Calabaza, the great big tan or greenish (not Jack-o-lantern orange) pumpkin, knows its homeland to be Mexico. Though its flesh and seeds supplied nourishment to the locals for millenia, not too many savory calabaza recipes show up in cookbooks or restaurants or on special-occasion tables. Yet heavy slices hacked from big pumpkins always are for sale in my local Mexican grocery.
Perhaps pumpkin has been relegated to the indigenous backroom stews that trace their history directly to times before the Spaniards brought “civilization” to Mexico. I like pumpkins texture and flavor, especially when braised with the classic Essential Roasted Tomatillo-Chipotle Salsa and pork. Add a scoop of fried beans or red rice and hot corn tortillas, and you’ve got a great meal.
- 1 1/4 cups Essential Roasted Tomatillo-Chipotle Salsa (see below)
- 3 to 6 (1/4 to 1/2 ounce) stemmed, dried chipotle chiles (or canned chipotle chilies en adobo)
- 3 large garlic cloves, unpeeled
- 8 ounces (about 5 medium) tomatillos, husked and rinsed
- 12 ounces (2 medium-small round or 4 to 5 plum) ripe tomatoes
- 1 tablespoon olive oil or rich-flavored lard
- 1/2 pound lean boneless pork shoulder, cut into 1/2-inch pieces (optional)
- 1 medium white onion, thinly sliced
- 1/4 cup chicken broth or water
- Salt, about 1 teaspoon
- Sugar, about 1/4 teaspoon
- 4 cups peeled, seeded and cubed (3/4-inch pieces) fresh pumpkin, preferably from a 1 1/2-pound wedge cut from a tan or green Mexican pumpkin (a 2-pound pie pumpkin will give you about the right amount, too)
How to make it
Advance preparation: The braising sauce can be prepared through step 2 several days in advance; cover and refrigerate. The dish can be baked for 40 or 45 minutes, cooled and refrigerated; finish baking just before serving at 400 degrees for 15 or 20 minutes.
Variations and improvisations: You can, of course, make this dish with other pumpkins and squash: Butternut squash offers a dense texture and rich taste; hubbard is lighter with a soft texture, pie pumpkins are very good all around–use what you can get your hands on. Also, to add a green balance of flavor, stir in 1 to 1 1/2 cups of sliced chard, cleaned lamb’s quarters (quelites) or amaranth greens (quintoniles) before baking.
Serves 4 as a small entree, 6 as a hearty side dish
For more pumpkin recipes from Rick Bayless, check out:
Chilled Peanuts and Pumpkin Seeds
Avocado-Mango Salad with Fresh (or Blue) Cheese, Bacon and Toasted Pumpkin Seeds
Chicken in Pueblan Green Pumpkin Seed Sauce