Sunday, December 11, 2011
Last week, when drawing up the weekly dinner menu, I decided to make a pumpkin soup. Okay--I decided Karel should make a pumpkin soup. In the course of grocery shopping, then, I diligently bought a pumpkin, and put it in an obvious location, the basket where I keep the currently-in-use bread and stuff-that-should-be-at-room-temperature, like bananas and slowly-ripening kiwi.
At least, I thought it was obvious there. Somehow, when Tuesday night came around, Karel looked everywhere but the basket and decided that I'd forgotten to get the pumpkin and went out and procured two more. He used one for the soup, so on Saturday we still had two pumpkins floating around, twiddling their thumbs, waiting to be put to good use.
Now, I would be remiss if I didn't point out that Dutch pumpkins aren't like American pumpkins. Pompoenen are a lot smaller, for starters, and I believe they are of a different breed than their American counterparts. Besides being smaller and more deeply orange, they are also a bit sweeter. And nobody carves them up into jack-o-lanterns. Differences aside, though, you can pretty much treat them like any other gourd, which is to say "roast until tender, scoop out flesh, and enjoy". Dutch recipes, strangely enough (yet typically Dutch), call for the thing to be hacked apart and/or peeled, and then boiled. Newbies to the Netherlands and pompoenen in general should disregard any recipe advice that tells you to peel a gourd, and just hack it in half and pop it in a hot oven for about 30 minutes. Trust me when I say it's safer that way.
So on Saturday morning, as Karel was about to leave for work, I wondered aloud what to do with the pumpkins. "Maybe I'll try a pumpkin pie," I mused.
"I never had one. What is it?"
I may not be the most perfectly-integrated expat, but I certainly don't go about wishing for things like Thanksgiving and whining about missing fireworks on the Fourth of July. I don't bake apple pies (too much work, peeling all those apples) and I don't go about comparing Nijmegen to New York City. But somehow, Karel's confession that he'd NEVER HAD PUMPKIN PIE brought out a wave of Americana in me and I decided right then and there that he was going to get some. Well, as close to pumpkin pie as you can get with a Dutch pompoen, anyway. Never mind that I'd never made pumpkin pie before and never mind that I had no idea where to start, or even an idea of which recipe I wanted to use. Karel's gastronomic innocence with respect to one of America's finest traditions needed to be remedied, and damned if I would stand by and let him flounder in culinary darkness.
I didn't use a recipe, but trust me when I say making a pumpkin pie from scratch is so easy you almost don't need one. Roast the pumkin for 30-40 minutes, until the flesh is tender, and then scoop out the "guts" (seeds, stringy bits that hold the seeds in place). Separate your pound of flesh from the skin and set it aside. I did all this the night before, but there's no reason you can't do the next step as soon as the thing cools down enough not to cook the egg.
I used condensed milk, but you can also use cream--put the pumpkin and a bit of milk/cream (1/4 cup, thereabouts) into a food processor, and add an egg. Liquify everything--the consistency should be like that of a milkshake. If you need to, add more liquid. Add cinnamon, powdered ginger, nutmeg, allspice, cardamom, etc etc to taste. If you were an idiot like me and didn't make sure to get sweetened condensed milk, you can add a bit of sugar. I used dark brown sugar (~ 2 Tbsp) a bit of normal sugar (~ 1/4 cup)/
I go through the trouble to make pie crust, in part because the stuff sold in supermarkets is a bit too fluffy for my taste. Usually it goes off without a hitch, but as you can see from the overbaked bits, somehow I managed to flub it this time. Nevertheless, as the crust plays second fiddle to the divine filling, I decided to proceeed.
The end result was a velvety smooth hunk of delicious sitting in a decadently flaky crust, and every bit as delicious as I remember pumpkin pie to be--better, even, since it wasn't over-sweetened and you could actually taste the other stuff in it. I'm actually kind of hoping Karel will think it's not quite for him, because it'll leave more for me.