Today I bring you some good news and some bad news from my kitchen. The good news is that I have been trying some excellent recipes, which I look forward to sharing with you in the coming weeks. The bad news is that my sink appears to be breeding Ziplock baggies, along with dirty dishes. Gah!
But never mind my housekeeping issues. What a glorious time of year to be in the kitchen! Now that the fall weather has settled into place, I cook dinner with the patio door open, and the fresh air dances into the kitchen. It makes the food taste better, too—the clean, crisp air somehow making the flavors of fall taste more alive. On a really good night, like last night, I might even eat dinner outside, on my patio, crunching slices of carrot and green pepper in my mouth while flocks of birds soar above me and the trees glow in that beautiful, golden evening light.
Last week I roasted my first pumpkin of the season. I was getting ready to try a new stew recipe, one that originally called for an edible cooking vessel in the form of pumpkins. It’s a showy recipe, that one, designed to make your guests smile and laugh as you bring whole pumpkins to the table, pumpkins that are filled with a savory, spicy mixture starring tart tomatillos and chewy nuggets of hominy. It’s a dish to make on the weekend when you’re having a dinner party. I, however, was not having a dinner party, just a Wednesday night dinner, and I planned to adapt the recipe by mixing fresh pumpkin puree into the stew, thus making it a one-pot affair and much more accommodating to a solo Wednesday night dinner.
Things went quite well with the pumpkin-roasting, though I did split up the task. On Tuesday night, I roasted the pumpkin halves and let them cool a bit, then I tucked the whole halves(?) into a big bowl, set a plate on top, and tucked the bowl in the fridge. On Wednesday night, after a lovely bike ride home, I set about making the stew and finishing my pumpkin prep. I pulled out the recipe and had a moment of panic when I read the following: “Fill pumpkin with stew, then top with pumpkin lid. Place on parchment-covered baking sheet and bake 1 1/2 to 2 hours, or until pumpkin flesh is fork-tender.” (Bolding of text added by me for emphasis.)
“Oh, shit!” I said out loud, thinking that this step meant I should let the stew cook for 1 1/2 to 2 hours. I didn’t have that kind of time to wait for dinner. Then my eyes scrolled upward to the earlier steps in the recipe, and my panic subsided. Other than the pumpkin, there aren’t any hard vegetables in this stew that would require a long simmer, so I could easily get away with 30 minutes, just long enough to let the flavors mingle and for everything to soften and relax together into one dish.
So that’s what I did, and the results were awesome. The smell of tomatillos and hominy cooking together is the essence of the Mexican restaurant of my dreams. It is heavenly. And the spicing in this stew is spot on: a little hot, a little herbal, all of which complements the tomatillo-hominy awesomeness that forms the base of this dish.
So, if you choose to make this dish, I recommend that you make life easy for yourself and make your pumpkin puree ahead of time. I’ve mentioned it before, but The Pioneer Woman has a great pumpkin tutorial here. She does such a wonderful (and thorough!) job that I’ll send you her way if you’ve never made fresh pumpkin puree before. (Though I will mention that I make my puree the way my friend Nicole taught me, placing halved pumpkins in a roasting pan with some water in it so the pumpkin doesn’t dry out in the oven.) Then, after your pumpkin is prepped, you can have a nice evening of stew-making—peeling your tomatillos, dicing your onion and bell pepper, sniffing your stew and watching the clock until you can curl up with a bowl of warm Mexican flavors.
However, if you’ve decided you are far less lazy than I am and you want to be a show-off and serve your stew in a pumpkin, I refer you to the original recipe over at Vegetarian Times. In the meantime, while your pumpkin is still baking, I’ll be lounging on the couch, eating dessert. Lazy is as lazy does—or whatever.
The Lazy Cook’s Tomatillo, Hominy, and Pumpkin Stew
Adapted from Vegetarian Times
Why go to the trouble of using fresh pumpkin puree? Because the texture is wonderful and adds something special to this stew. It also makes it feel more seasonal to me, which I like. But I’m sure that this stew would still be delicious if you used canned pumpkin puree. Just make sure it’s not sweetened or spiked with pumpkin pie spices! This is not a sweet dish—it’s tart and savory and hot-spicy, not sweet-spicy.
2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
1 bell pepper, any color, diced (I used a green one here)
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tsp. chili powder
1 tsp. ground cumin
1/4 tsp. sage
1/4 tsp. thyme
About 8 oz. tomatillos, husks removed and quartered
1 15-oz. can hominy, rinsed and drained
3/4-1 tsp. salt, or to taste
2 cups pumpkin puree, preferably fresh and homemade
1) Pour the olive oil into a large pot and heat over medium heat. Add the onion and bell pepper. Saute for several minutes or until the vegetables have softened. Add the garlic and spices, and cook for 1-2 minutes.
2) Add the tomatillos, hominy, 1 cup of water, 3/4 tsp. salt, and pumpkin puree. Cover and bring the whole thing to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, covered, for 20-30 minutes, or until all the vegetables are very tender. Taste and add the remaining 1/4 tsp. salt if you like. Serve hot, perhaps with cornbread or grilled cheese sandwiches?