The Joy of Pumpkin: Pumpkin Stew
I grew up with every fall bringing a jack-o-lantern-sized beast of a pumpkin to the table full to overflowing with rich beef stew. And my mom always made her famous (and I mean famous — these things were legendary at our church) Bride’s Biscuits, which were fluffy but dense and roughly the size of dinner plates.
Since the Boyfriend and I aren’t big beef-eaters, the stew part of this recipe is a modified Brunswick stew (Virginia style) with chunks of chicken breast and a delightful succotash of vegetables. Feel free to use whatever you have lying around the house, or use the stew recipe of your choosing. As for the broth/sauce part of the stew, go crazybananas on seasonings. Use what appeals to you most. Taste and test various spices and cooking liquids until you find what delights and comforts you most.
olive oil and butter
1/2 sweet yellow onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 large chicken breast in 1.5-inch cubes
1 celery stalk, diced
1 large or 2 medium red potatoes, in 1/2 inch dice
handful baby carrots, chopped
half a can of corn
1 cup frozen (or canned) lima beans
half a can of stewed, diced tomatoes (or one cup chopped fresh tomatoes)
1 can chicken broth
1 can tomato soup (the just-add-water kind, no water added)
1 cup white wine
2 whole dried bay leaves
Fresh herbs (sage, rosemary, sweet basil, whatever)
Splashes of white wine vinegar and Worcestershire sauce
Cumin, coriander, cayenne, cinnamon, allspice, salt and pepper to taste
Freshly grated ginger to taste
Water, milk/cream, and/or flour as needed
Heat oil and butter — reasonable amounts of each. Saute onion and garlic over medium heat until transparent, adding spices from the bottom of the recipe as desired. Add celery, carrots, and potato, stirring occasionally until chicken is cooked.
Throw in the rest of the veggies, the cooking liquids, and the bay leaves, reduce heat to medium-low, and cover. Stir occasionally, tasting and adding seasonings, including the ginger, as desired. Leave the fresh rosemary/sage/etc. for the end of the process, though.
While the stew is stewing, cut round “lids” out of the pumpkins. Remove the lid and scrape out the seeds and pulp. Reserve the pumpkin seeds, if you want to toast and use them later. Rinse out the pumpkin shells, rub the outsides with olive oil, drop a ball of herbed butter inside, and bake them (sitting upright with lids on) in an oiled baking dish for a scant half hour (for small, individual pumpkins — 45 minutes for a large pumpkin).
Toward the end of the stewing part, start to work on the consistency. You’ll want a gravy-like texture, so carefully sprinkle in some flour a few pinches at a time, stirring constantly to guard against lumps. If it gets too thick, throw in some water, milk, or cream, taking care not to overheat after any dairy is added.
When the pumpkin flesh is tender, ladle in the stew and baked it all together for a further 15 minutes (reserve excess stew). Once you remove them from the oven, these bad boys need to sit for about a half hour, because they will hold the heat for-freaking-ever. This will give you ample time to assemble and bake your biscuits, without which pumpkin stew would be lonely and incomplete.
CAREFULLY transfer the whole pumpkin(s) to a serving dish or to dinner plates if using individual-sized pumpkins. The pumpkins will be heavy, and if you’re not careful, the flesh and skin might rupture. I recommend using multiple serving utensils and maybe even a steady, potholder-covered hand.
While eating (or serving) the stew, scoop out mounds of tender pumpkin flesh along with the stew itself. It’s friggin’ amazing.
After dinner, scoop any leftover pumpkin and reserved stew into a storage container; it’s awesome the next day, as are most stews. You’ll likely have a metric buttload of leftover pumpkin, even when the leftovers are taken care of; rinse off any remaining stew, and scoop out the rest of the baked pumpkin flesh. You’ll need it for all the other recipes later in the week!
Want more pumpkin? Check out my four other pumpkin-centric recipes, all original and all delicious!