Friday, November 17, 2006

Vegetarian Thanksgiving

The following is an article/recipe from Stephen Lee, the HerbMeister and was published in the Sept/Oct '01 issue of The Essential Herbal. With the big meal only a week off, I thought it would be a good time to post it.

Falling for Pumpkin...a Vegetable Love Story with a Fairy Tale Ending
Charlie Brown, long of comic strip fame, is still looking for his Great Pumpkin, but thankfully I've found mine. Forget all those giant squash - like the 163-pounder that won the blue ribbon at last year's Kentucky State Fair and even those well-scrutinized and hand-picked globes gathered by families for their youngsters artfully carved into scary Halloween faces. My pumpkin, indeed "the" pumpkin of choice for any knowledgeable cook, is the pie or sugar variety - small, succulent and tender, perfect for any recipe.
Pumpkins, a member of the gourd family along with watermelons and butternut squash, are so underutilized. The orange wonders are good for so much more than jack o'lanterns and those ubiquitous pies served at holiday time. Occasionally when making a beef stew, I'll simply substitute chunks of pared pumpkin for some or all of the potatoes called for in the recipe. Everyone loves the "gourmet" difference that exchange makes. One of my favorite methods is to simply steam chunks of pumpkin over two cups of vegetable broth. When the pumpkin is tender I press it through a ricer, mix in just enough of the vegetable broth to make a moist mash, season with a snip or two of fresh chives and use the results as a heart-healthy side dish suitable for most any meal.
Smart cooks choose pumpkins that are free from blemishes and heavy for their size...just a little over one and a half pounds is perfect. You can keep whole pumpkins for about a month at room temperature and about three months if refrigerated; however if you begin to use pumpkin the way I do you won't have to worry much about storing them - they'll be used up in a flash.
To help you take that leap into fun pumpkin cookery I'm offering one of my most favorite recipes. You might be tempted to reserve this effort for a special occasion, I have vegetarian friends who use it as their Thanksgiving dinner' but I encourage you to find the time (and soon) to put this tasty dish before your family and friends. You'll find the presentation magical and the results worthy of that fairy tale ending....
and they all ate happily ever after.

Cinderella's Lasagna in a Pumpkin Coach
10 6" diameter pumpkins - pie or sugar
2 c. vegetable broth
1/4 c butter, unsalted
1 large onion, yellow - sliced thin
2 T Tarragon, fresh - minced
1 T brown sugar, dark
2 c toasted almonds, chopped fine
2 t kosher salt
1 t freshly ground white pepper
24 5"x5" pasta sheets, fresh OR equivalent lasagna noodles
1 c. dry bread crumbs
1 c. Parmesan cheese - freshly grated
1 c Ricotta cheese

Cut tops off pumpkins and reserve. Scrape and discard the seeds and strings from the pumpkin interiors. Place pumpkins with tops laying aside on a greased, parchment-lined baking sheet and roast in a 350 degree F. oven for about 1 hour, just until the pumpkin meat becomes tender. Remove pumpkins from the oven and let rest until cool enough to handle.

Remove all the pumpkin meat from 4 of the pumpkins, reserving to a bowl and discarding the shells. Remove and reserve most of the meat from the remaining pumpkins leaving just enough to allow the pumpkins to hold their shape. Puree the pumpkin meat in a food processor with the vegetable broth and reserve.

Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium-high heat, add the onions and cook for 3 minutes, then add the tarragon and brown sugar, and cook for 2 minutes more, stirring occasionally. Add the pumpkin puree, mix well, and bring to a boil. Remove from heat; add the almonds and season with salt and pepper.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil, add pasta sheets or lasagna noodles and cook just until al dente. Drain and put a little of the pumpkin sauce over the pasta to keep them from sticking together.

To assemble: Place a pasta sheet into the bottom of each pumpkin, cover with a few spoons of the sauce, and a sprinkling of the bread crumbs and Parmesan cheese. Top with a little of the Ricotta cheese. Continue with this layering in the same fashion, finishing with a top of Ricotta cheese. Choose the 6 nicest roasted pumpkin tops and place one back onto each pumpkin, discarding the rest.
Place pumpkins onto a lightly greased, parchment-lined baking sheet and bake in a preheated 350 degree F. oven for 20 minutes.
Remove the pumpkins from the oven and allow to sit for 10 minutes. Serve warm.

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