Pumpkin, Pancetta and Sage Soup Cooked in a Pumpkin Shell

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My Own Pumpkin Patch

Sometimes I get inspiration for my recipes from nature; for instance, a sunset with brilliant colors may remind me of a special dessert. I was recently blessed with a new inspiration when I came upon the Pumpkin Patch in the Anza Borrego Desert in Southern California- lots of pumpkins but not the kind we are used to!

The Pumpkin Patch is an area with many spherical-shaped rocks, about the size of an average pumpkin. The sign tells us how these ‘pumpkins’ were made:

This unique landscape is the result of wind and water continuously eroding the surface soil and revealing these globular sandstone concretions.

Photographer Floris van Breugel gave me special permission to use his beautiful photograph of the Pumpkin Patch. You can see more of his wonderful photography at http://www.artinnaturephotography.com/

pumpkin-patch-anza-borrego-20090501_0024So, after experiencing the beauty of this place, I was inspired to create my own ‘Pumpkin Patch’ with a recipe for Pumpkin, Pancetta and Sage Soup Cooked in a Pumpkin Shell. This involves first making a hearty soup with pumpkin and pancetta, then baking it inside of a hollowed-out pumpkin shell.

I used several small pumpkins for the shell: Orange Sparkler Pumpkins and Mini-Pumpkins. This makes a great company dish as a starter- each guest can eat the soup out of their very own pumpkin! When the soup is all gone, you can then eat the pumpkin shell if you wish.

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Basic Preparation for the Pumpkin

  • To cut the top off the pumpkin, first draw a line around the top, then make a cut placing the knife at a 45 degree angle.

IMG_5965Remove the top and remove all seeds and stringy bits. After baking the pumpkin (see instructions below), the pulp becomes softer and you can then scrape out more of the inside, if desired.

Cut pumpkin

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Pumpkin, Pancetta and Sage Soup Cooked in a Pumpkin Shell
Author: 
Recipe type: Starter or Main Course
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 4
 
A hearty roast pumpkin and pancetta soup baked inside individual pumpkin shells.
Ingredients
  • 4 small pumpkins
  • 1 cup diced pancetta
  • 2 tbsp oil
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 large carrot, diced
  • 1 celery stalk, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 - 15.5 ounce cans cannellini beans, drained
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 1 ½ cups pumpkin purée
  • 1 cup smoked turkey (or ham) meat
  • 2 tbsp sage, chopped finely
  • 2 Bay leaves
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • For the Garnish:
  • Diced pancetta pieces, cooked and crumbled
  • Whole Sage leaves
  • Toasted Pumpkin Seeds (Pepitas)
Instructions
  1. Pre-heat the oven to 360 F.
  2. Prepare the pumpkins. Cut out the tops of the pumpkins and scrape out all seeds and stringy bits. Save the seeds to roast and serve later as garnish for the soup (pepitas).*
  3. Brush the outside of the pumpkins with olive oil; season the insides with salt and pepper. Place on a foil-lined baking sheet and bake for approximately 20 – 25 minutes until the pumpkins start to soften. Remove from oven and let cool slightly.
  4. To prepare the soup, sauté the pancetta pieces in oil in a large pot until crisp. Add the onion, carrot, celery and garlic pieces and stir over medium-high heat until they soften.
  5. Now add the beans, chicken stock, pumpkin purée, smoked turkey leg (or ham), sage and bay leaf and bring to a boil.
  6. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Reduce heat and let simmer for about 15 minutes.
  7. Fill each pumpkin shell with the soup and bake in the oven for 15 minutes. Remove from oven and garnish with the crisp pancetta pieces, Sage leaves and pepitas (roasted pumpkin seeds). *
  8. *To prepare the pepitas, mix the pumpkin seeds in a small bowl and coat with olive oil. Add seasoning (I used salt and a little chili powder) then roast in the oven for 15 minutes at 360 F.

 

 

Sticky Date Pumpkin Pudding with Salted Caramel Rum Sauce

  Date Pudding cropped (3)

Organic dates and Sex? This is what I encountered as I recently drove down Highway 111 near Indio in the California desert. I was in search of some of the old date stands that lined the desert highway back in the 1950’s and 60’s that my family used to visit when we traveled to nearby Palm Springs for a vacation. Our family ‘station wagon’ (the name ‘SUV’ hadn’t come into our vocabulary yet), would stop in front of one of the date stands, we would load up on delicious dates and even swig down a ‘date milk shake’. Later on, if we were lucky, we might even get a glimpse of Frank Sinatra’s Rat Pack that used to hang out in glittery Palm Springs.

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Unfortunately, I found that almost all of the date stands in Indio have disappeared over the decades, replaced by miles of gated communities and shopping malls that stretch continuously for about 25 miles from Palm Springs to Indio. My last grasp at childhood memories had almost disappeared until I came upon Shields Date Gardens on Highway 111 in Indio. This business was started by Floyd Shields in 1927 and is a major producer and exporter of dates for the U.S. and the rest of the world.

