Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Culinary IQ: Tuesday, November 8, 2011; Pumpkin

The Great Pumpkin

Before I discuss fruits and vegetables any further I need to say that I am a firm believer in locally produced and organically grown produce. Not only does it have more nutritional value but the taste is better and it is better for the planet. If you were thinking of having strawberry shortcake for Thanksgiving just remember, strawberries are not in season, the ones in the stores are being grown artificially in a hot house somewhere or shipped half way around the world. 

With Thanksgiving only a few weeks away it seems appropriate to discuss pumpkin now. Doesn't it make sense that pumpkin pie is a Thanksgiving tradition because pumpkins usually ripen in the fall and are easy to store for use later. As I stated yesterday, pumpkins are defined as a berry botanically and are part of a larger family of squash. There are many varieties of pumpkins ranging from small to large and varying in color. Pumpkins usually have a hard outer surface covering a thick flesh surrounding a weblike membrane containing a large number of seeds. The flesh is commonly used in pies, cakes, breads, soups, preserved and is also frequently used in livestock food.

To use pumpkins the seeds and membrane are removed then steamed in the skin until softened. The flesh is then scraped from the skin and pureed for use in recipes. Processed pumpkin is widely available and greatly reduces the preparation time of your recipes. Many people feel that fresh is better than canned but unless you have grown the produce yourself or bought is at your local farmers market and know that it was picked at peak ripeness it is better to buy canned. Canned fruits and vegetables are often the produce that has ripened on the plant but is to ripe to withstand the preparation for and shipping to the market.

Pumpkin pie is probably the most common use of pumpkin and is a staple for most Thanksgiving dinners. Pumpkin pie is an egg custard containing pumpkin, egg and milk. Any or all of the the following spices may be called for in the recipe: cinnamon, nutmeg or cloves.

Here is a recipe that uses pumpkin and a seed that I discussed in my blog yesterday, pecans. I found this recipe for Pecan Pumpkin Pie in a Gourmet Desserts cookbook over 20 years ago and have made it almost every Thanksgiving since. I feel it is really the best of both worlds!
Pecan Pumpkin Pie

9-inch pie shell

For pumpkin filling
3/4 cup canned solid-pack pumpkin
2 tablespoons packed light brown sugar
1 large egg, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons sour cream
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

For pecan layer

3/4 cup light corn syrup
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/4 teaspoon finely grated fresh lemon zest
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/3 cups pecans (5 1/2 ounces), chopped if desired
Special equipment: pie weights or raw rice


Make pie shell:
Preheat oven to 375°F.
Line shell with foil and fill with pie weights, then bake until pastry is set and pale golden on rim, about 20 minutes. Carefully remove foil and weights and bake shell until pale golden all over, 6 to 10 minutes more. Cool on a rack.
Make pumpkin filling:
Whisk together pumpkin, brown sugar, egg, sour cream, cinnamon, nutmeg, and a pinch of salt in a bowl until smooth.
Make pecan layer:
Stir together corn syrup, brown sugar, eggs, butter, vanilla, zest, lemon juice, and salt in a bowl, then stir in pecans.
Assemble and bake pie:
Spread pumpkin mixture evenly in shell, then carefully spoon pecan mixture over it. Bake pie until crust is golden and filling is puffed, about 35 minutes. (Center will still be slightly wobbly; filling will set as it cools.) Cool completely on rack. Serve at room temperature.

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