Sixth week seems to be that time of the quarter when absolutely no one is in a good mood. Especially in autumn quarter, when the pessimism of the imminent winter sets in, and what is left of our energy and enthusiasm slowly fades during midterms.
A glimmer of joy returns, however, in the grace of the weekend after. Midterms are more or less done, and procrastination can resume without consequence for at least another week and a half. It was in this spirit of celebration that I decided this past weekend to let my hair down—really let loose. I was going to court my proverbial wild side, and nothing tame or timid would do.
Perhaps it is a testament to the power my third-year standing has had over my first-year aspirations of alcoholism that the highlight to this weekend on the edge was a night spent almost entirely in the kitchen. Maybe it betrays a certain amount of domestication on my part that phyllo dough has replaced Phi Delt on Saturday nights, but this recipe for a beef stew cooked inside of a pumpkin showed me how much of an adventure a good recipe can be.
The journey started with a two-hour trip to northwest Chicago with my friend Amy Roder for some good pumpkins. She and her connections at the fabulous Farmer’s Market and Garden Center were my saviors, because apparently no one on the South Side sells pumpkins after Halloween. A nice butcher at the 55th Co-Op did make the interesting suggestion that I use another kind of squash or gourd, which is certainly possible if you want to make this stew at some time during the year other than Halloween.
The marvelous results were three beautiful small sugar pumpkins. The original recipe called for one large sugar pumpkin of about 10-12 pounds, but the limited amount of refrigerated storage space in my apartment (as well as the lack of large sugar pumpkins) necessitated the slight variation in the recipe.
The vegetables should be cut based on how firm or soft you like them in the stew. Since the total cooking time for the vegetables is about four hours, they will be pretty soft no matter what, but if you prefer your vegetables to be slightly mushy rather than super mushy, just cut the slices and cubes a little larger. Also, vary the vegetables based on what you enjoy. Vegetables such as celery, zucchini, and yellow squash would be great in this stew.
One of the best results of any pumpkin recipe is the fact that you get to bake fresh pumpkin seeds. Just whisk together one egg yolk with about half a teaspoon of salt and about two teaspoons of your favorite spice. Mix in a cup of pumpkin seeds and remove the excess liquid. Spread the seeds into a single layer on a cookie sheet and bake at 325° F until you hear a seed pop. I added curry powder, but I think replacing the salt with sugar and adding some ground cinnamon would be delicious as well.
2 pounds beef stew meat, cut into 1-inch cubes
3 Tablespoons vegetable oil
1 cup water
3 Idaho potatoes, peeled and cubed
4 carrots, shaved and sliced
1 large green bell pepper
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 onion, chopped
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 (14.5 ounce) cans whole peeled tomatoes, chopped
2 Tablespoons beef bouillon granules
3 sugar pumpkins, each about 6 inches in diameter
Piquant Point: Vary the cooking time based on how thick you want the stew to be. About an hour or an hour and a half is enough time for a soupier stew.
1. In a large saucepan, cook beef in 2 Tablespoons of oil on medium-high heat until the edges are evenly browned.
2. Mix in water, potatoes, carrots, green bell pepper, onion, garlic, salt, and pepper. Bring to a
boil. Reduce heat and simmer for about 2 hours.
3. While the beef mixture is simmering, cut the top off the pumpkin and remove the seeds and pulp.
4. Preheat the oven to 325° F.
5. After the 2 hours of simmering, dissolve the beef bouillon in the mixture. Stir in the tomatoes.
6. Place the pumpkin in a baking dish with depth—don’t use a cookie sheet or something that won’t catch the liquid overflow. Fill the pumpkin with the beef mixture. Brush the outside of the pumpkin with the remaining oil.
7. Bake the pumpkin for two hours or until the pumpkin is tender.
8. Scrape some of the pumpkin off with each serving of the stew.