As I drive into the Shields parking lot, I like the ‘retro’ feel of the old building, but am even more amazed at the sign that advertises the free film, the “Romance and Sex Life of the Date.” Fortunately, this is not an X-rated film, but shows how the pollen from one ‘male’ date tree is used to hand pollinate 100 ‘female’ trees using a small Ketchup Squirt Bottle. Seems like sex has lost all of its romance these days ……

Shields buildingIMG_5792As I continue into the main building, I am transported back into the 1940’s and 50’s with the real-life soda fountain that offers Date Shakes and even Root Beer Floats!

IMG_5794Behind the Shields building, there is a 17-acre landscaped date garden, with the beautiful San Jacinto mountains as a backdrop.

IMG_5800There are also 23 biblical statues that give a serene atmosphere to the garden, recently purchased from a biblical garden in Vancouver that was closing down.

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 IMG_5811But why are Dates so expensive?

I’ve always wondered why dates are so expensive. Well, they are very labor and time-consuming. It takes 15 years for a date palm to mature and each new date tree is created by transplanting ‘pups’ from the parent tree; these pups then take another 15 years to produce.

Workers climb the date trees with ladders to cover the date bunches with bags to protect the fruit from insects and birds and these trees can easily reach 100 feet tall. Once the dates are harvested, it then takes time and patience to sort the dates by hand, removing the unripe ones that need more time to ripen.

Date trees also require a huge amount of water irrigation – about 9 ‘acre-feet’ of water each year for each tree. This is equal to the volume of water that would cover 9 acres of land to a depth of one foot! And it has to be irrigated water – date palms do not like natural rain water.

Worker Climbing the Date Tree

Worker Climbing the Date Tree

Date 'Pup' extracted to generate new tree

Date ‘Pup’ extracted to generate new tree

Covering the Dates with bags

Covering the Dates with bags

Patiently sorting the Dates

Patiently sorting the Dates

End of an Era!

As I later drive back to my luxurious Palm Desert hotel with my large box of dates in hand, I feel a twinge of nostalgia. Yes, Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack are gone, and also the little  date stands that used to dot the dusty highways. But I walk away with a small smile – knowing that Shields Date Garden is still here to continue the tradition of dates ….and their sex lives … in the desert.

Now how about a Date Recipe:

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Sticky Date Pumpkin Pudding with Salted Caramel Rum Sauce
Author: 
Recipe type: Dessert
Serves: 6
 
Sticky Date Pudding with your favorite pumpkin pie flavouring- topped with salted caramel rum sauce
Ingredients
  • For the Pudding:
  • For the Pudding:
  • 1 cup (165 g) pitted dates, halved
  • 1 cup (165 g) pitted dates, halved
  • 1 cup (250 ml) boiling water
  • 1 cup (250 ml) boiling water
  • ½ cup (100 g) granulated sugar
  • ½ cup (100 g) granulated sugar
  • 80 g unsalted butter
  • 80 g unsalted butter
  • ½ cup (135 g) mashed cooked pumpkin or Butternut squash
  • ½ cup (135 g) mashed cooked pumpkin or Butternut squash
  • 1½ cup (225 g) white flour
  • 1½ cup (225 g) white flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 eggs
  • 1½ tsp Allspice
  • 1½ tsp Allspice
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 Tbsp maple syrup
  • 2 Tbsp maple syrup
  • For the Caramel Sauce
  • For the Caramel Sauce
  • 1 cup (160 g) lightly packed brown sugar
  • 1 cup (160 g) lightly packed brown sugar
  • 60 g unsalted butter
  • 60 g unsalted butter
  • 1 tsp corn syrup
  • 1 tsp corn syrup
  • 1 tsp Kosher salt
  • 1 tsp Kosher salt
  • ½ cup (125 ml) thickened cream
  • ½ cup (125 ml) thickened cream
  • 4 Tbsp Rum
Instructions
  1. Pre-heat oven to 365 F (185 C)
  2. Bring the water to a boil; remove from the heat and let the pitted dates soak for 10 minutes until soft. Use a spoon to mash the dates until they become pulp.
  3. Cream together the sugar and butter with electric beaters until soft.
  4. Fold in the mashed pumpkin (or squash) and date mixture until smooth.
  5. Add the remaining ingredients to the bowl and beat with electric beaters for several minutes until thoroughly combined.
  6. Grease the ramekins or cupcake tins with melted butter or cornflour oil. Spoon the mixture into the prepared pans and bake for 20 - 25 minutes until done (the pudding should spring back when lightly touched).
  7. Remove the puddings from the oven; gently remove them from the ramekins and let cool while you prepare the Caramel Sauce.
  8. For the Salted Caramel Rum Sauce:
  9. Stir the brown sugar, butter, corn syrup and salt over medium heat until the sugar dissolves. Increase the heat slightly; stir occasionally for about 5 minutes until the mixture thickens. Reduce the heat and gradually add the cream and Rum. Stir a few more minutes until thickened. Remove from heat and let cool slightly.
  10. Serve the individual puddings on a plate, topped with the Caramel Sauce. If desired, garnish with whipped cream or ice cream.