Local chefs make use of bounty of fresh pumpkins
The temperature may still feel like summer, but it really is fall and that means it is time for pumpkins.
For those wanting to display or to cook with the big orange squash, Valley fruit stands, farmers markets and grocery stores have pumpkins aplenty.
At Simonian Farms at Clovis and Jensen avenues, you will find several varieties, including the pint-sized Sugar Pie, the squat-shaped Cinderella and the warty looking Knucklehead.
Stacey Grote, operations manager at Simonian Farms, says cooks ask for the Sugar Pie because it’s sweet-tasting, easy to scoop and purees well in a blender.
Many local chefs and restaurants are taking full advantage of fresh pumpkins to spice up their dishes.
At the Vintage Press Restaurant, 216 North Willis St. in Visalia, chef David Vartanian is making a restaurant favorite: roasted baby pumpkin with lemon butter sauce.
Vartanian has been making the item for more than 25 years. It’s a slightly smoky, spicy and rich-tasting dish.
“It is one of those things that people look forward to during the fall and winter months,” Vartanian says. “It has some wonderful flavors.”
Vartanian selects baby pumpkins and fills the insides with cheese, smoked chicken and hot chili sauce. And the pumpkin isn’t just for show. Once it’s stuffed and roasted, it can be eaten whole.
Steve Griffiths, who handles marketing for the Vintage Press, said it is one of his favorite seasonal dishes at the restaurant.
“I eat everything, but the stem on the top,” Griffiths says. “The outside has a nice, slightly crunchy texture and the inside is very moist.”
For some people, they can’t get enough of pumpkin flavored foods.
Maddie Travis, owner of Maddie Cakes Cupcake Bakery, features her pumpkin apple cupcakes all year long.
“It has become so popular for us that it has become one of our staples,” says Travis, whose store is at 2063 W. Bullard Ave., Fresno. “And its is one of my favorites, I just love those two flavors together.”
Local private chef Wendy Carroll prides herself on cooking with flair and creativity, but when it comes to using pumpkins she has two approaches. She’ll take the trouble of scooping out mini pumpkins when she wants a “show stopper” meal. But she also is comfortable using canned pumpkin for one of her favorite dishes: pumpkin cake.
“And the truth is I can spend a lot of time breaking down and roasting those pumpkins,” says Carroll, owner of seasonedtotaste.com. “But nothing seems to get the response that this cake gets, using canned pumpkin.”
Patio Cafe owner Robyn Richardson says that despite the warm weather, she has rolled out some of her seasonal favorite recipes, including pumpkin pancakes, pumpkin muffins, and a cake made with pumpkin, pear and toasted pecans. The Patio Cafe is in the Fig Garden Shopping Center at Shaw and Palm avenues in Fresno.
“On weekends, the pancakes are a big seller,” Richardson says. “It reminds people of fall and cooler weather.”
Roasted whole baby pumpkin with lemon butter sauce
6 baby pumpkins
8 ounces, smoked chicken
4 ounces, Jarlsberg cheese
2 tablespoons, hot chile sauce
1 onion, chopped
1 tablespoon, butter
6 ounces, heavy cream
1 tablespoon, chopped chives
Freshly ground salt and pepper
Carefully cut the top off each small pumpkin. Retain.
Discard the seeds and season the pumpkin with salt and pepper. Sauté butter and soften onion over medium heat.
In a bowl, combine chicken, cheese, cooked onion and chives. Season with salt, pepper and chile sauce.
Stuff pumpkins with chicken mixture and add one ounce of heavy cream per pumpkin.
Place the top on each pumpkin, cover with foil and roast at 350 degrees for 45 minutes.
Serve with one ounce of sauce.
Lemon butter sauce
2 diced shallots
1 cup white wine
1 ounce champagne vinegar
2 ounces heavy cream
6 ounces unsalted butter
Juice of one lemon
1 tablespoon chives
Freshly ground salt and pepper
Red and pink peppercorns
Simmer shallots, wine and vinegar into sauce pan, reducing by half.
Add heavy cream and reduce, adding butter as needed.
Season with salt, pepper and lemon juice.
Garnish with chives and peppercorns just before serving.
– Vintage Press Restaurant, Visalia
Everyone’s favorite pumpkin cake
2 boxes Duncan Hines yellow cake mix
1 1/2 cups unsalted butter, softened slightly
3 cups canned pumpkin
1 can sweetened condensed milk
6 large eggs
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon cloves
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 cup chopped toasted walnuts
Spread half a box of cake mix in the bottom of an 11 by 15 baking pan.
Using a hand mixer, beat pumpkin, condensed milk, eggs, sugar and spices. Pour over first layer and spread evenly.
In a medium bowl, use a fork or pastry cutter to blend one box of cake mix with butter. Mix in walnuts and sprinkle evenly over pumpkin batter. Bake at 350 degrees for 60-70 minutes until lightly browned and set.
Note: You will have half a box of cake mix left. Consider sprinkling powdered sugar over the cooled cake.
– Wendy Carroll, Seasoned to Taste
By Robert Rodriguez