I’ve been feeling a little blue lately.
After making the blue cheese souffle, I wanted to find another recipe for the pungent cheese. With a crisp Fall day on hand, and several pumpkins beckoning, I decided to throw some pumpkin slices on the grill. I marinated the pumpkin slices with ginger, olive oil, salt, and pepper, and then tossed them on the grill. A few grill marks later, I combined the hot gourds with blue cheese and the salad regulars, for a real American salad.
Indeed, pumpkins are one of the continent’s oldest crops, having been first cultivated thousands of years ago by Native American tribes. During the colonial era, the tribes routinely prepared pumpkin, yielding pumpkin pancakes, pumpkin porridge, pumpkin stew, and even pumpkin jerky. Christopher Columbus must have sampled some of the pancakes, because he returned to Italy with pumpkin seeds.
Columbus was not the only European excited by pumpkin. Peter Kalm, a Swede on vacation in 18th Century America, noted finding “pumpkins of several kinds, oblong, round, flat or compressed, crook-necked, small, etc.” Most often, Kalm found the pumpkins were halved, the seeds removed, and then roasted and served with butter “while they are warm.”
And pumpkin was hardly the only thing on the menu; the Native Americans grew dozens of other squash. “Squash” itself is derived from “askutasquash,” a Narragansett word for “green thing eaten raw.” Though you shouldn’t take that advice: almost all squash must be cooked before being eaten. “All squash” is not limited to the three of four varieties you might find in the vegetable aisle.
One side of the winter squash family includes acorn, buttercups, butternuts, cheese, golden dumplings, kabochas, pumpkins, and turbans. This side of the family is the fun-loving, sturdy side of the squash family, known for its orange fleshes and strong flavors. This side of the family works well in raviolis and soups, and it’s worth trying a kabocha tart or butternut squash bread. Of all the varieties, butternut is probably the most well-known, and deservedly so; it yields the most meat per pound. Cheese squash, with sweetness packed tight, is also good for the sweeter things in life.
The other side of the winter squash family is more reserved and cautious. The carnivals, delicatas, dumplings, and spaghettis are still squash, but carry a lighter and more subtle demeanor. Their smaller size and less distinctive taste makes them more suited for side dishes. They prefer to be sliced, tossed with oil, and roasted until they caramelize. Anything more elaborate and festive is best left to their more adventuresome cousins.
As the Thanksgiving Holiday approaches, I thought I’d honor the spirit of the Harvest with a
Grilled Pumpkin Salad
PREP TIME: 15 minutes
COOK TIME: 10 minutes
YIELD: Serves 4
WHAT TO GRAB:
1 pie pumpkin
2 tablespoons olive oil or pumpkin seed oil
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon ground ginger
Fresh aragula or baby spinach
1/2 cup blue cheese, crumbled
1/2 cup toasted pecans
4 roma tomatoes, sliced
Homemade vinaigrette (recipe here)
HOW YOU DO IT:
1. Preheat the grill to about 400 degrees. Once ready, lightly brush the grills with olive oil.
2. Slice the pumpkins in half and scoop out the seeds. Lay the pumpkins flat on a cutting board. Working from the top to the bottom, cut the pumpkin into slices about 3/4-inch thick. Don’t peel the skin until after the pumpkin slices have cooked – it will be much easier that way. In a large bowl, toss the pumpkin slices with the oil, salt, pepper, and ginger. Mix until the slices are well-coated.
3. Place the pumpkin slices on the grill, and cook for about 4 or 5 minutes with the grill covered. Turn the slices over, and grill for another 3 or 4 minutes, still covered. You want the slices cooked through, but not fully browned.
4. Cut the pumpkin slices in half and remove the skin.
5. To make the salad, toss the aragula or baby spinach on a plate. Place the pumpkin slices on top of the greens. Add the blue cheese, pecans, tomatoes, and top with the dressing. Serve!