December 16, 2010
by Gareth Mark
The first time I saw Pumpkin Parmesan Sauce I thought it sounded awful. I couldn't imagine the combination. So I tasted it. Wow, instant addiction! Just a few days ago, the neighbors gave us an extra pumpkin.
I'm sure you all know how to make pumpkin purée. What I did differently with this pumpkin is I added soffritto to the purée so that it would be savory. No pie for this squash!
I learned about mirepoix early on in my cooking life, but only much later did I meet and fall in love with the Italian soffritto. I stumbled across an interesting book, Soffritto: Tradition and Innovation in Tuscan Cooking, read it, and for the first time, understood why my Italianate dishes lacked the depth of flavor I'd experienced when eating real Italian food.
Start with a good extra virgin olive oil. I decided to perfume it with fresh sage, since sage and pumpkin go so well together. Medium-high heat is required--not quite hot enough to burn the oil, but a touch of smoke won't be a bad thing. At that point remove the sage and add diced onion.
If you have garlic confit handy, it can take the heat. Otherwise, you'll want to be very careful not to burn the garlic. That would be unpleasant. Cook, stirring often, until the onion begins to soften.
Add diced carrot and celery, some diced sweet pepper (capsicum) if you wish, and a generous pinch or so of kosher salt. I use rosemary salt, which I made by layering fresh rosemary and kosher salt in a jar. After about 3 weeks, the rosemary was dry and the salt was aromatic. It's a lovely way to add flavor, and would make a nice host/ess gift.
Here's the big difference between mirepoix and soffritto. Mirepoix should be sweated so that the veggies become softened, but should not be colored. Soffritto, on the other hand, is a high-heat base, and color is required. Cook it as long as you dare without burning or crisping anything. The more Maillard reaction (browning) you get the better.
Wine is a good thing. Although not an essential part of the traditional soffritto, it adds flavor otherwise unavailable. Add a generous amount of wine just before the soffritto burns, scrape up the lovely brown bits from the pan, and reduce until the soffritto begins to look fairly dry. I used pinot grigio because it's a nicely fruity wine with apple overtones and we all know how well pumpkin and apple go together. Notice that I added a sage leaf again, because I wanted more sage in the flavor. If you do this, remove the sage leaf before continuing.
The soffritto and the meat from the pumpkin were puréed together, producing a nicely savory mix. I ended up with about a gallon of purée. Way more than I needed for my sauce. Fortunately, it freezes well, and there's this soup I want to try, but that's for next time.
Here's a little secret I picked up. The rinds from Parmigiano-Reggiano make a wonderful addition to soups and sauces, and they're a lot cheaper to buy than the cheese itself. Just toss a rind or two into the pot when you're making something wonderful and it will taste like you channeled your Italian grandmother, even if you don't have one.
See? Just like that. Toss 'em in. Simmer until those rinds are mostly melted. All the cheese will melt off, and the rind itself will begin to melt and add flavor. The pan is going to get messy, but who cares? It's cheesy goodness squared!
I finished off the sauce using some Truffle and Salt, a bit of half-and-half (light cream), some wonderful Villa Manodori Balsamic Vinegar, and, of course, freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano. The flavor profile I was looking for was about equal parts pumpkin and cheese, with some truffle in the nose when sucking in air to cool the sauce, and a hint of agrodolce from the balsamic. The sauce goes well with fettuccine or penne. Be sure to have some lovely bread to mop up the extra sauce.
Before I forget, I have a small gift. The nice folks at Buitoni offered me some pretty 2011 calendars to give to my readers. I'll choose by random selection two readers who comment on this post and have a calendar shipped to you. I think you might also want to visit Buitoni's web site to enter their "Discover Our Italian Masterpieces" contest. (Full disclosure: they are sending me a calendar, but other than that, I do not get anything for mentioning their contest.) I'll close the giveaways on Monday, December 20, whenever I happen to get online. Hopefully you'll be able to get your calendars before the first of the year.
I still have more pumpkin purée. Expect soup.