GHOST PUMPKIN RAGOUT
My idyllic vision was to make a dramatic presentation of a tasty, savory stew served inside a plump white pumpkin. I could even picture the dramatic moment I would lift the lid of the pumpkin, stand back, and let my dinner guests watch in amazement as the giant plume of steam rose up from the steaming stew.
After several experiments, I found it impossible to prevent the pumpkin from totally collapsing or half the stew from oozing out the bottom of the cooked pumpkin. Neither was a pretty site. I was glad I hadn’t experimented on guests.
It would have been a beautiful holiday dish and a magnificent presentation–would have–but—–
I tried the experiment about three times and just gave up in frustration! Yet, somehow I hoped to bring a rich, flavorful stew to the table that included scooping up some of that delicious, delicately sweet pumpkin flesh as I was spooning out the stew.
Ghost pumpkins, also called albino, Snowball, Casper, Lumina, Baby Boo, Cotton Candy Pumpkin, stand apart from the familiar orange jack-o-lanterns in many ways. Their flesh is considerably thicker and shows off a gorgeous hue of brilliant golden orange. The texture is pleasantly firm and delightfully moist.
The white pumpkin’s best-kept secret is its pleasantly sweet flavor, though not as sweet as butternut or kabocha, the Japanese pumpkin. White pumpkins are still less common than the jack-o-lanterns but are becoming more available at chain groceries and farm stands.
A perfect marriage, the white pumpkin is the ideal mate to enhance this celebratory ragout that needs little else to bring pleasure and satiety to a holiday meal.
To give this flavorful ragout its moment in the sun, I served it in a wide, shallow soup bowl and heaped the serving into the center. Serve the stew with plenty of hearty whole-grain bread to mop up any bits of delicious sauce that remains in the bowl.
GHOST PUMPKIN RAGOUT
Yield: 12 to 14 hearty servings
1 medium or large ghost pumpkin or 2 large butternut squashes
2 cups dry red wine
2 (6-ounce) cans tomato paste
1/2 cup low-sodium soy sauce
4 cloves garlic, crushed
2 sticks cinnamon
2 teaspoons dried thyme
2 bay leaves
3 medium carrots, angle sliced
2 to 3 medium leeks, white part only, cleaned and thickly sliced
1 pound baby white rose potatoes, scrubbed
1 large sweet onion, coarsely chopped
1/2 small cauliflower, chopped
2 small beets, diced
1/2 pound green beans, trimmed, cut into 1 1/2-inch lengths
1/2 pound button or cremini mushrooms, thickly sliced
Juice of 1 lemon, or to taste
1/4 cup natural sesame seeds
1 pound frozen peas, thawed and held at room temperature
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Wash the pumpkin and dry it. Using a firm paring knife, cut a 5 or 6-inch diameter hole in the top and gently lift it out by the stem. Use a large spoon to remove the seeds and stringy matter from the pumpkin. Set the seeds aside to roast separately. Place the pumpkin on a large rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment paper or aluminum foil. Bake for 50 to 60 minutes, or until soft when gently pressed, yet still firm.
- When the pumpkin is cool enough to handle, cut it into 2-inch chunks, peeling the skin as you go. Set the chunks aside.
- While the pumpkin is roasting, combine the water, red wine, tomato paste, soy sauce, garlic, cinnamon sticks, thyme, and bay leaves in a 12-quart stockpot.
- Add the carrots, leeks, yams, potatoes, onion, cauliflower, beets, green beans, mushrooms, and red lentils. Cover the stockpot and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer gently for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the vegetables are just softened.
- Before serving, add the lemon juice to taste and adjust seasonings, if needed.
- To serve, spoon some of the pumpkin pieces into wide soup bowls. Spoon the ragout over the pumpkin and sprinkle the top with sesame seeds. The finishing touch is a generous sprinkling of plump peas over the top.
Butternut squashes make the perfect stand-in if ghost pumpkin is unavailable. Bake them at 400 degrees F. til tender, about 50 to 60 minutes.
Don’t throw those pumpkin seeds away!
Clean the stringy flesh clinging to the seeds by rinsing them in a bowl of water. Put the seeds on a large rimmed baking sheet and sprinkle with 1 or 2 teaspoons of canola oil. Use your hands to mix the seeds and coat them with the oil. Sprinkle the tops lightly with salt and pepper and toss with a spatula. Put the pan in the oven and roast at 200 degrees for 8 to 10 hours. I let the seeds roast overnight.