Peter Peter Pumpkin Eater: The Story of Seasonal Squash

Thought it would be fun  in the week before Halloween to serve up an update of a seasonal post on cooking  with pumpkin and winter squash. Plus, here is your advance notice to be sure to tune into Charlotte Today on WCNC on Monday Oct 31 for a special edition Pumpkin-Driven Restaurant Round-Up along with an accompanying blog post so you can see – and go to taste – what Charlotte area chefs are doing with this seasonal squash on their fall menus.

But before you can cook though, you must carve… learn all the tricks of the trade this weekend Oct 31, 4-7 pm at Lenny Boy Brewing Company from some of Charlotte’s finest chefs and farmers, all members of the Piedmont Culinary Guild who will be putting on their annual fund raising event for the fall season…Carved…

carved-2016-facebook-ogThe fun begins right at 4pm and runs through till 7 on Oct 31, 2016.  You and your family will watch pumpkins be transformed into clever and creative, sometimes ghostly and ghoulish  works of art.

I can promise you these aren’t your mama’s triangled-eyed Jack-O-Lanterns!  The photos I’ve posted here are from a Carved event a couple of years ago,  I took some of them, and some are thanks to the Piedmont Culinary Guild, but as incredible as these photos are, know the event just keeps getting better and better, so make it a point to make Carved a part of your family’s pre-Halloween festivities.

And, to add to the fun,  you’ll help add to the excitement by casting your vote for what you deem to be the best carved entry and your ticket will serve as your raffle number to possibly win one of the Carved creations! The lucky carver of the  winning creation gets the 2016 bragging rites and a custom-created leather knife roll and apron, crafted by Guild Member Brad Todd of Lucky Clays Farm.

In addition to the seasonal squash on display this year, Carved-goers will enjoy  fresh shelled popcorn-on-the-cob, courtesy of PCG Member Brent Barbee of Barbee Farms; fresh cider pressed on site from  North Carolina apples, courtesy of PCG Member Eric Williamson of Coldwater Creek Farms; and an antique John Deere tractor “ice cream machine” that will be set up to sample and demo fresh ice cream, courtesy of PCG member Bo Sellers of Allee Bubba Farms.

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Emily Russell from Zone 7 Foods at the 2015 Carved event

But wait theres more: Magic and balloon creations by Scott Link; Artistic caricatures created of you and your family on site by Sarah Pollack; Tin-type photographs developed on site by Jeff Howlett; and a Silent auction

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Chef Dave Feemster – Fahrenheit with his chili pepper pumpkin

There will be a separate Kids Competition on the Carving front. Kids, ages 11 and under who bring a pumpkin they carved themselves get in FREE and will be eligible for special prizes. Plus, PCG Member Megan Lambert of Johnson and Wales University will have a table of sugar skulls for kids to decorate, plus there will be games and other activities for children to enjoy.

Two options during the event  to purchase  food on site:  PCG Member Tara Diamante will have her Bleu Barn Bistro food truck at Lenny Boy – offering dishes created from locally-sourced meat and produce. While PCG Member Courtney Buckley will  be serving up sweets from Your Mom’s Donuts cart on site – offering all local product made from Got ToBeNc locally  milled flour, pasture raised dairy, and eggs.

Your ticket includes entrance to the event, a souvenir Carved 2016 cup, one Lenny Boy beverage (with supplied ticket) ( You may purchase more to drink on your own) and one voting ticket – which doubles as an entry to the Carved raffle to win one of the carved pumpkins created at the event.

Cost is  Adults: $18 in advance or $22 at the door; Kids – 11 and under: $5
(Remember – Kids who bring a pumpkin they carved themselves get in FREE)  Advance tickets are available online here and advance sales end on Friday, October 28. 

How to carve your pumpkin and eat it too!

Like the chefs and farmers participating in the Carved event,  most of us do not hesitate to go out and choose a real pumpkin for our Halloween Jack-o-Lantern, but when it comes to actually cooking this seasonal squash, we tend to forgot that “Eat Local” mantra and all the possibilities of using fresh versus canned. This year, I suggest you shop from local farmers, rather than the canned veggie aisle of your local grocer and make some puree you can freeze and use for months to come.

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Local Pumpkins from Dover Vineyards spotted at The Asbury booth at this year’s Dilworth Southend Chili Cookoff

It’s easy to put up your own pumpkin puree this season and I am happy to use this post to show you how its done. Fresh pumpkin, like all other varieties of winter squash is abundant in this area and makes for some very fine eating not only in pie, but in custards, ice creams, breads, cookies and muffins as well as savory recipes like soups, salads, pastas, tempura and pureed or baked as a side with grilled or roasted meats and is great for juicing, too.

