize and invited friends to join us. The first course was a salad of cannellini beans cooked with a battuto—carrot, onion, and celery—and tossed with pumpkin cubes that had been browned in extra-virgin olive oil. A drizzle of olio nuovo before serving finished the dish . (See The New American Olive Oil for a recipe.)
I roasted part of the pumpkin for the next course, puréed it, then seasoned it with salt and pepper. We made lasagne, with alternate layers of the purée, sautéed swiss chard, and besciamella sauce. A little mound of cooked chard stems dressed up the plates.
The dessert was more experimental. I have made tarte tatin many times, with the usual apples, quinces, even apricots. Why not try pumpkin, I thought. The first decision was whether to cook the pumpkin before assembling the tart. The apples in a tarte tatin aren’t pre-cooked, so I decided not to cook the pumpkin either. After making a caramel with butter and sugar in the pan, I wedged half-inch slices of raw pumpkin in the bottom before topping them with a thin layer of buttery puff pastry. It worked!
Each course was a worthy way to showcase my survivor pumpkin. I encourage you to stretch your imagination. Now is the time to order seeds from nursery catalogs. Plant something new in your garden—or considering starting a garden if you don’t have one—and try a recipe with a new twist from your bounty. You’ll be glad you did.