Chef Renée Kelly turns pumpkin into a belle of the ball
Fresh pumpkins come to market in early fall. We might think of them primarily as jack-o-lantern material or autumn decorations or pie filling. Yet savvy cooks know that fresh pumpkin, especially heirloom varieties, can make delicious savory dishes. European cooks have long turned these colorful vegetables into creamy soups, French gratins and fillings for Italian ravioli.
A French heirloom pumpkin is a favorite with Renée Kelly, the owner and executive chef at Renée Kelly’s Harvest. Bright orange and slightly squatty, Rouge Vif D’Etampes variety, a.k.a. “Cinderella,” looks like the carriage in the Disney movie. “I love the way this pumpkin variety tastes,” says Kelly. “Sort of complex and well-rounded. Velvety. Not a lot of water content, so it holds up well when you cook it.”
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At her Shawnee restaurant, the chef cubes the pumpkin and wraps it in thick-sliced local bacon from pasture-raised pork at Barham Family Farm in Kearney, Missouri. Then it gets a touch of molasses, balsamic vinegar, brown sugar and fresh rosemary. You can serve these succulent bites on toothpicks or skewer them on fresh rosemary branches. “Great for cocktail hour,” Kelly says.
You can find Cinderella and other heirloom pumpkins at Fahrmeier Farm in Lexington, Missouri; Faulkner’s Ranch on Raytown Road in Kansas City; Heritage Acres in Fort Scott, Kansas (also at the Overland Park Farmers Market and Hen House Markets). But don’t wait too long, or this coveted variety will disappear—like Cinderella’s carriage after the stroke of midnight.
1 medium Cinderella (Rouge Vif d’Etampes) pumpkin, seeds removed
16 slices bacon or prosciutto
4 Tbsp. molasses
1 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
1 cup packed brown sugar, light or dark
4 branches fresh rosemary
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Additional fresh rosemary branches for skewering, optional
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Cut the pumpkin into wedges, and then cut off the rind. Cut the pumpkin flesh into 3-inch cubes. Wrap each cube with 1/3 of a slice (cut lengthwise) of bacon.
Combine the molasses and balsamic vinegar in a small bowl and brush each pumpkin piece with the mixture. Pluck the rosemary leaves from the stems and finely chop. Place each pumpkin piece on the prepared baking sheet and sprinkle with brown sugar and chopped rosemary. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 20 minutes. Uncover and bake for 6 to 8 minutes more, or until the bacon is crispy and the pumpkin soft when tested with a toothpick.
Serve warm. If you like, cut each optional rosemary branch in half lengthwise. Remove some of the rosemary leaves from the middle, so you have a “tassel” on each end. Thread a few pumpkin cubes on each rosemary branch and serve.