Whew! Pumpkin is also quite nice served raw, either grated into salads or thin sliced and served with raw veggies and your favorite dip.

These seasonal squash are low in calories, yet abundant in vitamins, minerals and fiber. Pumpkin is a great source for vitamins A, B-complex, C, and E all are rich in anti-oxidants and anti-aging properties. Health benefits aside,  legend and folk lore has it that this grandest of gourd’s is also an aphrodisiac…so all of a sudden, pumpkin season could take on a whole new meaning … I’ll leave it at that and let you draw your own conclusions.

pumkins in the fieldPumpkins grow in a wide variety of sizes, some weighing in at well over 100 pounds. Save the big brusiers for winning awards at county fares and for carving contests. Nothing like a large Jack-o-lantern set out and lit up on the porch designed to welcome treat or treating seasonal guests. Keep in mind that once “Jack” has been carved and spent several nights out of doors, all sorts of ants and other creepy crawly things may take up residence, to say nothing of the melted wax. That’s all fine, if the plan is to keep the carved pumpkin outside, but if you were planning to cook and eat the pulp after the 31st, then best to buy another pumpkin or two or three for all  your upcoming culinary endeavors this season.

For eating purposes, look for medium to slightly smaller pumpkins, those with more tender and succulent flesh.  Like any other winter squash – butternut, acorn, golden and Hubbard – the skin should be free from blemishes and the pumpkin or squash heavy for its size. Store whole any winter squash, pumpkins et al, at room temperature for as long as a month or keep in a cooler place for as long as three months.

To easily get inside the tough outer shell, place your pumpkin in a large heavy-duty plastic garbage bag, take it outside and drop it on some hard concrete – this might be one fun and good way for the kids to help with the process.. The pumpkin will split open into several pieces. Remove the pumpkin pieces from the bag, scoop out the stringy pulp that surrounds the seeds and then cut the firmer pulp from the outside pumpkin shell. Boil, steam, bake or fry the chunks of pumpkin as you would potatoes, or oven roast by placing the pumpkin chunks, skin and all, cut side down in a large baking sheet. Bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for about an hour, or an hour and a half or so, or until the pumpkin pieces are fork tender – about the same consistency as a baked potato. When the squash has cooled slightly, scoop is of the cooked shell.

For pumpkin puree, mash or process the roasted, boiled or steamed chunks in a processor, blender or by hand. Season to be sweet or savory, as you choose and then use as directed in your favorite recipe. Cooked pumpkin pulp will keep in your freezer for six to eight months.

In addition to being used as a base for many sweet and savory recipes, pumpkin or winter squash puree may also be served on it’s own as you would mashed or creamed potatoes. Simply add a little butter to the puree and season to taste with salt and pepper.

From Little Seeds, Big Pumpkins Grow

pumpkin heirloom-seeds-740x493The pumpkin seeds, sometimes called pepitas, may be rinsed from the stringy pulp, which holds then in place inside the pumpkin and then baked. Because you will remove them before setting your Jack-o-lantern outside, you can bake and eat the seed from pumpkins you carve as well as those you cut up and cook.

First, rinse the seeds well, removing all of the pumpkin pulp. Then, pat the seeds dry between several layers of paper toweling. Spread the dry pumpkin seeds in a single layer on a lightly oiled or buttered baking sheet. Season them generously before baking with your favorite spice or spice combination. Use something as simple as a mix of salt and pepper or go for a zestier blend of garlic salt, chili powder and a dash of cumin. Toast the seeds in a preheated 200 degree oven for 45 minutes to one hour, turning them over halfway during the baking time. When the seeds are dry and toasted with a crunchy consistency, remove them for the oven and allow to cool to room temperature. Store in an airtight container and enjoy over the course of the next several weeks and months.

Pumpkin pairs well with other veggies of the fall season including locally grown carrots. Here’s a quick and easy recipe for oven roasted pumpkin and carrots – serve it up in carved out small pie pumpkins in place of bowls for an extra touch of something special. Enjoy!

 

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Heidi Billotto gets into the act at the 2014  Piedmont Culinary Guild’s Carved event several years ago – tons of fun for all!

