If [God forbid] you took turkey out of the running, then what traditional dish could take up the mantle to symbolize the bizarre holiday that is Thanksgiving? Not ordinary mashed potatoes, surely? Definitely not stuffing, which would fall lifeless when robbed of its stuff-ee. Not mere sauces like gravy or cranberry…so, what?
Why, pumpkin pie, of course!
Maybe I ascribe special significance to pumpkin pie because my parents would never make it. To this day they feel scared and alienated by the goofy American dishes they see on TV, like green bean casserole or candied yams. Besides the time I baked one in protest, pumpkin pie has never made an appearance on our dinner table.
Not making it home for Turkey day this year, I realized that I didn’t have to contend with parental desserts. So I gleefully bought a couple cans of pumpkin puree, in hopes of bringing the beloved pie to a friend’s feast. When I found out that someone was already planning on making one…well, the wind went out of my sails.
You can see my position. I’m a pumpkin pie fiend and I have the pumpkin part covered, but no occasion to make a pie. (And somehow the idea of making a pie for myself, not sharing it with Thanksgiving revelers, is too depressing.)
If you find yourself in a similar situation, here’s a few suggestions:
1) Pumpkin bread (check out this recipe from The Wednesday Chef. I didn’t try it, but it looks good.)
2) Pumpkin pasta sauce. Cut up some shallots, garlic and rosemary and/or other fresh herbs and sautee lightly with olive oil, starting with the shallots. Then pop open a jar of roasted red peppers, cut some up, and threw those in. Now stir in the pumpkin puree and a good couple tablespoons of whole milk yogurt (who needs cream?) along with some brine from the peppers. Let that simmer on low for a while. To avoid a curdling catastrophe, make sure the yogurt doesn’t heat up too quickly. Meanwhile, carnivores can brown up some sweet Italian sausage to go with:
Pretty damn good. Though next time I think I’d roast the garlic first, since the sweeter taste would work well.
3) Pumpkin ice cream. I want to use this blog to promote cheap, easy, practical, non-junk food — and pumpkin ice cream fails on all counts. Still, I was inspired to embark on this, my first ice cream adventure, when my roommate left a giant Cuisinart ice cream maker on the kitchen counter. As if I needed extra encouragement, he also left a note that read: “Ice Cream Maker.”
I soon found a suitable pumpkin ice cream recipe but, not reading it closely enough, I figured the ice cream was as good as made. What’s an “ice cream maker,” if not a machine that makes ice cream? Just like a dish washer washes dishes, I figured an ice cream maker essentially “makes” ice cream. Seems reasonable, right?
It turns out that making ice cream is not so straightforward as I had hoped. Basically you have to first make a custard, a suspension of (constantly stirred and gently heated) cream and egg yolks, then chill this for hours, then thicken it again through freezing. So it’s a long and drawn out process. Here’s one stage where you cool the custard in an ice water bath before mixing in the pumpkin:
What kind of madness is this? Are we in chemistry class?
After going through all that drudgery, I decided to reward myself by taking something from the Ben and Jerry’s playbook:
Fold in Heath Bar chunks (don’t sue me, Nestle!) during the final stage of freezing, and here’s a spoonful of the final result:
Not too bad, although it did basically take 36 hours.
In sum, pumpkin puree can survive outside of its popular pie form. Really it’s much more than bright orange, almost flavorless mush: it is a tool that can be used to craft random food items. Enjoy!