xx Wednesday, October 29, 1997

Eat, drink and be scary

Pumpkin pleasures for the palate!

By RITA DeMONTIS -- Toronto Sun

 When the days get shorter and the nights colder, thoughts turn to spooks and spirits and things you can munch in the night.

 And what better food to herald the spook season than the ever-versatile, delicious pumpkin! Still, there's more to this member of the squash family than being the best public relations image for Halloween.

 Considered a symbol of fertility every harvest, the bright orange of the pumpkin stands for good health.

 This delightful winter vegetable -- that doubles as a terrific dessert source -- is low in calories, high in vitamins, potassium, fibre and is a rich source of beta carotene.

 According to Miriam Polunin's Book Of Healing Foods (Knopf Canada), pumpkin offers strong antioxidant protection against everything from cancer to heart disease, strokes and even cataracts. Plus the seeds are a wonderful source of protein -- one ounce of pumpkin seeds provides 7g of protein as well as 3mg of iron.

 Research also shows pumpkins are high in unsaturated vegetable oil, a source of vitamin E and rich in A, B and C vitamins. And, because of their firm, hard shell, pumpkins are ideal for storing, lasting about a month in a cool, dry place.

 The pumpkin's bright, firm, strong-flavored flesh is a favorite among chefs, particularly for its versatility in everything from soups to main courses to desserts. Baked, roasted, pureed and stuffed in pasta, pumpkin is recipe-friendly in more ways than one.

 We spooked out a few chefs around town who offered a few of their favorite pumpkin recipes, in the spirit of the season.


 This delightfully tangy salad, perfect as a side dish, comes courtesy of Aldo Villani, Toronto-based executive chef for Movenpick Restuarants of North America. Villani, who counts on pumpkin as a favorite of his own kitchen, recommends allowing the salad to marinate in the refrigerator for 24 hours before serving.

  1 middle-sized pumpkin
  1 red onion, diced
  1 clove garlic, chopped
  3/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  3/4 cup red wine vinegar
  2 tbsp. honey
  1-2 tsps. dried chili peppers
  4 oz. extra-virgin olive oil
  Salt/pepper, to taste
  1/2 cup chopped Italian parsley

 1. Peel pumpkin, remove seeds. Dice into small cubes and place in large bowl. Toss with diced red onion.
 2. In a small bowl, combine garlic, balsamic vinegar, red wine vinegar, honey, chili peppers, extra-virgin olive oil, salt and pepper. Blend well.
 3. Drizzle over cubed pumpkin and toss thoroughly. Marinate in refrigerator for up to 24 hours.
 4. Sprinkle parsley over top of salad. Serve with fresh baked French loaf and as a side dish to main meal.
 Serves 4 to 6.


 This recipe comes courtesy of Sintra Wine Bar and Grill on Dundas St. W., where authentic Portuguese cuisine with a healthy flair has patrons coming back for more. Owner Sergio Goncalves says this soup is a Portuguese specialty that's not only delicious but good for you. Note: If you do not want to use wine, increase the chicken broth to five cups.

  1/4 cup olive oil
  1 large onion, peeled and chopped
  2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  2 bay leaves
  12 large branches parsley, washed and chopped
  1 cup white wine
  21/2 lbs. pumpkin, seeded, peeled and cut into cubes
  4 cups chicken broth
  1/4 tsp. Piri Piri sauce (sold in speciality stores. Substitute Tobasco sauce if Piri Piri sauce is not available.)
  Salt, to taste
  Chopped parsley, for garnish

 1. In a large saucepan set over moderate heat, heat olive oil and saute onion, garlic, bay leaves and parsley for five minutes.
 2. Reduce heat to minimum, add wine and simmer an additional 10 to15 minutes.
 3. Raise heat to medium-high, add cubed pumpkin and stir thoroughly. Add chicken broth and Piri Piri sauce and allow mixture to come to a boil.
 4. Reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes or until pumpkin becomes soft.
 5. Puree pumpkin mixture in batches in blender or food processor until consistency of cream. Return mixture to pot and heat through, adding salt to taste. Garnish with additional chopped parsley.
 Serves 6 to 8.


 This spectacular yet easy-to-prepare main dish comes courtesy of the Four Seasons Hotel in Yorkville, where the new executive chef, Eric Brennan, brings his award-winning style to the kitchens. Note: For real flair, Brennan recommends substituting roasted pheasant for the chicken and 1/4 cup shaved black truffles or 2 tbsp. truffle oil for the wild mushrooms.

  2 tbsp. butter
  1 large onion, diced
  1 small pumpkin, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  4 cups chicken stock, boiling
  2 cups Arborio rice
  1 tbsp. fresh thyme, chopped
  1/2 cup heavy cream, whipped
  1 roasted chicken, meat removed and julienned (use bones for chicken stock)
  1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  1 cup wild mushrooms, rinsed and chopped
  1 tbsp. butter
  Salt and black pepper, to taste
  Chopped chives

 1. Melt butter in heavy saucepot over medium heat. Saute onion until soft.
 2. Add cubed pumpkin and continue cooking, about five minutes.
 3. Add two cups of boiling stock, rice and thyme and stir with wooden spoon over medium to high heat. Continue stirring while slowly adding remaining stock until liquid is absorbed by rice.
 4. Saute wild mushrooms in 1 tbsp. melted butter for five minutes.
 5. Add whipped cream, chicken, Parmesan cheese and mushrooms. Salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with chives.
 Serves 6 to 8.


 Chef and food creator Bonnie Goodman is at helm of Heartbeets Vegetarian Cuisine, a company which offers a complete line of frozen vegetarian foods made without additives, preservatives or MSG, delivered straight to your door or office. Goodmam says pumpkin is a wonderfully delicious vegetable that's not only good for you but perfect for its versatility in the kitchen.

  11/4 cups graham cracker crumbs
  1 cup finely chopped pecans
  1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
  1/2 cup granulated sugar
  1/2 cup butter, melted and cooled
  3 large eggs
  1 14-oz. can solid packed pumpkin
  11/2 tsp. cinnamon
  1/4 tsp. nutmeg
  1/2 tsp. ginger
  1/2 tsp. salt
  1 tsp. vanilla extract
  1 tbsp. cornstarch
  1 tbsp. rum extract (optional)
  24 oz. cream cheese, softened
  1/2 cup granulated sugar
  2 cups sour cream
  2 tbsp. sugar

  Preheat oven to 300F.
 1. Mix all ingredients together until thoroughly blended. Press mixture into a 9-inch springform pan, coating both the bottom and sides evenly.
 2. Bake for 10 minutes to set crust. Remove from oven and let sit while preparing filling.
 1. Crack eggs into a medium-sized bowl and whisk briefly. Stir in remaining ingredients except cream cheese and granulated sugar.
 2. In a separate bowl or food processor, beat cream cheese with granulated sugar until smooth and lump-free. Add pumpkin mixture and mix until thoroughly blended.
 3. Pour mixture into pie crust. Bake for 40 to 50 minutes, or until set (centre will jiggle when you gently shake the pan).
 1. Mix sour cream and sugar until blended. Pour over entire surface of the baked cheesecake. Place back in oven for additional five minutes.
 2. Remove from oven and cool. Once cooled, place cheesecake in refrigerator for 8 to 12 hours. Remove from springform pan and garnish with pecan halves.
 Serves 8.