Pumpkin and Carrot Soup

Recipe from Charlotte Culinary Expert, Heidi Billotto

1 medium sized pumpkin or 2-3  butternut or acorn squash, cut in half lengthwise

3-4 whole organic carrots, peeled and cut into chunks

2 shallots, minced

1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

Water or broth to cover

1 cup heavy cream or fat free half and half, more if needed

Sea salt and pepper to taste

Place the pumpkin or squash on a parchment paper lined baking sheet cut side down. no need to scrape the seeds out first unless you’d like to go ahead and roast those separately. Roast in a 400 degree oven for about 30 minutes or until the outside of the pumpkin or squash begin to brown. When the pumpkin is  cool enough to handle, use a spoon to scoop out and discard the seeds, then gently scoop the pulp from the skin. Reserve.

In a stockpot, Heat olive oil for a minute, till it becomes aromatic. Add carrots and shallots or leeks and saute until they start to brown. Add butternut squash, cover with water or broth; bring to a boil and allow to boil until carrots are tender.

Use an immersion blender or a food processor to puree the squash and carrots and stir into broth. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add the heavy cream or half and half for a creamier soup if you would like. Adjust seasonings.

Serve hot, freezes well. Thin with additional broth or water if desired.

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Stay tuned for another pumpkin centric post on Monday Oct 31, as a share how local Charlotte chefs are serving pumpkin on their fall menus and be sure to tune in to see 5 of my favorites on Monday’s Halloween edition of Charlotte Today on WCNC in Charlotte.

If you’d like to be the first to see each of my blogs posts as they appear on this site, then simply subscribe to the blog as prompted and each and every post will come right to your inbox.

Hurry, Hurry…Read All About It

Lots to read about in the culinary sections in both the Fall and Winter issues of Charlotte Living Magazine – ICYMI ( In Case You Missed It), today I wanted to share links to my recent culinary, giving back , art and travel articles 

HEIDI BILLOTTO FOODIn between cooking classes and catering, articles and recipes on HeidiBillottoFood.com and posts on my Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages, I write four times a year for a fabulous publication in Charlotte: Charlotte Living Magazine.
These perfectly bound glossy pages pair my words with wonderful photos and give me a chance to write in more detail about many of my favorite people and places.
You can pick up a copy of Charlotte Living Magazine at lots of places around Charlotte, including The Savory Spice Shop in Southend, EarthFare, Whole Foods, and The Atherton Mill Farmers’ Market, just to mention a few; or you can read it online in it’s flipbook format at CharlotteLivingMagazine.com.
The Food and Entertaining section online offers links to archived articles I have written over the past year on Kindred Restaurant in Davidson, The Fig Tree Restaurant, Bonterra Dining and Wine RoomPassion 8 Restaurant, Chef Bruce Moffett’s Trio of Restaurants: Barrington’s, Good Food on Montford and Stagioni , a piece about three ever favorites: The Heirloom, The Asbury and Fahrenheit Clt and more.
While a portion of the content in these archived articles may be dated by seasonal references,  the basic information is still current and it is important to note, that these restaurants continue to be places to put on your dining out radar.
over shot for fall recipesOn these pages you’ll also find stories about local product such as Charlotte’s own Cannizzaro Sauces.read more here…. and  a fun story on a new beverage category hitting bottle shops and grocery stores all over the southeast: Islander Ginger Beer.
What makes it new, is this is Alcoholic Ginger Beer and what makes is pertinent to you and Charlotte is that this Ginger Beer has North Carolina roots!
I won’t print any spoilers here – just…read more here… and then I know you’ll head out to buy a four pack for your next batch of Moscow Mules, Mimosas, or perhaps a Dark and Stormy or two. Islanders are available in Harris Teeter’s across the state and locally in Total Wine and Earthfare too.
2015 Fall issue of Charlotte Living
In the Fall 2015 issue we put an incredible dessert by Chef Ben Kallenbach, executive pastry chef at Ballantyne Hotel & Lodge on the cover and the cover story is about the hotel’s Gallery Restaurant and the talent Chef David Moore and his team bring to the table. Read more
This fall issue also includes a Three Day Weekend article all about Winston-Salem, the gate way to the North Carolina wine country and home to a host of great places to stay, eat and explore, such as Graze Restaurant, Atelier On Trade, Meridian Restaurant and more …Read More
2016 Winter issue of Charlotte Living
The culinary section in the Winter 2016 issue  is filled with places and products  you simply must try sooner than later if you haven’t already! Pick up an issue as you’ll want to devour each and every page. This issue is on newstands now, but until you have the issue in hand, I’ll tease you with a taste and a link back to my featured stories:
On Chef Tom Condron and his modern take on French cuisine at Lumiere French Kitchen in Charlotte’s Myers Park neighborhood… Read More

