Many things remind me of fall in Kansas City — the leaves began to drop off the tree, the sun goes down a little earlier, the nights are longer and of course a lot cooler.
By JASPER J. MIRABILE JR.
People also start wearing sweaters and talking of harvest. Our choice of food begins to change. Warm soups, slow braised meats and anything with apples start arriving at our dinner table.
One thing that really tells me it’s time for fall is when the pumpkins starting to show up in the local groceries and farmers market.
Pumpkins, like other squash, are native to North America. The word pumpkin originate from the word pepon which is Greek for large melon. Pumpkins are thought to have originated in North America and some of the oldest pumpkin related seeds date back to 7,000 and 5,000 B.C. which were found in Mexico.
Here in the Midwest, pumpkin farms are everywhere and of course so are pumpkin patches for children to go to and pick up the pumpkin for Halloween.
I personally like the Depot Market in Cortland, Kan. Dan Kuhn founded the farm in 1979 originally as an apple orchard. He graduated from Kansas State University and wanted to leave the city behind and operate own business.
Over the years, the business grew from an apple packing shed to include a seasonal variety of fruits and vegetables.
In 1989, Dan purchased the old Santa Fe Rock Island train depot and converted it into a retail store. He now farms over 80 acres of assorted pumpkin, squash and gourds.
I’m not talking just any pumpkins, I’m talking Blue pumpkins, White pumpkins, Pumpkin Pie pumpkins, Cinderella pumpkins, Big Mack pumpkins, Great White pumpkins Magic Lantern pumpkins Apple pumpkins, Buckskin pumpkins, Knucklehead pumpkins, Apprentice pumpkins, Pokey Man pumpkins, Uncle Fester pumpkins, mini pumpkins and more.
How’s that for a list of pumpkins?
Seriously, this has to be the largest list of pumpkins I’ve ever seen and they’re all grown right here in Kansas. They are available at all local Hen House Markets.
For this chef, I usually just pick out a regular pie pumpkin when I decide on my dishes that I want to prepare for the fall but this year there are so many choices it’s going to be a tough decision sampling all my recent discoveries.
I love pumpkin pie but that’s just really too ordinary so I like to experiment with new dishes such as roasted pumpkin and grilled pumpkin laced with balsamic reduction and sea salt.
I think back to the year 1984 when I really started working full-time for my father at Jasper’s Restaurant. It was time to put my own mark on the kitchen and menu and I wanted to add a dish that what really hadn’t ever been served before.
I knew pasta was always popular and of course it was fall so I put two and two together and I came up with pumpkin ravioli.
This was way before the craze of different flavored raviolis and pasta dishes. Things were pretty old-school back then. I went to my father and told him about my thoughts on a new dish and described the ingredients. He told me in Northern Italy he would enjoy Ravioli di Zucca with brown butter and sage. That was a good idea but I was thinking something like a Béchamel with a hint if nutmeg and sweet sherry wine.
I went back into the kitchen and rolled myself out some very thin pasta dough. I roasted the pumpkin and mixed the purée, added some spice along with some Ricotta cheese and grated at Romano. I filled the pasta cushions with the mixture. Voila … Pumpkin Ravioli was born.
I made the Béchamel sauce, boiled the ravioli, added it to the sauce and tossed and put on a platter. I brought it to my father and brother for a tasting and immediately their eyes lit up. My brother Leonard told me that he thought we are on the something really big.
We did a taste test with our staff and decided to add to our Fall Menu at Jasper’s. We received great reviews and our kitchen was overwhelmed.
Later that year I received a request from Emeril Lagasse to feature my recipe on his new show on the Food Network. At that time, no one had ever heard of Emeril or the Food Network. I was surprised when he actually used the recipe on TV. Wow, talk about an honor.
That year and every year since then, pumpkin ravioli rules at Jasper’s. It is our number one selling dish and the most requested recipe from our cookbook.
And so my friends, I have given you my thoughts and cooking ideas along with a great source for local pumpkins. I now give you the Great Pumpkin Challenge and hope you create a new and unique recipe to pass down to your family.
Don’t worry, you can still enjoy some traditional pumpkin pie in the coming months, but I seriously suggest you get on the pumpkin bandwagon and create a recipe of your own.
Now go find a pumpkin patch and send me your favorite recipe and or new creation for a pumpkin dish to Jasperjr@jasperskc.com. Who knows, I may just use it on my menu.
The Pumpkin Challenge is on!
Chef Jasper J. Mirabile Jr. of Jasper’s commands the helm of his family’s 59-year-old restaurant, consistently rated one of Kansas City’s best Italian restaurants. In addition to running the restaurant with his brother, Mirabile is a culinary instructor, founding member of Slow Food Kansas City and a national board member of the American Institute of Wine and Food. He hosts many famous chefs on his weekly radio show Live! From Jasper’s Kitchen on KCMO 710 AM and 103.7 FM and sells a line of dressings and sauces.