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An Orange Brute or Friend?

                                                                                                                                                               Roxanne Garcia
Once a month I find myself meandering among the vendors at the farmers market and without much fanfare the vegetables tell us when the end of summer or the beginning of fall is approaching. The sun is also signaling the end of summer; coming up later and later in the morning, the hot summer days are quickly moving on.  But the market produce is also changing as more and more beautiful vibrant colored vegetables are appearing; purple eggplants, yellow squash, red chilies and bright orange pumpkins.

It has been my quest this year to inform you about fruits and vegetables that are in season, and of course since I am profoundly connected to the Local Farmers Market I have a certain mission to help you on your pursuit to eat more locally grown food and support our regional farmers in the process.

So I wasn’t quite sure on what to do with this rotund orange brute we call pumpkin.  Of course, I have children and besides carving out the funny face and putting a candle in it or making pumpkin pie….what else can you do with a pumpkin?
Tucson Farmer's MarketsAs it turns out the mighty pumpkin has been around for a long, long time and iconic in the United States for our Thanksgiving pumpkin pies. Traditionally they have been used for centuries in many different and various cultures like in Mexico the seeds are used in moles and sauces, in Italy they are used for pastas and India they are blended in spicy curries.

The smaller sugar pumpkins and Cinderella pumpkins (known for their oblong shape and model for the Cinderella Coach in the children’s story) are better known for their sweet taste.  The average weight is between 4 to 6 pounds, they have less seeds and a denser flesh. Roasted pumpkin flesh is easily served as a side dish and can be cooked down for puree that can be used for pie filling or added to stock for a delicious soup. If you want to use it as pie filling, it is a slightly laborious process as I was used to making pumpkin pies with the canned puree, if you are feeling adventurous to make a puree from that robust pumpkin you purchased at the farmers market then remove all the strings and seeds, slice in half or quarters, place pulp side down on a greased baking sheet, bake about 20 to 40 minutes or until a knife inserts easily. Remove and cool down, remove pulp from the rind and mash or blend in blender. This final step is only if you want to use the pulp for a pie; if the pulp is still very moist you can spread it on the baking sheet and bake until it is dryer and thicker, about 20 more minutes.

Pumpkin seeds, or Pepitas, have many heath benefits and are a good source of protein, magnesium, phosphorus and other vitamins. They are easily roasted in a 400 degree oven.  Rinse the seeds and place on a greased cooking sheet, roast for about 15 minutes or until the edges are browned.  You can flavor the seeds with cumin, coriander, sugar or red chile spice.  Pumpkin seed pesto is a flavorful pesto that can be spread on a corn tortilla with fresh tomatoes and mint leaves or just tossed on pasta.

If you just want to walk the market and snack on pepitas or purchase them already roasted and seasoned, they are available at the Flor de Mayo-Native Seed Search booth and the Arizona Nuts booth at the Farmers Market at St. Philip’s Plaza on Sundays.

My absolute favorite way to serve and eat fresh pumpkin or for any winter squash such as butternut or acorn, (you will have to adjust baking time) is roasted with a little butter, brown sugar, cinnamon and a little whiskey or bourbon (optional). Cover with aluminum foil and bake until tender about 30 minutes.  Pumpkins make a terrific and an unusual side dish to any meal.

So as the day temperatures begin to drop to our delightful mid 90’s, its’ Tucson after all, the vegetables signal to us that it is indeed the dog days of summer and the change of seasons.

Spicy Pumpkin Bisque
1-1/2 teaspoons dried ground small red chilies such as Piquin, or Serrano
1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon butter or margarine
1 16 ounce can pumpkin puree
4 cups chicken stock
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 cup half-and-half or light cream
1/4 cup dry sherry
grated nutmeg

Sauté the onion and garlic in the butter until they are soft and transparent. Add the pumpkin, stock, Chile pepper, ground pepper, allspice, sugar, and sherry. Bring to a boil and cover. Simmer the soup for 30 minutes. Place the mixture in a blender and puree until smooth. Return the soup to the pot, add the half-and-half, and simmer until heated. Garnish with the nutmeg and serve.
This soup can be served either hot or cold.

Details of the market and a list of the close to 60 vendors can be found at http://www.farmersmarkettucson.com/. The St. Philip's Farmer's Market market is open every Sunday year round and located in St. Philip's Plaza at the south east corner of River and Campbell. There is plenty of parking and the market is also accessible from the River Walk. There is a seasonal variation in hours. The Oro Valley Farmer's Market is open every Saturday and located at 11000 N. La Canada. Check the website for the summer hours! Roxanne Garcia manages both markets so while there stop by and say hello to her. She will be happy to fill you in on the latest.




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