On Chef Tim Groody and his farm to The Fork! fare in Cornelius… Read More…in addition to nightly dinners, be sure to check out Fork’s Sunday brunch, too!

elizabeth ave Charlotte Living story heidi with chefsOn the all new Elizabeth Ave corridor in Charlotte, The Queen City’s first streetcar in 77 years  and the chefs ( Luca Annunziata of Passion 8, Paul Ketterhagen of Carpe Diem, Marc Jacksina of Earls Grocery, Trey Wilson of Customshop, Jose Garcia of 1900 Mexican Grille and Tequila Bar and Sun Jae Kim of Elizabeth Creamery) that are making this two block stretch Charlotte’s newest restaurant row… Read More… A big shout out to all of these chefs who came to help a writer out when I called them on a cold and rainy November Monday to come out for a photo at one of the Elizabeth Ave street signs – they all happily obliged and I couldn’t have been more thrilled – here is one of the shots I jumped in for fun just before Jose got there!

And speaking of Charlotte chefs, hope you will enjoy reading a recap I put together on a great giving back effort coordinated by the Charlotte-based Piedmont Culinary Guild and lead by chefs, farmers and people who cared  when our neighbors in South Carolina were affected by the October 2015 flooding. They all pitched in, not for publicity, but because it was the right thing to do, but I wanted to give them a little love and tell the story…Read More

Looking for a great way to Eat Local at home? Don’t miss the detes on my new favorite with Take and Bake product: frozen scones from Charlotte’s own The Scone Shop ( and YES, there is a package in my freezer, even as I type this – so you now I practice what I preach)… Read More

Food is art they say and it was my pleasure in this issue to write about the very talented Loren DiBenedetto, a Charlotte artists who paints the food you love to eat ( You’ll see when you…Read more… that Loren also paints detailed pet portraits, so if you have four legged friends, you’d like have captured on canvas, you might want to reach out to Loren for details. We own 6 of Loren’s charming paints ( 4 cats, a pear and a study of figs) and we love them every one.

blossom shop logoFinally, I would be remiss if I didn’t share one link for an advertisement in this Winter issue – its the back inside cover ad for The Blossom Shop. The Blossom Shop is owned my my dear friends and family by marriage Ted Todd and Debby Sacra. It’s been my go-to florist for years ( even before I married Tom and info the family) and I can’t say enough good things about the work they do – always making every special event in life even more memorable.  Call them, you’ll be thrilled you did.

Heidi Billotto 2008

To see The Blossom Shop ad now, follow this link – which will take you to the  online flipbook, then flip over to page 83. Here you’ll see a wedding photo of my my niece and new nephew from their September 2015 nuptials. As you will see, the bride and groom, Kendel and Chad Parks, were dazzling and the flowers were stunning!

Cheers to photographer Critsey Rowe for capturing it all on film and to the talented staff at Charlotte living for transforming it all into the best ad ever!

QUEEN CITY FOOD FIGHT: Charlotte Chefs Take the Spotlight

HEIDI BILLOTTO FOODIt is said that a rising tide lifts all boats, when one wins they all win, and so it is  in the Charlotte culinary community. As a food writer and restaurant critic here in the Queen City, I have seen this to be true.  In an industry with a general reputation toward  egocentric representatives, Charlotte chefs and culinarians are for the most part a breed apart working together to promote the whole and help each other along the way.

You find this kind of camaraderie here and there in other cities, but in Charlotte it really seems to be something special. So much so that when the Piedmont Culinary Guild was originally formed with founding members Chef Luca Annunziata, Chef Kris Reid and writer Cat Harris, they came up with the idea of All Ships Rising as it related to the local Charlotte and greater Piedmont region culinary community and wanted to try to equally promote the things Guild members were involved with as well as all their culinary accomplishments to make our community and the rest of the world aware of all the depth and breadth of  culinary talent we have here in the Queen City.

guild logoTo do so they came up with the Hashtag #PCG_Charlotte to use on all their social media posts.  Chef Paul Verica of Heritage Food & Drink  and Provision’s Market, both in Waxhaw took it a step further and started using the hashtage #CLTRising in his social media.  Recently Chef Bruce Moffett of Barrington’s, Stagioni and Good Food on Montford, not a Guild member but a long time, well known and much loved chef in the Charlotte community has started a campaign complete with a hashtag as well – #CharlotteCooksToo.  All in an effort to promote what Charlotte chefs do, and do quite well, day in and day out in restaurants, at catering venues and in Cooking Schools.

