Monday, October 24, 2011

Pumpkin Varieties

Forgive me if I’ve told this story before, but it is one of my favorite experiences in France so it gets told a lot......
While waiting for Tom to finish up his en plein aire painting at a market I ran across great big, tall, orange pumpkins. I bought three. Two young friends came over the next afternoon and Tom carved one pumpkin to give them some idea of what could be done with this blank orange canvas. Then we gave the children markers and let them have a go at making a spooky face and then we helped them with the carving. When the top was cut off it took a bit of coaxing to get them to put their hands into the slimy interior to pull out the “guts”. I took over cleaning off the seeds and popping them, salted, into the oven. The kids loved the crunchy snack, their parents thought we were nuts. But not half as nuts as the little old ladies that passed by our windows a few days later. “Oh what funny things you have done to your pumpkins” “What are you going to do with them now?” “Oh, light them up for Halloween and then what?” Now, I’m thinking what can one do with a sooty, moldy, month old pumpkin except throw it on the compost pile. So I say, “we’ll compost it.” “What? You’re not going to eat it?” and right away I could see that I was the American. An American that never thought about the fact that a pumpkin could be, should be eaten. An American that thought Halloween would be loved every where. But here in France Halloween is seen as an American intrusion with all sorts of commercial strings attached and so it is an event that is frowned upon. I think this prejudice is furthered by the fact that until recently the pumpkins in France were all squat and red, no place to carve pointy teeth, moon shaped eyes or a black cat freckle. 

Since then a dear friend gave me a cook book seemingly written for French market cooking “Off the Shelf” by Donna Hay - an Aussie food writer. Now I love to cook squat, red pumpkins that are only good for one thing, eating. Save those gorgeous, tall, curvaceous orange pumpkins for a different sort of creativity.
Pasta with Pumpkin and Sage Brown Butter
2 lb. pumpkin, peeled and diced
olive oil
14 oz fettuccine
2 1/2 oz butter
3 tablespoons whole sage leaves
1 cup grated parmesan cheese
cracked black pepper and sea salt
Preheat oven to 375F. Place the pumpkin in a baking dish and sprinkle with a little olive oil. Bake for 30 minutes or until golden and soft.
Just before the pumpkin is ready, cook the pasta in a large saucepan of lightly salted boiling water until al dente. Drain.
While the pasta is cooking, place the butter and sage in a saucepan over low to medium heat and allow the butter to simmer until a golden brown color.
To serve, place the pasta in serving plates and top with the pumpkin and parmesan. Spoon over the brown butter and sage leaves and season with pepper and salt. Serves 4.
After a ten year hiatus, we are going to carve some jack-o-lanterns this year.  Our American eccentricities, once viewed as mildly threatening, are now seen as divertingly amusing.
Happy All Soul’s Day!

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