Thursday, December 20, 2007

Christmas goodies: Knock-their-socks-off Pumpkin (or squash) Pie

The frustration for a gardener who has grown some lovely pumpkins or squash for eating is this: you go to the recipe book to find a good recipe for your pumpkins, and what does the recipe call for? "1 can of pumpkin." True, that's the usual form of pumpkin that most Americans are familiar with, but there's nary a suggestion of how much pumpkin comes in one can. One wonders how it came about that pumpkin for eating comes only in a can, while the real things, the orange globes that appear in the stores in the fall, are only for carving. Squash, when it's thought of at all, is more likely to come frozen in a plastic bag that as a whole squash.

So for gardeners or farmer's market buyers, here's my secret recipe for pumpkin pie, which can also be made with squash (which, after all, is really what's in those cans labeled "pumpkin").

When the in-laws are coming over, or you have special guests, or you're trying to butter up the entire office at the annual Christmas party, try serving up this pie. The special spice mix and the vanilla make it yummy enough, but the secret sock-knocking-off ingredient is the rum extract. If you can find real, genuine cinnamon, you're in for an even nicer treat. The stuff sold in the U.S. as "cinnamon" is actually cassia bark, which is cheaper but coarser and has more of a bite. You have to find a specialty spice shop such as Penzeys to find real cinnamon. I haven't yet experimented with using fresh ginger instead of ground, but I may have to try that sometime. To be really genuine, you can use cream instead of canned evaporated milk, but I don't think my arteries would forgive me for that even if my mouth would be in heaven.

First, of course, you have to have some cooked pumpkin or squash. I used butternut squash grown on a local farm for this pie. I grew up hating squash because all I'd ever tried was acorn squash from the grocery store that my mother used to cook with brown sugar, which never did hide the bitterness. Then I tasted butternut. What a revelation. Mellow, sweet, almost as nice as a sweet potato. To cook a butternut squash, I cut it in half lengthwise, remove the seeds, brush with olive oil, and roast cut-side-up at 325 degrees for about an hour. I scoop out the flesh, mash it, and whatever I don't need for the recipe I'm using I freeze in 1 cup portions in plastic bags. If you press the bags flat, they freeze and thaw quickly.

Knock-their-socks-off Pumpkin or Squash Pie

Mix together:
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1/4 teaspoon allspice

Set the sugar and spice mixture aside.

In a blender, put:
2 cups cooked pumpkin or squash
1 can of evaporated milk (regular or nonfat)
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
3/4 teaspoon rum extract

Blend until smooth.
Slowly add the sugar and spice mix and blend together.

Pour into a prepared pie shell (regular pie crust, graham cracker crust, or whatever your heart desires). I use a deep-dish 12-inch pie pan to hold all this filling. It will also fill two 8-inch pie pans. Sprinkle the top with nutmeg if you like. Bake at 425 degrees for 15 minutes, then turn the oven down to 350 degrees and bake another 40 minutes. The middle will puff up and will still be wobbly when done, but a knife or toothpick inserted in the pie should come out clean. Let cool about 2 hours before cutting. Refrigerate once it has cooled.

Serve with whipped cream. My husband insists on naked pumpkin pie, but I learned better when I was growing up.

Pumpkin pie. Fully dressed. On Grandma's vintage china. Mmm-mmm!

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