When one gets a nod, the industry here gets a nod.  When one wins, we all win. All ships rise.

That’s not to say that chefs in the greater Charlotte area don’t enjoy a little competition, on the contrary they are happy to take part in a friendly fisticuffs now and again. Hence the success of the very popular GotToBeNC Competition Dining series in this area –  with which, as many of you will know, I am involved doing social media and local farmer/ producer and sponsor relationships –  as well as several other competitive events.

food fight posterEnter the first Queen City Food Fight – a challenge from one group of Charlotte area chefs to another . The North Carolina chapter of the American Culinary Federation, a national networking organization for chefs and culinary professionals, challenged the Piedmont Culinary Guild, a Charlotte-based member-only ensemble of chefs, farmers and other members of our culinary community, this food writer included, to a food fight.

In a friendly throwdown format, four teams of chefs from both sides, prepared four separate incredible courses. This first of what I am sure will become an annual event was held Sunday August 30 in the teaching kitchens at Central Piedmont Community Center’s Van Every Culinary Center.

Celebrity judges for the first ever Queen City Food Fight: from left, Matt, Kathleen and George

Celebrity judges for the first ever Queen City Food Fight: from left, Matt, Kathleen and George

The chefs brought their best to the table while QC Food Fight Guests and the trio of Celebrity Judges –  George Smith of Copper Barrel Distillery, Kathleen Purvis of The Charlotte Observer and Matt Morano, Charlotte Meteorologist – had the opportunity to rate every course, ranking each one using a list of criteria including taste, presentation and overall appeal.

the wine line up - all localEach dish was paired with a North Carolina wine and several wine makers and representatives of wineries were on hand to pour and chat with Food Fight guests.  In the house and in each glass, were fine samplings from RayLen Vineyards, Jones and Von Drehle Winery, Divine Llama Vineyards and Childress Vineyards.  While the wine and food pairing was not a consideration in the voting, I will note that I thought the pairings were spot on each bringing out the best in both food and wine.

bartender from HauntIn addition  and in included in the ticket price, were two drink vouchers and guest also enjoyed a choice of two signature Queen City Food Fight cocktails made with local spirits from NC’s own Copper Barrel Moonshine, especially prepared for the event by mixologist, Kevin Gavagan  of Haunt Bar in Charlotte

The Queen City Food Fight team from ACF North Carolina

The Queen City Food Fight team from ACF North Carolina

All the dishes showed well,  but this day, at this food fight, it was the chefs from the Piedmont Culinary Guild who took the overall win from the judges and the People’s Choice win, as well as  the win for best plate. Best plate honors were a tight race between Chef Jon Fortes of The Flipside  Cafe and The Flipside Restaurant in Ft Mill and Pastry Chef Ashley Bivens of 300 East in Charlotte and Heritage Food & Drink in Waxhaw.

Ummm, hard to choose between perfectly done pork belly with a killer green tomato chimichurri and the rich creamy bruleed butternut squash and chocolate creameux. This year, chocolate wins and Chef Ashley and her team took home the bragging rites.

The Queen City Championship Team from Piedmont Culinary Guild in Charlotte

The Queen City Championship Team from Piedmont Culinary Guild in Charlotte

 

 

Well deserved kudos to all the participating chefs  who supported the first Queen City Food Fight event and cheers to the dishes they prepared so well.    Its competition yes, but in the end its an intentional collaboration within the Charlotte culinary community to put Charlotte area chefs and restaurants front and center.  Its working. Attention is being paid.

If you didn’t attend, or perhaps weren’t aware of the event, you most certainly want to put it on your radar for next year. In fact, You’ll also want to know that the ACF and Piedmont Culinary Guild both sponsor lots of great culinary events, open to the public, throughout the year. Best to follow each organization on social media to keep abreast of what is happening and when it is taking place. In the meantime though, here is a pictorial taste of what you missed at the Food Fight with recognition to  the chefs who made it happen. For more fun photos taken throughout the event, visit my FaceBook Page at Heidi Billotto  or Heidi Billotto Cooks.

