Cinderella’s Cucurbit Cart

Cinderella’s Cucurbit Cart

Aylin Öney TAN -
Cinderella’s Cucurbit Cart

AFP Photo

Cinderella must have been the homeliest of all princess wannabee girls in the fanciful world of stories. She practically spent all her time in the kitchen, warmed by the gleaming embers of the fire place with her glowing dreams of meeting her Prince charming. She surely had a capacity of dreaming with wild fantasy, it requires quite a bit of imagination to convert a humble pumpkin to a royal carriage.

Cinderella, the young beautiful daughter of a widowed man, suffers under the cruelty of her step-mother and two step-sisters. She cooks and cleans; sweeps and weeps and sleeps near the fire place, usually waking covered in cinders, hence the name. Not allowed to attend the grand ball of the Prince, inviting all young girls to find his future spouse, she remains home heart broken in despair. It all needs some magic to change her fate. As she dreams of attending the ball, all of a sudden the dusty pumpkin near the fireplace turns to a majestic golden carriage, mice into horses, a rat into a coachman, and lizards into footmen. Cinderella suddenly experiences rags to riches, her rag turning into a beautiful jeweled gown, complete with a delicate pair of glass slippers. Of course the credit goes to her fairy Godmother, who made her dreams happen, but it must have been the strong desire of the poor girl that triggered the inspiration. In reality the pumpkin needs a similar miracle to happen. It bears the undiscovered virtues of Cinderella, a great potential adapting itself to both sweet and savory tastes, waiting for the magic spell of cooks to convert it from the modest ingredient of a soup or a humble pie.

The forth coming Halloween must be the ultimate “magic ball night” for the pumpkin. Chefs, cooks and party givers try to use the most imaginative ways with pumpkin, as if trying to be the fairy godmother of the cucurbit family. Actually the pumpkin has its numerous imaginative uses in regional kitchens around the world. Italians roast it like potatoes with rosemary and olive oil with a touch of garlic. It usually appears as a filling to stuffed pasta in North Italy, especially the phenomenal pumpkin dish of Ferrara “Capellacci di zucca”, is to die for. Literally meaning “little hats filled with pumpkin”, each morsel is like a marvel that came from a magician’s hat, combining bitter sweet almond cookies, creamy pumpkin and pungent parmesan cheese. The fairy touch Italian mamma’s are numerous; Venetians simply fry it and let steep in a garlicky, vinegary sauce to develop more miraculous flavors; Tortelli of Mantua compete with capellacci of Ferrara; pumpkin risotto or sautéed pumpkin with lard and bird’s eye peppers are liberally doused with showers of aged Parma cheese to create more magic.

Austrians and Slovenians seem to have found the jewel hidden in a pumpkin. Pumpkin seed oil is an extremely tasty, blackish green dense oil with earthy, nutty flavors that can do wonders to transform a dish into the queen of the table. Known as “Kürbiskernöl” in Austria, and “Bucno olje” in Slovenia, they are the pride of the cities of Graz in south Austria, and Ptuj in north Slovenia. Pumpkin seed oil is a treasure indeed, having made almost 100 pounds for a liter in London in the past years.

Turkish cuisine is not short of turning pumpkins into wonders. The ubiquitous pumpkin dessert is luscious with a fairy blanket of clotted cream, or a sprinkling of crumbled walnut; regional versions include baking whole pumpkins in embers, filled to its brim with molasses. The embers, like Cinderella’s cinders, work the magic and make the flavors in the pumpkin develop into a mellow autumn dream. The most amazing pumpkin delight is the last but not the least: the candied pumpkin slices of Antioch is simply alchemy in kitchen: pumpkin slices are treated in slaked lime water, making the cell walls resistant and then cooked in syrup; turning the otherwise mushy cucurbit into a glassy crunch. It can be a bit dreamy to imagine the fragile glassy bite to that of the glass slippers of Cinderella, but we need some fantasy to enliven moody fall days. Now it is time to be our kitchen’s fairy angels, and work wonders with the prosperous pumpkin!

Recipe of the Week:

A warm pumpkin soup is the perfect soul food when moods seem to fall down with falling leaves. Pumpkin soups tend to become over sweet but this Pumpkin Soup with Pastrami has a bite to it. The sharp savory taste of pastrami contrasts with the creamy sweetness of the pumpkin, and the spices perk up the soup to another level. Sauté one big chopped onion in 2-3 tbsp olive oil with 1 tbsp of crushed coriander seeds and 1 tsp of crushed whole cumin seeds. Cut 1 kg of pumpkin in chunks; add to the pot and sauté further till golden brown. Add two crushed garlic cloves, toss and add 6-7 cups of meat stock, vegetable stock or just plain water. Let it simmer till the pumpkins are very soft, then whizz to a creamy consistency with a hand blender or pass through a sieve. Cut about 100-150 g of pastrami into thin strips like matchstick pieces. Crisp the pastrami in 1 tbsp of butter or olive oil. When serving, divide the pastrami sticks into each bowl, add a sprinkling of chopped dill, and if desired a pinch of crushed red peppers. If you can get a hold of pumpkin seed oil, a swirl will add a dimension, or adding a few pumpkin seeds will do the trick.

Bite of the week

Fork of the Week: The best glassy candied pumpkin comes from the restaurant specialist in Antioch cuisine, but a few chefs are experimenting with getting beyond the traditional method. My pick for the traditional is Kiva restaurant, and the new challenging one is Mikla. The best glassy candied pumpkin comes from restaurants specialist in Antioch cuisine, but a few chefs are experimenting on getting beyond the traditional method. My pick for the traditional one is Kiva restaurant (try their new venue Kiva Saklı Köşk, at Moda on the Anatolian side), and the best new challenging one is at Mikla, top of The Marmara Pera. Chef Mehmet Gürs simply calls it “pumpkin” and serves the perfect cube of candied pumpkin with a quite unusual unsweetened pistachio ice cream, a traditional artisanal tahini sauce, and a drizzle of grape molasses.

Cork of the Week: A glassy cool white wine goes well with both sweet and savory pumpkin dishes. A glassy cool white wine goes well with both sweet and savory pumpkin dishes. Just splash some sparkle to your glass with the sparkling Moscado d’Asti from Italy or try semi-dry Moskato Doluca 2011 that can cope with creamy savory dishes as well as sweet desserts.