Festa Italiana

“Ask not what your Pumpkin can do for you,
ask what you can do for your pumpkin!”

I walked into the bazaar the other morning to come face to face with a very excited vegetable vendor. He knows my glee at any new veggie or fruit that shows up locally, & always picks a few good ones & saves them for me. He was waiting with something new which he called Chinese ‘kaddu’ or Chinese pumpkin. It’s strange, but most new veggies that appear seem to bear a generic China name. The large garlic we use is referred to as China garlic & now this pumpkin too. I think it’s a local way of increasing sales of something new…it works on me! I loved the idea of these little pumpkins, cute & pretty. With the West leaving fall way behind, the leaves are falling here in our part of the world, & spring is kind of here. Our seasons are different from other countries, & so is our fresh produce. We get the best of the seasons tomatoes, strawberries etc in the winter here, & it is indeed a season we in North India can’t wait for. So I hurried home with my pumpkin booty, googled, got to a Washington Times post on pumpkin puree. Easy-peasy & ready in about 30 minutes, scooped out & all. How cool is that? The other thing demanding my attention was a box of pumpkin pie spice that my sis sent for me from Houston. YAY…a chance to use that too, thanks to the precious pumpkin!! Pie wasn’t on my mind; strangely I was thinking pumpkin panna cotta. Was also wondering how the kids would take to pumpkin… Thought I’d check out the net, set out hesitatingly. Yes, something like a pumpkin panna cotta did exist! That decided, I set off to make the puree. Here’s the recipe for making puree from scratch, taken from this Washington Post feature here.

“Making puree has only one real hurdle: Ideally, the pumpkin must be cut in half. I don’t expect to accomplish that in a single stroke. Using a large, heavy knife, I make one cut into the pumpkin. If I’m lucky, that cut will gain me enough leverage to pry the squash in two. (Sometimes I have to make a second cut to get a longer opening. I then use the knife to begin to split the pumpkin in half, and I finish the break using my hands.) If the split of the pumpkin isn’t perfect, you can trim the halves so they will sit flat in the pan. If the pumpkin has broken into several pieces, that’s okay. Next, use a big spoon to remove the seeds from the pumpkin halves. Line a large roasting pan with aluminum foil. Place the halves or pieces, flat side down, in the pan; add just enough water to cover the bottom of the pan. Transfer to a 350-degree oven and bake until the flesh is easily pierced with a fork. Depending on the size of the pumpkin, that can take anywhere from 45 to 75 minutes. Let the pumpkin cool, then flip the halves over and scrape the flesh away from the skin. Puree the flesh in a food processor until smooth.”

recipe adapted from The New York Times
1/2 cup milk
1 envelope unflavored gelatin (1 tbsp)
2 cups light 25% cream
1 cup pureed pumpkin, (you can use squash or sweet potato)
1/2 cup sugar (increase if required)
2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice (or cinnamon powder)
  • Put 1/2 cup of the milk in a 6- or 8-cup saucepan, and sprinkle the gelatin over it. Let sit for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, blend together the cream, pumpkin, sugar and pumpkin pie spice. The mixture should be perfectly smooth, so it is best to use a blender.
  • Turn the heat under the saucepan to low, and cook the milk, stirring occasionally, until the gelatin dissolves. Pour in the cream mixture, and turn the heat to medium. Cook, stirring occasionally, until steam rises. Turn off the heat, and ladle or pour the mixture into 8 4-ounce ramekins or other containers.
  • Chill the panna cotta until firm, and serve, with creme fraiche or whipped cream if you like.
  • I topped the chilled panna cotta with a thinned chocolate ganache & caramel mixture, a dusting of pumpkin pie spice & vanilla sugar.
  • YIELD 8 servings