First the four plates from The Piedmont Culinary Guild chefs and then the four from the American Culinry Federation NC chefs – all in all they made for a simply delicious Sunday afternoon. #CLTRising #PCG_Charlotte #CharlotteCooksToo

PCG amuse by Blake Hartwick

 

PGC Amuse: Rappahannok Oyster amuse from chef Blake Hartwick of Bonterra Dining and Wine Room  in Charlotte

 

PCG appetizer by Paul Verica

 

PCG Appetizer: Chef Paul Verica of Heritage Food & Drink’s interpretation of Local Corn and crab with Roasted Bell Pepper, Basil and Chipotle

 

PCG entree by Jon Fortes

 

PCG Entree: 5 Spice heritage farm BBQ Pork Belly with deconstructed porchetta “Deviled Ham”. cripsy pork rind, root and green tomato chimichurri by Chef Jon Fortes of The Flipside Restaurant

 

pcg dessert by ashley bivens

 

PCG Dessert: Bruleed Butternut Squash & chocolte cremeux, chocolate shortbread & Ganache, Vanilla Squash puree, Squah Souffle cake, Cinnamon Ice Milk by pastry chef Ashley Bivens Boyd of 300 East and Heritage Food & Drink

 

acf amuse by Melissa Cherry

 

ACF Amuse: – “Hop, Skip, Sip to a Chilly Alibi”, Alibi Beer Poached Shrimp, corn buttermilk and goat cream, Hops garnish by Chef Melissa Cherry

 

 

ACF appertizer by

 

ACF Appetizer: “Carmelized Watermelon Reaper” Carolina Reaper Pressed & Pickled Watermelon, Redux of Micro greens, Mini Southern Sourdough Biscuit, Smeared Fig & Watermelon Jam by chef Kris Siuta, executive chef, Carowinds

 

ACF entree by chef

 

ACF  Entree: ” Three Sisters from the Mountains” Flash Fried Cornmeal Trout, Corn Squash and Bean Succotash, Farro Risotto, Grape and Heirloom Tomato Relish by chef Phillip Lloyd of The Art Institute in Charlotte

 

acf dessert by

 

ACF Dessert: ” Smoked peaches and Cream” Creamed Goat cheese phyllo tart, Smoked peaches, molassed cram anglaise, Sweet Charleston Tea-infused pecans, chocolate mint by chef Emma Barnes, pastry chef-instructor, CPCC

 

Peter, Peter Pumpkin Eater | Seasonal Squash Aren’t Just for Carving

HEIDI BILLOTTO FOODWhen the Colonists first landed in North America they found the Indians growing and using pumpkins. The new Americans were quick to enthusiastically embrace the large round and sometimes ungainly fruit, which is actually a member of the gourd family, and subsequently pumpkin pie became an American tradition.

Today most of us do not hesitate to go out and choose a real pumpkin for our Halloween Jack-o-Lantern, but when it comes to actually cooking this seasonal squash, we tend to forgot that “Eat Local” mantra and all the possibilities of using fresh versus canned. This year, I suggest you shop from local farmers, rather than the canned veggie aisle of your local grocer and make some puree you can freeze and use for months to come.

Okay, I’ll admit it, while it is comforting to have a can or two or organic pumpkin puree on the shelf for back up; it’s easy to put up your own pumpkin puree this season and I am happy to use this post to show you how its done. Fresh pumpkin, like all other varieties of winter squash is abundant in this area and makes for some very fine eating not only in pie, but in custards, ice creams, breads, cookies and muffins as well as savory recipes like soups, salads, pastas, tempura and pureed or baked as a side with grilled or roasted meats and its great for juicing, too.

Whew! Pumpkin is also quite nice served raw, either grated into salads or thin sliced and served with raw veggies and your favorite dip.

These seasonal squash are low in calories, yet abundant in vitamins, minerals and fiber. Pumpkin is a great source for vitamins A, B-complex, C, and E all are rich in anti-oxidants and anti-aging properties. Health benefits aside,  legend and folk lore has it that this grandest of gourd’s is also an aphrodisiac…so all of a sudden, pumpkin season could take on a whole new meaning … just sayin’

In this post I’ve included a recipe originally given to me by my friend Linda Singerlie,  for one of the best pumpkin cheesecakes I have ever tasted. I tweaked it a bit to make it more local with the inclusion of local Una Alla Volta ricotta, local eggs and homemade brown sugar made from organic sugar and local molasses – instructions all to come.

