Wednesday, November 02, 2011

the thin season

Halloween, and the skin between the worlds is stretched as thin as a mosquito’s ... oh, I can’t say that in the paper. Take my word for it, it’s thin. So thin that you wouldn’t, for instance, want to take a paddle in a canoe on a glassine lake for fear of not knowing if the trees towering overhead were reflected in the water or the water in the trees.

Not that you’d want to take a paddle right now. It’s good, I suppose, that the leaves came off those trees before the snow came onto them. Yes, very good. And it’s good that we had the last rather subdued but nonetheless joyful Farmers’ Market out in depot park before we have the first – coming up this Saturday – of the cold season back in the medieval cave of the theater through the Co-op on Wales Street in Rutland.

Greg Cox of Boardman Hill Farm embraces Mother Nature at the last outdoor Farmers' Market of the year in Depot Park.
Mother was designed and constructed by artist, Grace Brigham, who hides under Mother's skirt.

People were complaining last Saturday that they weren’t inside out of the elements; and no doubt this coming Saturday will be so gorgeous that everyone will complain that they aren’t outside at Depot Park. Charlie Brown will be there, though, outside, jolly and plaid and sharp as a tack, selling his apples and cider and doughnuts to the faithful. He won’t come inside until the slice of daylight is so thin that even he capitulates.

There will be a few others out there, too, and I wish they would just relent and come inside the theater when the weather gets too bad. But no, they’ll probably decide to do their “own” farmers’ market instead of uniting with the other farmers in the theater. Which is a drag. It’s as if they never heard of the old saw, United We Stand; Divided We Fall, which is doubly true for farmers – stick together guys and gals::: You’re an endangered species, and we need you! Each and Every One.

It’s good the Winter Market will benefit the Rutland Area Food Co-op again this year – they’re two integral links in a healthy food chain. The Winter Market has brought immense numbers of potential customers into the Co-op each winter. Never mind that while the Farmers’ Market is cool and colorful and copacetic, and just makes you want to dance and eat at the same time, the Co-op is a little more... staid might be the word. Not quite as colorful. Of course there are wonderful people there, and I like to stop by and chat with Peter and Leah and Laura, among others. I’m sooo glad they continue to lend their hard work and personality to it  Stop by. The Co-op needs our support – our  laughter and even irreverence. One of the best ways of supporting it is to make our presence known as owners. And the way to be an owner is to be a member: That costs, last time I looked, $10 per year for an individual and $20 for a family.
Now for pumpkins, which are skeery things this time of year. You know those tiny pumpkins, about 4 inches in diameter? I’ve seeded them and par-baked them, and then poured a savory custard mixture into them, flavored with garlic and a little bit of nutmeg, and baked them until the custard was set. I believe I scattered some big orange grains of  salmon roe over them. They were outstanding!

The other night, though, Three Tomatoes stuffed baked ones with a risotto, nestling 3 large shrimp into the risotto, and scattering the whole with roasted pumpkin seeds. It was billed as an appetizer special, but it was my entrée. I didn’t know if I was in heaven or the nice dining room of Three Tomatoes. There’s that thin place again. It grew even thinner when, afterwards, we heard Jennifer Johnson Cano sing mezzo and soprano on the Paramount stage. Marvelous. I staggered out of there quite high on her wonderful voice.
Tiny Pumpkins stuffed with risotto, with shrimp and roasted pumpkin seeds was a highlight at Three Tomatoes on Friday night

I’ve written about Carol Field’s Pumpkin Risotto before. It’s one of my favorite dishes to make in this season. If you were to obtain say four of those aforementioned tiny pumpkins, some pumpkin seeds* which you then roasted in a little oil with garlic, and a pound of medium shrimp that you would simply steam in the shell before cleaning them, you could combine these elements into the cunning and delicious dish of which I spoke.
For the pumpkins: Cut the tops off as though you were making jack o’lanterns and clean out the seeds. If you have a serrated grapefruit spoon, use that to make short shrift of the cleaning. Bake the pumpkins upside down on a cookie sheet in a 375° oven  until the inside is tender, about 25 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the risotto. Note that pumpkin is a squash, and I have more often than not used a butternut squash in place of the pumpkin in this recipe:

Riso e Zucca: Pumpkin Risotto
Creamy Pumpkin-flavored Rice
From Carol Field’s Celebrating Italy

6 servings

•    1 pound minus 2 ounces uncooked pumpkin or butternut squash, seeded
•    ¾ cup minus 1 tablespoon (5 ounces) Arborio rice
•    2 cups chicken broth
•    4 tablespoons (2 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
•    ½ cup (1 ¾ ounces) freshly grated Parmesan cheese
•    Salt and pepper to taste

Cut the pumpkin or squash in thick slices and cook in boiling salted water until a knife pierces the flesh easily. Drain, peel, and cut into small dice. Put the rice, diced squash, and cold broth in a pan. Bring to a boil, cover, and cook until the rice has absorbed the broth, about 15 minutes. Remove from the heat, stir in the butter and cheese, and serve immediately.

To serve, stuff the pumpkins artfully with the risotto and allow some to overlap onto the plate. Nestle 3 or 4 shrimp into the risotto and sprinkle with the roasted pumpkin seeds. Serve on fall greens, such as arugula.
If you are going to fill the little pumpkins with the custard, which needs to be baked, itself, you want to just par-bake the pumpkins for, say 15 minutes, until just beginning to be tender.
Prepare the 4 small pumpkins (prepped as above and baked 15 minutes), and fill them, while still hot, with:

Garlic Custard
•    1 ¾ cups whole milk
•    ½ cup heavy cream
•    2 or 3 cloves of garlic
•    1 teaspoon salt
•    freshly ground white pepper
•    2 whole eggs
•    2 egg yolks
•    nutmeg
•    caviar (optional)
Very carefully and slowly heat the milk and cream until bubbles begin to form around the edges of the pan.  Turn the heat off but leave the pan on the burner. Grate the garlic into the milk and let the mixture cool until warm.
Whisk the eggs and yolks together gently until well combined – the strands are broken down  but the mixture is not frothy. Whisk the scalded and cooled milk into the eggs, add the salt and pepper to taste, pour into the hot pumpkins and grind (a microplane works great for this) some nutmeg over the tops.
Bake at 300° until the custard is set, about 30 minutes. Check at 20 minutes by sliding a silver knife into the center. The mixture should be almost set, as it will continue to set when taken from the oven.
This, also could be strewn with caviar or pumpkin seeds.

*About pumpkin seeds: I can never understand how people can rave about frying up the pumpkin seeds they scoop out of the jack o’lantern.  They’re tough, no matter how much garlic and oil you fry them in. And stringy. And inedible. Unless you’re one of those people, buy the raw pumpkin seeds at the co-op and have your way with them. They’re an entirely different kind of seed.

Here’s wishing you a wonderful thin season, Dear Reader. Be very observant of the edges!

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