Sunday, October 22, 2006

Priming the Pumpkin

Who can think about October without imagining pumpkins? Whether you grew up in or near the countryside and close to farms with acres of orange-dotted fields and markets with giant pyramids of pumpkins, or you've always been a city dweller who saw jack-o'-lanterns on porches every year at this time, surely you know that you just can't have this month without this favorite squash.

Goodness knows I simply can't resist them myself. For the past few weeks, I've been buying one or two small pumpkins a week from the Gentleman Farmer, knowing that I would end up using the squash in my baking or cooking and being very satisfied with the results.

I don't usually make a pumpkin pie, mind you. Instead, I like to use the pumpkin puree in quick breads or cakes or cookies, and I also enjoy the cubed, steamed pumpkin in savory dishes like the squash sauté I served up to Phoenix and Mr. Nice Guy.

This year I found an article in Vegetarian Times that offered five different ways to eat pumpkin, and I'm slowly working my way through the lot. First up, I decided that the pumpkin gratin would be a simple, satisfying dish for a dreary Sunday evening.

Gratins are simplicity itself. Grease a casserole dish, layer in your prepared vegetables and other ingredients, pour liquid over the lot, and bake. How can you go wrong?

This particular recipe didn't call for a baking liquid, just plenty of olive oil. (Technically, I suppose you'd call this roasted pumpkin instead of a gratin, but I'm not usually that fussy.) It also required lots of garlic (I think I added 10 or 12 cloves) and fresh sage, both from the farmers' market.

After an hour of baking, I pulled out the dish and added bread crumbs (from the last white-wheat loaf of French bread I made last weekend) and shredded Gruyère cheese, then slid it back in to finish baking and to brown.

Simple and satisfying. And though I might tweak the proportions and add more herbs and flavoring the next time around, I know it will make a good lunchtime dish to keep me warm in the cold weather predicted for this coming week.

I still have three pumpkins left, so stay tuned to find out what else I decide to make.


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