But, before you cook, you must carve…

PCG_carved14_FB_highlightIf you are looking for some  inspiration before you carve, why not join me  and 25 plus other Charlotte chefs, all members of the Piedmont Culinary Guild on Sunday October 19 at 4 pm for the Guild’s annual fall fundraiser at 7th Street Market in Uptown Charlotte: a family event appropriately dubbed, CARVED. In attendance, skillfully wielding their knives and sharing their pumpkin carving skills will be the likes of Larry Schreiber from the Moffett Restaurant Group; Marc Jacksina from Earl’s Grocery; Chris Coleman from The Asbury; David Feimster from Fahrenheit; Ben Philpott from Block & Grinder; Gregory Collier from The Yolk; Michael Rayfield from Ballantyne Resort; Miles Payne from Little Spoon Eatery; Nicolas Daniels from The Wooden Vine; and Paul Verica from Heritage – just to name a few! For more info about these chefs and their restaurants – check out the links in the “shopping” portion of this post.

In addition to the two hour pumpkin carving competition all of the shops at the Market will be open for business and the Guild will have a tasty apple cider press demonstration complete with samples presented by Coldwater Creek Farms; and a beekeeping demonstration by Art Duckworth of Apple Orchard Farm.

Lenny Boy Brewery will be on hand with a special sweet potato beer.  As a ticket goer, adults will receive a souvenir CARVED 2014 cup good for two (8 oz) pours and one ticket to vote for your favorite pumpkin. The guild will be also be selling more tickets on site if people want to vote more than once.

Advance tickets are still on sale – links to purchase are at the end of this post. Tickets are $10 in advance  or $15 at the door. Kids 18 & under: $5 (unless they bring their own already carved jack-o-lantern and then it’s free!) Proceeds go to Piedmont Culinary Guild and Slow Food Charlotte’s Farmer Fund.

From carving to culinaria

pumkins in the fieldPumpkins grow in a wide variety of sizes, some weighing in at well over 100 pounds. Save the big brusiers for winning awards at county fares and for carving contests. Nothing like a large Jack-o-lantern set out and lit up on the porch designed to welcome treat or treating seasonal guests. Keep in mind that once “Jack” has been carved and spent several nights out of doors, all sorts of ants and other creepy crawly things may take up residence, to say nothing of the melted wax. That’s all fine, if the plan is to keep the carved pumpkin outside, but if you were planning to cook and eat the pulp after the 31st, then best to buy another pumpkin or two or three for all  your upcoming culinary endeavors this season.

For eating purposes, look for medium to slightly smaller pumpkins, those with more tender and succulent flesh.  Like any other winter squash – butternut, acorn, golden and Hubbard – the skin should be free from blemishes and the pumpkin or squash heavy for its size. Store whole any winter squash, pumpkins et al, at room temperature for as long as a month or keep in a cooler place for as long as three months.

To easily get inside the tough outer shell, place your pumpkin in a large heavy-duty plastic garbage bag, take it outside and drop it on some hard concrete – this might be one fun and good way for the kids to help with the process.. The pumpkin will split open into several pieces. Remove the pumpkin pieces from the bag, scoop out the stringy pulp that surrounds the seeds and then cut the firmer pulp from the outside pumpkin shell. Boil, steam, bake or fry the chunks of pumpkin as you would potatoes, or oven roast by placing the pumpkin chunks, skin and all, cut side down in a large baking sheet. Bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for about an hour, or an hour and a half or so, or until the pumpkin pieces are fork tender – about the same consistency as a baked potato. When the squash has cooled slightly, scoop is of the cooked shell.

For pumpkin puree, mash or process the roasted, boiled or steamed chunks in a processor, blender or by hand. Season to be sweet or savory, as you choose and then use as directed in your favorite recipe. Cooked pumpkin pulp will keep in your freezer for six to eight months.

In addition to being used as a base for many sweet and savory recipes, pumpkin or winter squash puree may also be served on it’s own as you would mashed or creamed potatoes. Simply add a little butter to the puree and season to taste with salt and pepper.

From little seeds, big pumpkins grow

pumpkin heirloom-seeds-740x493The pumpkin seeds, sometimes called pepitas, may be rinsed from the stringy pulp, which holds then in place inside the pumpkin and then baked. Because you will remove them before setting your Jack-o-lantern outside, you can bake and eat the seed from pumpkins you carve as well as those you cut up and cook.

First, rinse the seeds well, removing all of the pumpkin pulp. Then, pat the seeds dry between several layers of paper toweling. Spread the dry pumpkin seeds in a single layer on a lightly oiled or buttered baking sheet. Season them generously before baking with your favorite spice or spice combination. Use something as simple as a mix of salt and pepper or go for a zestier blend of garlic salt, chili powder and a dash of cumin. Toast the seeds in a preheated 200 degree oven for 45 minutes to one hour, turning them over halfway during the baking time. When the seeds are dry and toasted with a crunchy consistency, remove them for the oven and allow to cool to room temperature. Store in an airtight container and enjoy over the course of the next several weeks and months.

