One year for Christmas I had given our daughter, Gretchen, a gardening gift basket filled with gardening implements, water proof gloves and heirloom vegetable seeds. Although the growing season wasn’t very long in New Hampshire where she and her husband lived, she managed to coax the most beautiful flowers, herbs and vegetables out of the small garden plot in her back yard. I was pretty sure I had included seeds for one of the huge red pumpkins, which I was again chopping for another recipe. They certainly had more color and flavor than the Halloween pumpkins that we had at home, but darn, it was hard to get a knife through the thick outer peel.
I stopped to sharpen my knife on the honing steel and resumed cutting the pumpkin into thick slices that would be easier to peel. One of the other chefs said something to me that I did not quite catch.
“He said you are pumpkin queen,” explained Alessandro, “because you are always cutting up pumpkins.” At least it wasn’t because I looked like a pumpkin!
When I was finished, Alessandro had me pour a little olive oil into a sauté pan, add minced garlic and cook the pumpkin until it was tender. I had always used a wooden spoon to stir whatever I was cooking, but he scowled and took the spoon away from me.
“Just shake pan, like so,” he instructed as he shuffled the pumpkin back and forth and then made a quick movement that caused them all to flip over. I have seen chefs do this a lot on television and certainly in the restaurant kitchen, but I was afraid of sending everything flying out of the pan if I tried it.
“You do it,” he commanded.
I moved the pan back and forth across the flame and then made a quick jerk back towards myself sending pieces of pumpkin all over the stove.
“You must practice,” said Alessandro as he helped me pick up the pumpkin. “I have been cooking in restaurant since I am 15 years old.”
He handed the pan back to me, and as he walked away, I retrieved my spoon. Think I’ll wait until I get back home to try that again.
When the pumpkin was cooked, we layered it with potatoes and zucchini in small baking dishes to use for the contorno, or vegetable side dish for the evening meal. After assembling about 40 vegetable molds, I placed them on a sheet pan and took them to the refrigerator.