One of my aims with this blog is to lower the fear factor surrounding “difficult” ingredients. Big, gnarly, hard-to-handle ingredients. This time of year is perfect for that kind of challenge. Because this is pumpkin season. One of my favorite foods. And one that people don’t usually think of eating because the thought of converting it from decoration to food strikes fear in their heart.
On a recent Sunday afternoon, my family and I headed to our favorite pumpkin seller. He’s our favorite because in addition to the usual assortment of jack-o-lantern pumpkins, he always has a few skids of unusual pumpkins. My kinda cucurbitas.
For some reason I’ll never understand, many people believe the only pumpkin worth eating is a “sugar” or “pie” pumpkin. And that the only way to eat it is in a pie. My experience has been that while some squash are certainly better than others, they’re all good eatin’ and in huge variety of preparations. So I decided to select a few particularly gnarly and difficult looking specimens to prove my point. One especially warted and misshapen specimen jumped out and said, “Pick me! Pick me!”. In addition to being ugly, I could tell from the rind that he was a little long in the tooth, too, which promised to make dismembering him a little more challenging.
I’m no pumpkin expert, so I don’t always know which varieties I’m buying, but this one I think is related to a Brode Galeux d’Eysines, which means “embroidered with warts from Eysines”, Eysines being a small town in southern France. See, all that time I spend in France is paying off! This pumpkin isn’t necessarily prized for its edibility, but it’ll do.
So what to do with our ‘kin? The fam is hungry.
Before we left for the patch, I started some Jasmine rice in the rice cooker, knowing that no matter what I decided to make out of a pumpkin, it would go well with rice. Squash and rice is just one of those classic combinations one encounters all around the world. Because we didn’t leave till 5:45, and got back around 6:45, I decided to make something that would be done by 7:30. Rice and squash bake it was, then. Also known as rice and squash pie, or rice bake, or any one of a half dozen monikers applied to this dish around the world.
I started in on the thing first by splitting it – my biggest chef knife was embedded into it and a few strikes on the counter had it in two pieces. Then remove seeds; years of trial-and-error have taught me that an ice cream scoop is the best tool for that job. Slice it into sections like an orange melon, then trim the rinds off the sections. Cut up the sections into cookable chunks and you are off to the races!
Once you have the squash prepped, it’s all downhill. Saute a chopped onion in some olive oil. Add the squash. Cook until just toothy (“al dente”), about 5-10 minutes.
Now mix the pumpkin with 5 or 6 cups of cooked rice. Add whatever herbs you like to taste (I used sage and parsley because it’s what I had fresh from the farmer’s market), then salt and pepper to taste. Then beat two eggs and stir them into the mix. The result is the picture below.
Now take that squash rice mix and spoon it into a couple buttered casseroles. That’s right, we’re making one for tonight and one for Wednesday night. Same amount of work, two nights of eating. Now raid the fridge for whatever hard cheese you have around. Grate about two cups and sprinkle a cup over each dish.
Bake at about 375 for maybe 20 minutes or until cheese starts to brown. If you get impatient, remember that everything was warm going into the oven, so you really don’t need too much baking time, then cheat by putting the dishes under the broiler to slightly brown the cheese.
Now just plate and serve.
Now for the stats:
I started the rice in the rice cooker before we left for the patch, so I would say 5 minutes prep, then one-hour unattended cook.
Ten minutes to dismember the pumpkin and butternut and reduce to saute size.
Ten minutes to saute.
Five minutes to toss together into casseroles.
20 minutes bake, unattended.
So about 30 minutes active prep/cooking time, about 1 hour 20 minutes start-to-finish before you can eat.
How about cost?
The pumpkin was $2. The little butternut was free from our garden, but if you had to buy it at a farmer’s market it would be $1. So $3 for squash.
About $0.50 for rice. That’s on the high side.
Add $0.50 for an onion, $0.25 for herbs, and $0.25 for Marco Polo (EVOO, etc).
The cheese was probably about $3 worth.
There was about $2 worth of rocket used in the salads, along with some Marco Polo already accounted above.
So total ingredient investment, $9.50.
These bakes fed our family of four twice, plus two lunches. That’s 10 meals. So 95 cents per meal. And it tasted great, and makes you feel great.
Can you eat well for less than a buck a meal on processed food??
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