 

pumpkin cheesecakePUMPKIN STREUSEL CHEESECAKE

Recipe adapted by Charlotte Culinary Expert Heidi Billotto

For the Crust:

2-1/2 cups crushed  graham crackers

3 Tbsp. your favorite cinnamon from the Savory Spice Shop

4 Tbsp. butter, melted

For the Filling:

2 (8-oz.) pkg. cream cheese, softened

1 (8oz) container Una Volla Alta locally made ricotta cheese (available at Pasta & Provisions)

1 cup organic sugar

3 Tbsp. flour

2 tsp. your favorite Savory Spice Shop cinnamon

1 Tbsp. fresh minced Windcrest farms local organic baby ginger

1/2 tsp. ground cloves

1 Tbsp.  fresh grated nutmeg

1-1/2 cups of your own fresh made roasted pumpkin puree ( or use an equal amount of organic canned pumpkin)

4 whole local eggs

For the Streusel Topping:

1/2 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar ( i like to make my own by combining about a cup of organic sugar and about 1/4 cup of local Molasses ( I love Harrell Hill Farms Sorghum Syrup Molasses) – it makes the most delicious brown sugar you will ever eat!)

1/2 cup all purpose flour

1/4 cup cold butter

1/2 cup chopped pecans

Combine crust ingredients in a food processor and pulse several times to mix well. Press in bottom and up sides of ungreased 9-inch springform pan. Bake in a preheated 325 degree oven 10 minutes and set aside.

Meanwhile, make the filling: Beat the first seven ingredients  together; add pumpkin and eggs, mix until well blended. Pour into prepared crust; bake 55 minutes on middle rack. Place a shallow cake pan partially full of water on the bottom rack of the oven to provide moist heat in the oven and keep the cheesecake from drying out.

Carefully remove cheesecake and gently sprinkle streusel over the top before returning to oven for another 10 minutes. To help avoid cracking, turn oven off but leave cheesecake in oven with door cracked for a slow cooling process – about 30 minutes or until cheesecake center is set.

Remove from oven and cool to room temperature. Refrigerate cheesecake at least four hours or preferably overnight in the pan then removed sides and gently slide the cake off the bottom of the pan and onto a cake stand. Serve with a dollop of freshly whipped cream and enjoy!

Shopping and Contact info for tickets, products and chefs mentioned in this post:

Visit the events page of the Piedmont Culinary Guild website, to purchase advance tickets for the Oct 19 CARVED event online and remember tickets will also be available at the door

sss

 

For all of the spices mentioned in the Pumpkin Cheesecake recipe above, visit my friends Amy and Scott McCabe at the Savory Spice Shop in SouthEnd at Atherton Mill. 2000 South Blvd, Charlotte, NC 28203   980.225.5419

una alla volta

 

Uno Alla Volta cheeses are available at the Matthews Community Farmers Market and  at the regional Yorkmont Road Market on Saturdays and at cheese shops around town. For more info visit and “Like” them at  https://www.facebook.com/unoallvoltacheese 

 

hhfmolasses

 

Harrell Hill Farms Sorghum Syrup Molasses is available by contacting the farm in Bakersville, NC – contact information is on the farm’s website at http://harrellhillfarms.com/molasses.htm 

 

Lots of great area chefs are members of the Piedmont Culinary Guild – for more info or, of you are an interested chef, to become a member yourself, check out the Guild’s website at http://piedmontculinaryguild.com/what-is-the-piedmont-culinary-guild/  

For more info on the chefs and restaurants mentioned in this post, just click on the Urbanspoon or website links here:

Larry Schreiber from Good Food on Montford –Good Food on Montford on Urbanspoon

Marc Jacksina from Earl’s Grocery Earl's Grocery on Urbanspoon

Chris Coleman from The Asbury The Asbury on Urbanspoon

David Feimster from Fahrenheit Fahrenheit on Urbanspoon

Ben Philpott from Block & Grinder Block & Grinder on Urbanspoon

Gregory Collier from The Yolk The YOLK on Urbanspoon

Michael Rayfield from Ballantyne Resort Gallery Restaurant at Ballantyne Hotel & Lodge on Urbanspoon

Miles Payne from Little Spoon  http://www.littlespooneatery.com/

Nicolas Daniels from The Wooden Vine The Wooden Vine Wine Bar and Bistro on Urbanspoon

Paul Verica from Heritage Heritage Food and Drink on Urbanspoon