22 November, 2014

Tastes Like... Calabaza

Last year I wrote about how to cook and puree a pumpkin for making pies, muffins and soups.  This year when we ordered Calabaza from the produce stand we really had no idea what we would get.  The literal translation of Calabaza is Squash.  

In English we usually refer to the different squash by their common names; pumpkin, zucchini, crook neck...  So my Calabazas arrived and I was pleasantly surprised when I discovered that they looked similar to what I call Baking Pumpkins, just more colorful.  
I asked the produce owner and they told me these are known as Calabazas de Castilla (Castle Pumpkins) which according to my Google search is a rare heirloom variety.  How blessed we are to live in Mexico where heirloom varieties are still honored and regularly used on the farm!  One blogger was boasting her success in reviving this variety and selling seeds at an astonishingly high price... sure wish I had Googled before I cooked!

With Thanksgiving coming up I tucked right into these pumpkins as usual.  But the Chef was hogging working in the kitchen, so I set up on the island and scooped all the seeds and pumpkin guts into a separate container for space saving purposes and speed.  You see when the Chef is in the kitchen and I want to cook I tend to try to work small and quick...as if he will not notice my pumpkins taking over his whole oven... I never said it was logical!  

I had to lob off the pointy tops of the pumpkins to make them fit in the oven, that is when the Chef turned around.  He asked if I was going to use the tops.  I hesitated...thinking of roasted pumpkin seeds and cubing the tops for a savory dish...TOO LATE!  The Chef had commissioned my guts, seeds and tops and before I could yell WAIT A MINUTE he had slopped all of it into a large pot and was dumping a couple liters of milk over the top.  To that he added a small stick of Cinnamon and a good size chunk of Piloncillo.

I ended up with a gallon of the most pumpkin-ey smelling puree I think I have ever made.  These pumpkins cooked so nicely, the inside just scooped out with a spoon and the puree blended to a nice velvety consistency.  Satisfied I tucked it into the fridge, ready for pies, muffins and soups for Thanksgiving.  Meanwhile the Chefs goopey looking concoction was smelling so good I could just die!  The smells wafted through all three stories of the house and there was no getting away from the intoxicating wisps of pumpkin. Not able to handle another second, I snuck downstairs to stick my finger in the pot.  I had NO IDEA that the Pumpkin Guts were of any use.  But Mexicans are not ones to waste and the Chef was following a recipe taught to him by his grandmother, and she never wasted ANYTHING!  The flavor!!!  It was so intensely pumpkin.  It had 20 times the flavor of my puree, a nuttyness from the seeds, just the right amount of warmth from the cinnamon but not the tell tale Pie Spice mix, very subtle.  Piloncillo has its own unique flavor that makes all warm beverages sing.  It was absolutely divine, although it still looked kind of pumpkin gut-ish and gross. I drowned my tears of so many years of lost pumpkin guts in the glorious pumpkin gut broth and slinked back to my room without being caught. 

After a couple hours simmering on the stove, the chef used the widest pasta strainer we had and basically just removed the seeds from the guts.  He pureed the milk and gut mixture, then spooned in the meat from the tops. I grabbed an espresso cup and tucked in when he was not looking. The flavors where stronger than pumpkin pie, but like drinking a warm cup of Pumpkin Pie filling (sans eggs).  It was absolutely delightful!  Like nothing I had every tried before, but never wanted to stop trying.  The Chef had made an ancient version of Dulce de Calabaza.  We picked the seeds out of their soggy shell, spread them on a pan and toasted them in the oven.  I may be the only person that did not know that you are supposed to peel and eat pumpkin seeds like you would sunflower seeds.  I always just ate the whole fibrous mess... I have been lead so far astray!  In Spanish they are called Pepitas and you can find them peeled on nearly every street corner.  I am told they are good for you... lots of zinc and the like.  I think they are simply glorious snacks, period.

Now there are endless things you can do with this Pumpkin Gut Puree.  And so, like all passed down recipes, this is not a recipe at all.  Simply an idea that I challenge you to explore.

Seeds and Pumpkin Guts
Chunks of Pumpkin (skin and all) optional
Milk (equal parts pumpkin guts and milk)
Small Cinnamon Stick
Piloncillo or Brown Sugar

Simmer in a large pot until the milk has reduced.
Separate the Pumpkin guts and Pumpkin from the seeds. Remove Cinnamon Stick
Puree. Peel the chunks of pumpkin and spoon into the finished puree.  It gives a nice texture and is fun when you find a nice chunk in your dessert.
Peel the pumpkin seeds and toast or fry if desired.

Serving Options:
Serve warm in a mug dolloped with Whip Cream sprinkle toasted seeds on top.
Make a mouse (gelatin version or simply fold into slightly sweetened whipping cream)
Add a few heaping spoon fulls to your coffee in the morning
Panna Cotta
Ice Cream... Anything but Pie, please!

Comment below if you make something with the pumpkin guts.  I would love to hear what you come up with!
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