Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly....Pumpkin

On a recent shopping trip to my favorite local gourmet supermarket, I encountered an alien in the produce section. It sat, unloved, lumped between Cinderellas, Fairytales, and Long Island Cheese. Its warty skin reminiscent of ghoulish witches, its odor faintly of compost, it hid, dejected, waiting for a home to be adopted to, to grace with its stinky, unusual presence.
    My friends, I had come across the galeux d'Eysine.

                                                          
If not for my yearly obsessive poring over seed catalogs for my (failing) garden plot, I might not have ever known about this tremendous pumpkin. The specimens I encountered weighed in about 20 pounds, not anything to sniff at in a pumpkin. The galeux is an heirloom variety French pumpkin, cultivated in Europe for centuries as a winter staple. The peanutty-looking "warts" are actually sugar crystals that have expanded and essentially exploded in the skin, causing the appearance of a monster. Much in the way us Americans revere butternut squash and cranberries, the French worship these bastions of snowy nutrition as nearly a religion.
    WHAT?!?
   You can EAT this thing???
You Bet!!
      So, back to the produce department....
I stood in front of this tremendous pile of colorful, animated pumpkins, and drooled...literally. They had all been labeled as DECORATIVE PUMPKINS. $6.50 a piece!!! (Meanwhile, the butternuts were priced at 99 cents a pound - ha!)   The surrounding customers must have thought I went certifiable right then and there, as I gleefully giggled in delight, loading two large pumpkins (about 40 pounds) into my cart, mumbling to Colette how we were gonna EAT GOOD THIS WINTER!! I was practically dancing all the way to the register. And, all I could think was, SUCKERS!!! You mounded pounds upon pounds of pumpkins to sell as decoration, without realizing you can eat them, and sold them at such a loss!
  Christine, 1, Supermarket managers, zero!
I drove home in sweet, sweet victory, thoughts of roasted pumpkin dancing in my head...
   I figured I could display my galeux until at least Halloween before having to roast it. As it turned out, the galeux had a different idea all together...about three days after I brought it home and made it part of my fall table decor, I began to smell compost everywhere. The sugars in the warts apparently don't like my moist home air, and had begun to fuzz over with a whitish mold. I was aghast, and scared - now what? This weird pumpkin was certainly now haunting my house, way too early.
   I grabbed a chefs knife, and got to work. I deftly whacked out 8 huge wedges of pumpkin, scooping and saving the seeds (maybe I can get THOSE to grow next fall?). I scrubbed the fuzz off the warts, and threw them into a 400 degree oven to roast. I AM NOT LOSING THIS PUMPKIN!, I kept hollering in my head.
In a matter of hours, I had accumulated a GALLON of sweet, pure orange pumpkin puree, the rival of canned versions everywhere. I'm not exaggerating - it was a literal gallon. I was so proud of my fat warty monster! First order of business - freeze enough for pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving. Then, I decided to take an entirely different route, and make pumpkin soup. The weather has turned chilly, a gentle rain trickled on the yellowing leaves outside, and..I wanted a warm, comforting soup simmering on the stove. The spices were reminiscent of pie, but tasted like a delicious curry. And, the pumpkin was nothing short of perfection. I have to give it to the French - they know their pumpkin.
  I hope the next time it's getting chilly out by you, and leaves twirl in the wind, and maybe the dreaded "S" word looms on the horizon...you will make this belly-warming soup and think of how delicious it is just to savor an autumn day in a toasty home. Enjoy.

Spicy Pumpkin Curry Soup - makes about 1 1/2 quarts

1 tbsp. butter
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 c. diced red onion
2 large cloves garlic, minced
1 c. diced celery with leaves
1/2 c. raw cashews
1 tsp. kosher salt
1/4 tsp. white pepper
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
1 tsp. fresh thyme leaves
1 tsp. fresh sage, thinly sliced
1 tsp. garam masala
2 1/4 c. chicken stock or broth
3/4 c. heavy whipping cream
3 c. pumpkin puree
1 tbsp. maple syrup

In a Dutch oven, melt together butter with olive oil over medium high heat. Add onions, garlic, celery, cashews, salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes. Cook, stirring, until onions become soft and fragrant, and cashews are browning in spots, about 5 minutes. Add thyme, sage, and garam masala; cook another 2 minutes. Pour in chicken stock, cream, pumpkin, and maple syrup; bring to a simmer over medium heat. Simmer on low for 10 minutes. Puree the soup in a blender in two batches until very smooth; return to pot and bring back to a simmer. Serve hot with crusty bread for dipping.

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