Late one afternoon I needed to roast a small pumpkin to use in a batch of bread I’ll be making tomorrow. The recipe suggests using a sugar pie pumpkin, an heirloom variety with deeply orange flesh and a naturally sweet flavor. I was amazingly lucky to find not only that very pumpkin, but organic ones to boot. For one dollar and ninety-eight cents each. Each! This never happens to me. The very moment I go looking for one thing in particular, it instantly ceases to exist within a 50-mile radius and I’m left pacing through grocery stores wearing a frown and mumbling to myself, having to think harder than I expected.
So I got two. I only need about 9 ounces of pumpkin for the bread, but the little darlings were so pretty, and their size so manageable – about 10 inches around – that I just knew it would be a treasure to have some in the freezer.
In the meantime, dinner needed to be prepared, and since it was already late in the day, I started thinking how I could translate roasted pumpkin into one. The simpler the better.
1 small pumpkin (or any winter squash)
8 ounces vegetable stock
2 ounces California Olive Ranch extra-virgin olive oil
2 ounces goat cheese
Sea or kosher salt and pepper to taste
Pinch of red pepper flakes
Greens of 2 scallions for garnish, sliced 1/4″ thick
People ask me often if I miss California. There is certainly much about it that I miss. Proximity to my family, to the ocean, cheap avocados, abundant good produce in general, all come to mind. And good olive oil.
One of my favorites is from the California Olive Ranch. Located not far from where I used to live, they produce a bouquet of beautiful oils. When I first moved, I always knew that Christmas would bring a few bottles to rest beneath my tree. And wonder of wonders, one day I discovered their Extra Virgin Olive Oil For Everyday Meals in not one, but two local stores! Standing on busy street corners, waving a sign and bellowing into a megaphone would be a little over the top, even for me, but I do sing its praises to everyone I know so that it will continue to be available locally. It is fruity, with a fresh, “green” aroma, very affordable, and I recommend it highly. Obviously.
1. Preheat your oven to 400º. To roast a pumpkin, split it in half from top to bottom and scoop out the seeds. Lay the halves with the cut sides down on a baking sheet lined with parchment. Roast the pumpkin for 45 minutes to an hour, until it can be very easily pierced with a sharp knife. Remove from the oven, turn the cut sides up, and allow the pumpkin to cool until you can handle it comfortably.
2. Use a large spoon to scoop the pulp from the shells. If you wish, you can purée it in a blender or food processor, but it isn’t necessary. I didn’t. I set aside the amount I needed for the bread, and divided the remainder among some zip lock bags that I could lay flat in the freezer. And I kept about 1 cup-and-a-half for dinner.
3. Begin heating a pot of salted water (it should taste like the ocean). The sauce comes together literally in a matter of minutes, so begin cooking your favorite pasta at the same time you start the sauce.
4. In a saucepan, bring the vegetable stock to a simmer. Add the squash and stir to blend. Stir in the olive oil. Its fruitiness is going to pair beautifully with the sweetness of the pumpkin. Crumble in the goat cheese with your fingers, and stir the sauce as it melts. Season to taste with salt and pepper and a pinch of red pepper flakes.
5. Cook the pasta for 2 minutes less than the package directions indicate. Set the pot right next to your pan of sauce, and use tongs to lift the pasta out of the water and drop it directly into the sauce. Use the tongs to shift the pasta around in the sauce, coating it generously. Simmer it for a couple of minutes.
6. Divide the pasta between bowls and garnish with the chopped scallions. The sauce is so sensuously silken that it doesn’t need additional cheese.
* When you go to their website, you’ll see that California Olive Ranch produces five different blends. The descriptions and suggested food pairings are very accurate. The Limited Reserve is only available by, well, reservation, for which orders can be placed now. Be sure to take a look at the Press page for some very interesting reading. In about a month, I’ll be receiving a package from my sister that will contain a bottle or two of their varieties I can’t find here. It’s so kind of her, and one of my favorite things about Christmas.