A couple of weekends ago, my five-year-old nephew, who I call Comet, looked me squarely in the eye, as five-year-olds do, and asked when Nick and I were going to go with him to the pumpkin patch for an adventure. Hallowe’en is nearly upon us, and he is aware of the significance of pumpkin season. Pumpkin season means dressing up like Darth Vader and carving jack-o-lanterns and getting free candy and then Christmas starts coming up fast. Pumpkin season is very important to a small boy.
So Nick and I promised we’d go out and help him pick the perfect squash.
It was a chilly, damp day, the first day of the rainy season where any of us actually needed a scarf and gloves. And boots. Cold it was, so hipsters we were not.
There were also many, many pumpkins to consider.
Of course, we go to the pumpkin patch as much for my Dad as for Comet. So there were several pumpkins at the end of the day, some of them too large for a small boy. But just right for an old guy.
I only bought one pumpkin, a small one that weighed about three pounds. A tiny little guy. Perfect for cooking, as we can’t really have jack-o-lanterns at our place – it’s an apartment, and also we’re not really allowed to have fires in the hall anymore. My pumpkin came from under cover, because my gloves are more ornamental than functional and also I didn’t want to touch anything wet. I also bought a big, dense turban squash, which is going to be something wonderful once I figure out how many it’ll feed, and a few decorative gourds that aren’t hard or shellacked and that I am going to try and eat.
A lot of those pumpkins looked like they’d make a very good pie, but, to be honest, pumpkin season is pie-filled enough already, and I made two cakes last week. At a certain point, and you’ll know it when you’ve reached it, you can have too many baked goods. I know it’s hard to believe, but a lot of people never get there. I get there twice a week, which explains why my pants are so tight, and why my chin is quickly becoming chins. I’m pretending like that’s where all my extra sex-appeal is kept.
There are lots of things that you can do with pumpkin that doesn’t include pie or baked goods, things you can enjoy even if you hate pumpkins.
A really good thing you can do with pumpkin, or any squash really? PIEROGIES! Who doesn’t love them? No one, that’s who. Fact. And now, after making you look at my touching album of family-bonding pumpkin fun, you get an awesome recipe for deliciousness that you can top with buttery bacony caramelized onions. Which I think is the opposite of pumpkin pie (even though I love it done right), or, at the very least, resides at a much less hackneyed end of the spectrum.
(makes about four dozen)
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 cup plain yogurt or sour cream (go with the low-fat kind – it’s runnier, and makes the dough easier to work with. Don’t worry, you’ll make up for it by adding butter.)
- 1 egg, beaten
- 1 tbsp. melted butter (you can use olive oil if you want. I’m not Polish, I don’t know the rules, or if there even are rules about olive oil in pierogies, so it’s not really breaking them even if there are rules.)
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1 3lb. pumpkin, roasted, seeded, pureed, and drained (will amount to about 2 cups. You can also use canned pumpkin if you want – the colour will be a lot bolder. Substitute squash, or even yams or sweet potatoes, if you like.)
- 1/2 cup chopped cooked bacon
- 2 whole heads of garlic, roasted until soft and dark golden
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 1/2 tsp. pepper
- 1/4 tsp. nutmeg
- Salt, to taste
First, make the dough.
Combine all your dough ingredients in a bowl, and stir until a dough is formed. It will be a stiff dough, and you will find that you need to knead it a fair bit at first – this is okay. Knead for about two minutes, then let rest in a bowl covered with a dish cloth, for about an hour. The goal here is for the flour to absorb and swell with the moisture of the wet ingredients, and also for the whole thing to get to room temperature, thus making it easier to roll out.
While the dough rests, make the filling.
I used a food processor, but you don’t have to. I prefer a uniform texture in my pierogies, and this is the easiest way. You can just mash everything together if you like – that’ll work perfectly well too.
Combine pumpkin, bacon, garlic, cheese, pepper, and nutmeg. Mix well, then taste. Adjust your seasonings if need be. This would be the time to add salt if you feel like it.
Divide the dough into two pieces, rolling the first out until it’s about 1/8-inch thick, same as a pie crust. The dough should be nearly two feet long, and just over a foot wide when it’s all ready to be stamped.
Using a cookie cutter or glass (about two inches in diameter), stamp out rounds of dough. Get as many rounds as you can out of the dough; from the first batch of dough (rolled once, stamped, and then re-kneaded and rolled and stamped again) I got 27 rounds. Only roll each piece of dough twice – any more and it gets too stiff and hard to work with*.
Stretch each round out a little bit, and then let it sit like a taco in the crook of your hand. Fill each round with about a teaspoon and a half of filling. To close these, you might find a little dab of water along one edge useful. Pinch it together along the outside, but don’t squeeze the middle. Your first couple of attempts at this might be messy – that’s okay. Just freeze those ones. They’re good fried, and they don’t leak as much when you cook them that way.
Get someone to help you. It’s more fun when you have someone to talk to.
Most likely, you will end up with a bit too much filling. I did. But I always do. I scooped the remainder into a container and shoved it into the fridge – it’s going to be a lovely little helper for a bit of squash soup later this week. No waste! In fact, the little remnants of the dough? Roll them out, and cut them into 1/4-inch pieces, like skinny little gnocchi. Then freeze them as well – they are a lovely little addition to a bit of minestrone on a cold December day.
To serve fresh, and you will want to cook up at least a few for your efforts, caramelize some onions in butter with as much bacon as you like. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil, then drop your little dumplings in. They’ll be ready when they float to the top. It won’t take long.
When they’re done, drop them into the onion pan, and coat with the buttery bacon, oh, let’s call it “sauce.” Serve with sour cream or good yogurt.
Enjoy. It tastes like pumpkin, to be sure, but not the pie kind. The sweetness of the roasted garlic and the salty cheesy bacon-ness do interesting things to the pumpkin – they give it a life of its own, and invite it to be itself, not hidden under a veil of cinnamon and cloves. I promise they’re worth a try. And you’ll end up with lots of them – freeze most of them. And then when you feel like pierogies again (soon), fry them in butter until the outsides are crisp and golden and serve with a lot of sour cream and chopped green onions. Marvelous. Wonderful. Lovely, and a great way to get that pumpkin goodness into your mouth.