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Thursday, October 27, 2011

All Pumpkins Great and small

Fall's iconic orange pumpkin takes us gastronomically and ornamentally from Halloween through Thanksgiving.  Botanically a fruit, in the same family as squash and gourds, millions of pumpkins planted in the warmth of July are now ready for us to have our way with them.

California is one of the top pumpkin producing states in the U.S., and in Half Moon Bay up the coast, the annual Art & Pumpkin Festival draws over 250,000 visitors.  Farmers and other competitive food cultivators from near and far compete for bragging rights, and this year's winning orb weighed in at 1,704 pounds.

Another way that sizes matters is that small pumpkins are best for cooking and larger pumpkins are best for carving.  Baked, steamed, boiled, broiled, roasted, or mashed, the mild, slightly sweet pumpkin flesh is a tasty addition to puddings, muffins, soups, stews, cookies, cheesecakes, and of course pie.  To make a puree, cut the pumpkin open, remove the fibrous strings and seeds (set these aside to roast), cut the pumpkin into 4-8 pieces and place on a baking pan lined with foil.  Bake at 375 degrees for 1-1 1/2 hours until the flesh is soft, then allow to cool until the flesh can easily be scooped from the rind and then process until smooth.

One of my favorite seasonal recipes is for Pumpkin and Sage Gnocchi and I'm sharing a version of it with you here.  I cannot tell a lie - I was too lazy to make my own pumpkin puree, and my local grocery store was out of canned pumpkin, so I used a box of frozen butternut squash, and if I hadn't confessed that fact no one would have been able to tell the difference. 

Fresh Pumpkin or Frozen Butternut Squash and Sage Gnocchi
1 lb. ricotta cheese
8 oz. pumpkin or butternut squash puree
2 Tbsp. maple syrup
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh sage
1 Tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
2 eggs
2 tsp. sea salt
2 pinches fresh ground black pepper
3 cups all-purpose or white whole wheat flour
4 Tbsp. olive oil
2 Tbsp. earth balance or butter
1 extra Tbsp. chopped fresh sage
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup toasted pepitas

In a medium sized bowl combine the ricotta, pumpkin (oops I mean butternut squash), maple syrup, sage, parsley, eggs, salt and pepper, and blend together.

Put the flour in a separate bowl, create a well in the center, and fill it with the liquid mixture.  Fold together until a dough is formed - if slightly sticky add a bit more flour.

Take an amount of dough about the size of a tennis ball and using both hands roll the ball out into a cylinder shape about 3/4" in diameter.  With a sharp knife but the cylinder into 1" pieces, imprint 1 side with the back of a fork, set aside the finished gnocchi, and repeat with the remaining dough.  Stage the gnocchi on a parchment lined baking sheet lightly dusted with flour and keep covered until ready for cooking.

Fill a large pot with water, add a pinch or 2 of salt, and bring to a boil.  Add 15-20 gnocchi into the water and remove after the gnocchi float to the top.  Remove them from the boiling water and repeat until all the gnocchi are cooked. 

Heat the olive oil and butter in a saute pan, adding the additional fresh sage, then enough gnocchi to fill the pan.  Saute until the gnocchi are lightly browned, season with additional s&p, divide onto plates, sprinkle with the Parmesan and pepitas, and serve.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Buddha's Hand - You Had Me At Longevity

One of the coolest things about working for the greatest produce company in the world ( is that my culinary creativity is constantly challenged to come up with delicious, unique ways to use some of Mother Nature's most extraordinary fruits and vegetables. 

A fairly new item is Green Buddha's Hand, sibling to the Yellow Buddha's Hand which has been seen in these parts for a few years now.  Originally from northeastern India and carried by Buddhist Monks to China, this remarkable looking and unbelievably fragrant fruit now also grows right here in coastal California.

Don't let the gnarly "fingers" scare you off from this most unusual fruit.  While this is definitely not your mama's citron - no actual fruit or juice inside - it's the amazing zest and peel that is used in baking, flavoring spirits, and pretty much added to anything where a citrus-flavor and scent would be welcome, that makes this fruit so highly treasured..

Buddha's Hand offers not only wonderful flavor and fragrance, but it's prized in many cultures as a symbol of good fortune, prosperity, happiness, and longevity.  Lots of reasons to get out some bottles and canning jars to whip up a couple of simple recipes to share some good fortune.

Two Hands - Two Recipes!

Buddha's Hand Vodka 
1 Buddha's Hand                                                   
medium sized glass bottles (about 12 oz. size)

Cut strips of the Buddha's Hand skin - some pith is fine because it's usually not bitter like lemons.
Put about 6-7 strips in each bottle, fill with vodka, then close up the bottles.
Store for at least 1 month in a cool, dark place.
Make these soon so they'll be ready for holiday gift giving.

Buddha's Hand Marmalade
(3 half-pint jars)
1 Buddha's Hand
4 cups water
3 cups sugar
juice of 1/2 a lemon

Dice the Buddha's hand skin and a little pith.  Place in a heavy pot with the water and let soak at least 1 hour.
Turn on the burner to high heat until the mixture is boiling.  Continue boiling for 30 minutes. 
Add the sugar and stir to dissolve.  Boil gently for an additional 45 minutes.
Add the lemon juice to the mixture and continue boiling another 10 minutes.
Fill sterilized jars with the mixtures, seal, and place in a water bath for 10 minutes.
Remove to your counter and let sit overnight. 
I'm thinking that I should have left more pith on the peel, or added some conventional citrus because the concoction is on the runny side so not so much the consistency for spreading on a scone.  But I know it will make a delicious glaze or syrup, and I can confirm it was delicious in my Earl Grey this morning.