- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 28, 2003

PORTLAND, Ore. - Anne Cuggino, chef of the Veritable Quandary restaurant, focuses on cooking with local, sustainable ingredients — and right now that means pumpkins.

She uses squashes and pumpkins as mainstays of fall menus, and the local farmers market is full of them. For Miss Cuggino, that’s convincing evidence that autumn has really arrived.

“When pumpkins start turning, it’s the first sign of the harvest season,” she says. “For cooks that means changing your entire menu, so it’s an exciting time. Just like tomatoes and corn define a restaurant menu in summer, pumpkins are the foundation of a seasonal-based menu in the fall.”

Miss Cuggino makes regular trips to the market to see what varieties of pumpkin and squash are ripening and lets the produce inspire her dishes.

“I think it’s kind of a European philosophy of cooking,” she says. “I really enjoy going to the farm, seeing all these crazy-looking pumpkins, then cooking them, tasting them and figuring out what dishes they will work best with.”

Miss Cuggino, 34, grew up in Green Lawn on Long Island, N.Y., and arrived at her present job by way of the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park., N.Y., and after working at a variety of restaurants around the country. She has been at the Veritable Quandary since 1995.

To make the most of pumpkins’ versatility, Miss Cuggino has put together a 4-course meal with pumpkins used creatively in each course. [The salad course, which is omitted, contains pumpkin flowers, now out of season. Substitute a favorite salad.]

There’s a first course of seared sea scallops; a salad of pumpkin flowers, a main dish of quail, and what Miss Cuggino calls “Real Pumpkin Pie.”

All recipes except the pie make 2 servings, so cooks may wish to adjust quantities for the first three dishes according to the number of diners.

FIRST COURSE

The seared scallop dish includes a tasty romesco sauce, which often includes almonds. “Replacing the traditional ground almonds with ground pepitas (pumpkin seeds) gives this romesco a seasonal twist,” Miss Cuggino says.

Seared sea scallops with puree of pumpkin and green apple, pepita romesco and crispy pumpkin frites

PEPITA ROMESCO:

4 red bell peppers, cut very fine julienne

3 medium onions, cut very fine julienne

1/4 cup olive oil

⅓ cup minced garlic

11/2 tablespoons smoked paprika (see note)

1 teaspoon cayenne

⅓ cup toasted ground pepitas (if you can’t find pumpkin seeds, use almonds)

11/2 teaspoons cumin

Salt and pepper to taste

To make the romesco: Cook peppers and onions in olive oil over medium heat until very soft, about 20 minutes. Add garlic, paprika and cayenne, and cook for another 10 minutes. Add ground pepitas, cumin, and salt and pepper to taste; cook for 5 minutes.

PUMPKIN AND GREEN APPLE PUREE:

2 cups diced pumpkin

1 green apple, peeled, cored and chopped

2 tablespoons butter, softened

1/2 tablespoon honey

Salt and pepper to taste

To make the puree: In a saucepan with water to cover, boil the pumpkin and apple together until cooked through (test with a fork), about 20 minutes. Puree the mixture with the butter and honey in food processor or by hand. Add salt and pepper to taste.

PUMPKIN FRITES:

1 Kabocha pumpkin (or other dense-fleshed pumpkin)

Canola oil

Salt and pepper to taste

To make the frites (fries): Peel pumpkin and julienne until you have about 1 cup (use a mandoline if you have one). Fry the pumpkin in hot canola oil (350 F) about 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Drain off excess oil into a paper towel.

SEA SCALLOPS:

4 large sea scallops

Salt and pepper to taste

1 tablespoon butter

Pumpkin seed oil for garnish (if unavailable, olive oil is a good substitute)

To make the scallops: Season scallops to taste with salt and pepper. Sear scallops in a very hot pan at high heat with a little butter until brown and crisp on both sides (about 2 minutes per side). Be careful not to overcook the scallops; they should be slightly opaque in the center.

Place 2 scallops per serving on a bed of the pumpkin and apple puree. Top each scallop with 1/2 tablespoon of romesco and about 1 tablespoon of the frites. Finish with a drizzle of pumpkin seed oil. Makes 2 servings.

Note: Smoked paprika is available in some supermarkets, especially in Spanish-Latin food sections; you may substitute regular paprika if you cannot find smoked. Leftover romesco sauce can be used to accompany most meats and fish.

MAIN COURSE

Miss Cuggino likes quail as an option for her roast dish, because “quail is very rich in flavor, and I think it pairs very well with the smoke and spiciness of the chorizo.” The chorizo saute is a hearty side that would also go very well with chicken.

Sage-roasted quail on a saute of chorizo, pumpkin and Swiss chard

1 Red Kuri or Kabocha pumpkin, peeled and diced into 1/2-inch chunks, about 1 cup (see note)

A few sprigs of fresh thyme

Olive oil

1/4 cup finely sliced shallot

1/2 stick butter (31/2 ounces)

1/2 cup crumbled chorizo sausage

2 cups (about half a bunch, or 10 ounces) Swiss chard, preferably red chard, blanched for 2 minutes, chopped

3/4 cup chicken stock

4 semiboned quail (6 to 8 ounces each), or 2 chicken breasts with leg attached

1 tablespoon fresh chopped sage

Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Roast pumpkin chunks in a pan with fresh thyme and a little olive oil at 400 degrees until soft and caramelized, about 1/2 hour. Saute shallots in 1 tablespoon butter. Add chorizo and cook briefly. Add roast pumpkin and Swiss chard and saute briefly, about 5 minutes.

Add chicken stock and remaining butter, season with salt and pepper. Simmer uncovered for about 5 minutes until the stock has reduced to a nice saucy consistency, slightly viscous.

Rub the quail all over with sage, salt and pepper, and place remaining seasoning in body cavity. Quickly brown quail on all sides in a little oil in a skillet over medium heat. Place skillet in center rack of the oven with quail breast-sides up and roast for 8 to 10 minutes. Check for doneness by inserting a fork into the leg; the juices should run clear. Remove quail from oven and serve atop pumpkin saute. Makes 2 servings.

Note: Red Kuri is a Japanese variety of pumpkin, with a beautiful, deep-orange color, good flavor and semidry flesh.

DESSERT

For her real pumpkin pie, Miss Cuggino likes a butter crust. “I like the richness of flavor, and the crust will be sturdy enough to hold a wet filling,” she says.

Real pumpkin pie

CRUMBLY TOPPING:

1 cup chopped pecans

1/2 cup, 1 stick, butter, cold

2 tablespoons minced candied ginger

3 tablespoons flour

⅓ cup brown sugar

Rub all ingredients together with your fingertips, to combine into crumbly mixture.

FILLING:

2 cups pureed, cooked pumpkin (see note)

2 cups heavy cream

1/4 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

⅛ teaspoon ground clove

3 eggs

11/2 ounces bourbon

Prebaked 9-inch deep-dish pie shell (see note)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl. Pour filling into a prebaked, homemade 9-inch pie shell (use your favorite pie-crust recipe). Bake at 350 degrees for about 1 hour. Top with crumb mixture and bake for a further 45 minutes, or until set in center. Allowing the pie to cool overnight before serving will enhance the flavor. Makes 8 to 12 servings.

Note: To make pureed, cooked pumpkin: Cut pumpkin in half horizontally and place in a roasting pan in 1/4 inch of water. Cover with foil and bake at 400 degrees until tender — time will vary with pumpkin size and variety. Puree in a food processor. For the pie container, Miss Cuggino says that a standard 9-inch pie dish will work fine but that a deep pie dish will work better, as the filling is plentiful.

ASSOCIATED PRESS


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