Picking Pumpkins

It’s that time of year again. The internets are ablaze in pumpkin and I am overjoyed at the bounty of fall. What you should know about me is that I’m a pumpkin fanatic. I’ll take it savory, I’ll take it sweet, I’ll eat it for breakfast, lunch, dinner and dessert. I squeal with joy when Starbucks whips out the pumpkin scones and the $5 pumpkin spice lattes.

I friggin love jack-o-lanterns.

There’s a local deli down the street from my apartment, in Lincoln Square, called Gene’s. I’m a big fan of Gene’s even though they have sides of beef literally hanging in the window. Gene’s is essentially a butcher shop, but they really try and preserve the old world style of service. They produce their own sausages, their own perogies, their own sauerkraut, and they even have a giant barrel of pickles near the deli counter that you can practically dive into. They are also known for their European imports, German brandy, Russian vodka, marmite. The layout is interesting for a grocery store. On the first floor they have their expansive deli, baked goods, cheeses and a tenny tiny produce stand. Then, there is a grand stairway that leads up to the second floor Valhalla of beer, wine, liquors, jams and pickles. For October, they have lined the stairway with giant, gorgeous pumpkins. It’s like the stairway to heaven.

However, giant, gorgeous pumpkins do not make for good eating.The flesh tends to be sparse, they are hollow and wood-y. If you want to cook with pumpkin you will want to pick up small, pie pumpkins. These little cuties are solid pumpkin, the flesh is sweet and creamy, and they cook up rather quickly. They are suited for making pies, but they are also fantastic for dinner recipes.

So, in honor of Fall, I have decided to share a dinner recipe for stuffed mini pumpkins.

Stuffed Pumpkins:
1-2 portobello mushrooms
large sprig of fresh sage (this is according to taste, I use about two tablespoons chopped)
1 large shallot – minced
1 Tbsp olive oil
chopped sausage to taste
1/2 cup shredded gruyére cheese
1/2 cup kale chopped

You can stuff about two small pumpkins with this amount of stuffing.
Pre-heat oven to 450. Cut off the tops of the pumpkins and core out the seeds. Place pumpkins in a shallow pan with an inch of water and cover with foil.
Let the pumpkins bake for about 15-20mins before preparing the filling. The pumpkins will take about 40 – 45 mins to cook through.

Cut the portobellos into small slices. In a pan, sautée the mushrooms in olive oil, add the shallots. Add the sausage and kale once the mushrooms have softened. Cook for about 5-10mins. The sage will go in last, right before you turn off the heat. Salt to taste.
When stuffing the pumpkins, layer filling with a small amount of cheese and top with the gruyére.

I'm ready for the winter


Imagine Whirled Peas

Pease porridge hot, pease porridge cold,
Pease porridge in the pot, nine days old;
Some like it hot, some like it cold,
Some like it in the pot, nine days old

I don’t know about you, but I’m exhausted.

Work has been crazy, since I am employed by a University and Fall brings new students, new faculty, and hundreds upon hundreds of new problems, I have been working most weekends, covering shifts and running around like a crazy person for the past four weeks. Which is why, right now, pea soup is my very best friend. So simple, so classic, so warming, and so easy that I can make a large batch on Sunday and not have to worry about dinner for the next week.

My father made a good pea soup, usually with leftover ham hocks. I no longer eat ham, but if I did, ham hocks would be the very last bit o’ animal protein that would pass my lips. Unlike my father, who was a decent cook and with who I have vivid memories of sharing laughs in the kitchen my mother was a complete culinary disaster waiting to happen. She took some pride in her ham hocks and beans recipe, which consisted merely of you guessed it, ham hocks and beans. How creative. She would get out her giant, unwieldy soup pot and cover the bottom with the beans (pinto, I might add) fill it with water and plop in two, leathery ham hocks. The end product usually looked like raw sewage and tasted like you would expect a pot of beans to taste after soaking in pork water for three to five hours. I kid you not there were actual bits of pig skin floating around the top with hair still attached. *shivers*

My father knew of my mother’s inferiority in the kitchen and I think he secretly wanted us to learn how to be better cooks. But he worked constantly and she was ultimately responsible for the unfortunate mountains of SPAM, potted meat and Velveeta cheese we ingested through most of the 80s and 90s, not to mention the buckets of Tang.*

However I do remember pea soup, my father’s recipe. I want to say that he got the recipe off of the actual package of peas, but let’s be honest, it isn’t brain surgery. That’s the beauty of pea soup. You take green split peas, a couple bay leaves, an onion, a couple potatoes, a carrot, salt and pepper (and if you’re everyone else ham, if you’re me smoked cumin will do) and you got a good thing. I remember the same huge soup pot, simmering slowly and filling the house with a delicious aroma. I remember sitting down to a steaming bowl with a hunk of french bread slathered in butter and I remember downing about four bowls, one right after the other, until my painfully distended stomach kept me from any further harm.

Humans have been eating some form of pea soup since the dawn of civilization. And why wouldn’t we? Rich in protein, low in fat and loaded with complex carbohydrates, peas are a filling, nutritious food.

Pea soup makes me feel warm and cozy. While it remains in the 70 degree range in the slowly fading October of Chicago, I am preparing for the long, cold, stubborn winter that awaits. So, on another busy, errand-laden Sunday afternoon, I decided to dust off my soup pot and get to work. I love the ease of peas (tee hee). Like most soups it only requires a little prep, a little pep and a few hours of slow cooking to turn a pot of water, spices and veg into pure bliss. Additionally, this soup is hearty and as mentioned, will feed you for an entire week. As someone who dutifully lugs my lunch to work with me every day, I cherish the kinds of recipes that stretch. This pea soup recipe is also easily frozen and keeps for several months.

1 16 oz bag of green split peas (sort out any shriveled peas, rocks or sticks and rinse thoroughly)
1 large yellow onion
2 carrots, cut as you like, I prefer rounds
2 medium sized potatoes, peels and diced
1 large stick of celery, chopped
3-4 bay leaves
1-2 cloves garlic
12 cups water or stock
2tbps olive oil (or butter)

Sautée the chopped onion and celery in the oil/butter until softened. Add the carrot and potato and allow to cook for a few minutes. Next add your split peas, spices and water. Bring to a boil. Cover and simmer for 1-2 hours.

That’s it.

Definitely good.
On another note, Oct 9 was John Lennon’s 70th birthday. I don’t know if he liked pea soup or not, but this one’s for him.

*I have to end this kitchen memory on somewhat of a sad note and confess that I have been estranged from my parents, off and on again for years. I won’t go into the nuances of our myriad arguments, suffice it to say that I am relieved we are no longer on speaking terms.