Pumpkin pairings Pumpkin is a good companion with many flavors including apples, bourbon and rum, caramel, cinnamon, cloves, raisins, coconut, honey, maple syrup, pecans and vanilla. Pumpkin Bread Pudding with Caramel Sauce teams the winter gourd with several of those tastes.
Caramel sauce is sold in jars but making it from scratch requires just three ingredients and only a few more minutes to put together. Butter, dark brown sugar and cream mingle in a sauce pan until the sugar melts and a rich sauce develops. If you are thinking of cooking a fresh pumpkin for a dessert recipe, don’t. It takes quite a bit of time (chopping, seeding, boiling, scraping) and you’re likely to be unhappy with the results. The cooked pumpkin probably will be watery and less flavorful than its concentrated canned counterpart. Pumpkins, just like all nature’s bounty, are not created equal.

The result was deliciously wicked, creamy & SATISFYING! Am so glad I tried it. The kids loved it too. So it’s being shared at “the huge tables set under twisting grapevines, Italian food and drink from one end to the other, laughing, singing, and dancing, while the sound of mandolins playing in the background, of course without a doubt Sinatra and Dino too” that Marie @ Proud Italian Cook & Maryann @ Finding La Dolce Vita are promising at their 2nd annual Festa Italiana!! Will you be there??

“Fervet olla, vivit amicitia: While the pot boils, friendship endures.”
(Meaning the man who gives good dinners has plenty of friends).
Latin Proverb

Living my coffee dreams…with some chocolate too!

My dream run in the kitchen continues…I’m lucky to have moulded family tastes to quite an extent that coffee is lapped up in any dessert avatar. As I mentioned the last time I made panna cotta, the delectable strawberry coulis delight, it wouldn’t be long before I made it again. Sure enough, the next time I had to make dessert, it was right back to my favourite, new Italian discovery! This time I hit the coffee trail with some chocolate ganache. Mmmmmmm…wait; then it got even better… added some freshly made almond praline to crown the glory. Incredibly alluring, deeply satisfying, silky smooth…in one word ambrosial’ !!

Sublime & satisfying!!
For the panna cotta:
Cream – 400ml
Whole Milk – 1 cup
Sugar – 1/2 cup
Instant Coffee – 2 tbsp (acc to taste)
Gelatin – 1 1/2 tbsps
Water – 1/4 cup/warm
Digestive biscuits – 200gms / crushed
To make the panna cotta:
  • Steep the coffee in 1/4 cup of the hot whole milk for 10-15 minutes to intensify the flavour.
  • Combine the cream + remaining milk + sugar + coffee milk & simmer till it comes to a slow boil.
  • In the meantime, warm the 1/4 cup water & sprinkle the gelatin over it & leave to soften.
  • Take the milk/cream mixture off the heat. Whisk in the gelatin, strain & rest for 10-15 minutes.
  • Take the serving bowls & line the bottoms with 2 tbsps of biscuit crumbs each, followed by a drizzle of ganache.
  • Gently top each bowl with the coffee panna cotta. Chill for about 30 minutes, then top each bowl with some ganache, almond praline & finally a drizzle of melted dark chocolate.
  • Leave to set/chill for 4 hours minimum.

To make the praline:

  • Place a handful of whole almonds + a knob of butter + 2 tbsps of sugar in a bowl, & heat till the sugar starts bubbling & carmelizes.
  • Turn onto a metal/steel plate & allow to cool. Break into a few whole almond bits, & roughly crush the remaining for the topping. Tastes really nice!

Luscious dessert…

There’s a ‘delicious new food event’ on at Marie’s of “Proud Italian Cook” and Mary Ann’s of “Fiding La Dolce Vita” … FESTA ITALIANA… party’s on!!
As Marie & Mary Ann say…One by one our friends are arriving, each one carrying their favorite Italian dish or drink. We eat and drink with happy hearts and before long, the guitars and accordions are filling the air with song. Everyone is eating, drinking, laughing, singing and dancing. This dessert is heading for the party. A sweet, sublime way to finish a hearty meal. Friends, food & laughter…ENJOY!!
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