Squash Possibilities

I’ve never been a fan of pumpkin carving. Sure, the jack’o’lanterns look great all lit up on halloween night, but the act of carving itself has too many points against it. #1. I was (am) an accident prone kid (person); add to this equation an unruly, thick-skinned vegetable, and a small plastic tool barely sharp enough to fell a blade of crabgrass, and the resulting scenario has a fairly good likelihood of bloodshed, and a guarantee of frustration. #2. With a highly artistic father, and an older sister who seems to have inherited the bulk of that talent, it always seemed best to leave the creative tasks to them, and focus my efforts on more important matters; namely, how many Reese’s peanut butter cups I could pilfer from the candy bowl before my mom caught on. #3. Too often, neighborhood hoodlums smashed our creations anyway, leaving smears of detritus and squash entrails as evidence of the massacre. Even if the jack’o’lanterns managed to escape this gruesome fate, a few days’ time would leave them shriveled anyway, their decrepit little faces and sunken, toothless mouths sad reminders of the holiday gone by. For all these reasons, plus the fact that I am now officially what I believe they call an “adult”, I found myself well into November this year with a perfectly good pumpkin on my hands.

Uncarved, of course. I pondered what to do with my bounty of unsullied orange flesh, snickering all the while at the poor fools whose snazzy carvings had long ago slumped into rotting piles on the front stoop. You can’t go wrong with a pumpkin pie, but without somewhere to bring the confection, I feared the worst: me, alone in the apartment, a fork, a pie…

Then I came across a handful of creative pumpkin recipes in the fall edition of Edible Boston, and saw my squash’s destiny. A recipe for pumpkin conserve opened with an explanation of the dish’s roots in Afghanistan, where it’s called Muraba-e-Kadu. I had eaten and consequently fallen in love with a dish called kaddo at an Afghani restaurant some time ago, and figured the two must be related. They both involved pumpkin, but the restaurant version topped the squash with yoghurt and a sauce of ground beef, while the recipe I came across was decidedly less savory, simmering chunks of the stuff in syrup laced with orange and cardamom. It sounded intriguing, and, more importantly, I had all the ingredients on hand.

I began by juicing and julienning the zest of five oranges—by far the most labor-intensive part of the process.

Next, I peeled and cubed the pumpkin. This part was sort of a pain, too, but only because the thing had all those damn grooves exactly the wrong shape and size for a peeler to glide easily over.

Then I removed the seeds from exactly 60 cardamom pods. Alright, this was no picnic, either, but it did leave my fingers with a lingering aroma of the exotic…

I combined the pumpkin, cardamom seeds, orange juice, and zest in a Dutch oven…

…added 3 cups of sugar, covered, and left it overnight, stirring a couple of times. The recipe calls for letting it sit in the refrigerator, but if you happen to have two roommates and one fridge, as I do, you know that clearing enough real estate for an 8-quart Le Creuset would be a feat of rearranging bordering on futile. Consequently, I put mine out on the back landing, but I’m quite sure it would be fine at room temp.

As it soaked, the pumpkin began to take on a slightly shriveled appearance as the moisture was drawn out. In the morning, I set the pot on to simmer for about an hour and a half with the top askew. Needless to say, the smell that filled the apartment was lovely—much more appealing than the stink of rotting jack’o’lanterns, that’s for sure.

You can tell it’s done when the pumpkin has taken on an amber-ish hue and turned slightly translucent. The liquid thickens into a beautiful syrup, and the chunks of squash have softened, but maintain their shape, and a slight, chewy bite. The cardamom flavor is intense, and the whole of it is very sweet—perfectly tempered by serving over tangy, thick greek yoghurt, or even fresh ricotta cheese. A sprinkling of cracked black pepper, and it’s good to go.

In the end, my pumpkin conserve may have been slightly more work than carving a face on the thing, but well worth the effort. And hey, it’s a whole lot healthier than sating yourself on peanut butter cups from the halloween stash, although, truth be told, I did that, too; some things never change.

Full recipe can be found at http://onlinedigeditions.com/publication/index.php?i=78610&m=&l=&p=27&pre=&ver=flex

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