What time of the year is more exciting to be in the kitchen than fall?
The air is brisk, mornings are invigorating and everyone’s appetite is hearty and robust.
This is the time of year many people on the Coast start thinking about gumbo and jambalaya, but my culinary thoughts go further afield.
Fall is a perfect time to look for pumpkins, acorn squash and sweet potatoes.
All too often these classics are delegated to side dishes, but they deserve better billing.
Admittedly, they are not stand alone ingredients, but they do pair well with a variety of other goodies that will make your guests very happy indeed.
Are you dubious? What about pumpkin sautéed in garlic butter, pasta and garnished with sage, or sautéed cubes of sweet potato in white bean stew with sausage and hot peppers, or acorn squash and brown rice?
If you don’t want to buy a big pumpkin, go to an Asian market, and often you will find pumpkin by the slice in the produce section. Don’t ask me why, I’ve never seen pumpkin in any dish served at local Vietnamese restaurants. Perhaps it is a component in home cooking?
One last note. Always look for Vardaman sweet potatoes. Vardaman is a small town in North Mississippi that is famous for its 10,000 acres of sweet potato production and the town bills itself as the sweet potato capital of the world, not for the quantity of the harvest, but for the sweetness of the potatoes that come from that area. Other sweet potatoes will do just fine, but Vardarman’s are a great choice.
Pasta and Pumpkin
1 pound linguini
2- cups cubed pumpkin
Fine diced garlic
Fresh sage leaves or other herb
Optional 3-4 slices crispy cooked bacon
This recipe is pretty simple but delicious. Just be careful cubing the pumpkin. The skin is tough and not easy to trim off. Use a sharp knife, because nothing is as dangerous as a dull knife.
Cook the pasta according to package directions, remembering to heavily salt the water. Do not overcook the pasta. Melt the butter in a large sauté pan, add the garlic (as much as you like) and cook 3-4 minutes, but do not burn it. Remove and discard the garlic after the butter is flavored. Add the pumpkin and cook over medium heat until it is lightly browned and tender. If you want to hurry the process add a little liquid and put a lid on to steam it. When the pumpkin is tender, season with salt, freshly ground black pepper and red pepper flakes. Julienne (also called allumette) the sage by rolling it up and slicing diagonally. Toss the pasta, pumpkin, butter and sage (and bacon if you choose to include it). Taste and re-season as necessary.
Sweet Potato and White Bean Stew
2 cups cooked white beans
1 cup cubed sweet potato
½ cup diced ham
1 chopped onion
1 chopped bell pepper
Red pepper flakes, salt
Sauté the ham in olive oil until browned, remove and set aside. Add the onions, bell pepper and sweet potato to the same pan and cook until the sweet potato is browned and the onions are tender. Add the beans and ham, mix well, taste and season as necessary. Add a little extra olive oil if you like, but use your best.
Brown rice and Acorn Squash
1 cup brown rice (Mississippi grown preferred)
2 ¼ cup chicken stock
1 cup cubed acorn squash
1 chopped green bell pepper
1 small chopped sweet onion
4-5 slices smoked bacon
Salt and pepper
Optional chopped jalapeno pepper
Combine the rice, stock and half the squash in a rice cooker, or in a sauce pan with a tight fitting lid, steam on low for 25 minutes. Cook the bacon in another pan until crispy, remove and set aside. Add the onion and bell pepper (jalapeño if you are including it) to the same pan and cook for 5 minutes. Add the squash and cook until tender. Remember to season as you go. Combine everything in a large sauté pan, add more olive oil if necessary. Combine and cook on medium hear for 3-4 minutes. Serve at once.