Saturday, November 7, 2009

Pumpkin time

Some of us are mildly in love with the pumpkin. In the last few weeks I have done a lot more with this beloved squash than carve jack-o-lanterns.
I have scooped out the top of tiny pumpkins to turn them into fun votives, I have made pumpkin ice cream, and tonight I made pumpkin butter. mmmmm pumpkin butter. Pumpkin butter is a lot like apple butter, but with pumpkin pie spices and pumpkin rather than apples. It tastes delicious spread on toast or pancakes, or even poured over vanilla ice cream.
Here's how you make it:

3 cups pumpkin puree
3/4 cup apple juice
1 1/4 cup brown sugar
2 Tbs maple syrup
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp cardamom
1/4 tsp cloves
1 tsp ginger

In a sauce pan combine all ingredients and mix well. Cook over low heat for at least 1 hour or until mixture is thick. Store in glass jars in the refrigerator for up to 1 month, or up to 6 months in the freezer. Feel free to adjust spices to your personal liking.
*The USDA does not recommend canning pumpkin puree products.

To make your own pumpkin puree, start with 2 sugar pumpkins. Cut the pumpkins in half and scoop out seeds. Place pumpkins face down in a roasting pan, cover roasting pan with foil, and bake at 350 for 1.5 to 2 hours, or until the flesh is very soft. When cool enough to handle, scoop flesh away from skin, and puree in a food processor until completely smooth.

Bolognese sauce: Kristen's tomatoes are now week night meals waiting in my freezer.

With a portion of my friend Kristen's 90 lb harvest in tow, I had to figure out something to do with all those tomatoes.
Bolognese is a hearty, yet decadent, meat and tomato sauce that I would never dream of making on a week night. It requires hours of chopping, browning, deglazing, and then simmering on the stove top. The good news, however, is that it is really easy to make in large batches, and then freeze into individual meal sized containers.
Now that we are in the cool wet season, nothing is better than coming home after a long day and having something hearty and warm on the table in 20 minutes. Bolognese is perfect for lasagna, but as a week night meal, I simply serve it with spaghetti.
Here's what to do to make Bolognese:

2 lbs ground meat (mixture of beef, veal, pork, lamb... your preference here)
2 28oz cans of whole peeled tomatoes or the equivalent of fresh peeled tomatoes
2 cups whole milk
2 cups dry white wine
4 large carrots diced
1-2 stalks celery diced
1 large onion diced
4 cloves garlic
1 hot pepper minced, or 1 tsp red chili flake
2 tsp dried thyme or 1 Tbs fresh
2 tsp dried oregano or 1 Tbs fresh
2 Tbs sun dried tomato paste
Salt and pepper to taste

In a large, heavy bottom pot brown the generously salted meat in batches, over medium high heat. Be careful not to turn the meat often as this will prevent it from developing a nice crust, and fond from developing on the bottom of the pot. Once all the meat is browned remove it with a slotted spoon and let rest in a medium sized bowl. Add carrots, onion, and cellery to pot, and cook over medium low heat. Once the onions start to become translucent add the chili pepper, garlic, thyme, and oregano stiring frequently so the garlic does not burn and bitter. After about 1 minute add the tomato paste, and mix. After about 1 more minute add the meat back to the pot and mix with vegetables.
Add the whole milk to the pot. This step really helps to tenderize the meat, so use this time to break up any large chunks of meat with your wooden spoon. Continue to simmer until the milk has reduced by more than half (it should look almost all gone).
Add the wine to the pot. This step helps to add acid, depth of flavor, and deglazes any fond (brown bits) that might be sticking to the bottom of the pot. Use your wooden spoon to scrape up any stubborn brown bits at this time. Brown bits=great flavor, so make sure to get them worked into the sauce. Once the wine has reduced by more than half, add the tomatoes. Either crush the tomatoes by squeezing them through your hand, or with the back of your spoon. Let sauce simmer for at least 1 hour, and up to 3 hours. Stirring occassionally to ensure that nothing sticks to the bottom of the pot. when finished, sauce should be thick and predominately meaty.