(Re-posted here, Sept. 2014. Originally posted on Oct. 18, 2012, as a Facebook Note.)
[Retrospective comment: Alas, I took no photo of the Best Pumpkin Seeds Ever.]
Things you should be aware of: I have access to crazy ingredients. My mom hunts wild mushrooms. She cans or dries a lot of them and gives them as gifts. I live in a metropolitan area with specialty food shops like Balducci’s and Penzeys (where I get Aleppo pepper and most of my other spices). For the past three or four years I have put “fancy salt” on my wishlist for Christmas, so I have a collection of salts. I realize this is not normal.
Also, my almost-former-boss and longtime friend and ally Piers (whose imminent departure for a new job in France is the primary cause of both my recent sleeplessness and willingness to focus obsessively on a recipe that takes four days) said he thought it would be funny if I included not just the recipe, but also all the other stuff that was going on. Jim Chokey, I charge you with turning this narrative into recipe-file-appropriate form.
A Big Pot of Lamb & Pumpkin Stew
Active time: About an hour | Cook time: at least 8 hours.
Makes probably 8-10 generous servings. I think I ended up with 14 1/2 cups, plus a cup of bone.
- Lamb shanks, 3.5 lbs – have the butcher cut them into 4 or 5 pieces each (releases marrow better)
- 2 small sugar (or “pie”) pumpkins, about 4lbs total
- 1 large yellow onion
- 2 heads garlic
- Duck fat , about 3T total–some for roasting pumpkin, some for browning lamb. (I don’t expect you to buy duck fat just for this recipe; olive oil and/or butter would be fine. If you use margarine it will ruin everything. If you ever cook duck, save the rendered fat and keep it in the freezer. The duck fat I’m using here is Rougie brand, which I got at Balducci’s.)
- Mushroom stock in a box (chicken stock or water would work, too–the mushroom stock is saltier than I wanted; next time I’ll probably use water and more dried mushrooms)
- 1 grocery-store bag frozen mixed leafy greens (kale, collards, mustard greens)
- Handful of dried mushrooms (I used hen of the woods / maitake, but shiitakes or porcinis or “wild mushroom mix” would work fine)
- 1 can of cannelini beans
- Spices ad lib: 2 tsp coriander, 1 tsp each cumin, cinnamon, whole peppercorns, applewood-smoked-salt. (Or sea salt, I guess.)
Equipment: This is a “Use all the pans!” recipe. Might be possible to do with just the dutch oven and a roasting pan or cookie sheet, if you were to do it all in one day.
- Cutting board
- Big skillet
- Roasting pan
- Dutch oven, 7 1/4 quart
- Thing you like to stir with
- Spoon for scraping pumpkin goop
- Medium-sized bowl for pumpkin seeds and goop
- Microwaveable ramekin
Monday: Go grocery shopping. Come home kinda late, to discover that your shower curtain rail has fallen down. Split the pumpkins in half around the equator and scrape out all the seeds and goop (put that all in a bowl and cover with applewood-smoked-salted water to make toasted pumpkin seeds with later). Cut the pumpkin into big pieces, put them in a roasting pan, drizzle with your cooking fat of choice and a little salt, and put them in a 400 oven (actually 375 in a roasting pan with a little water would probably have worked better). The point of roasting the pumpkin is to concentrate its flavor and drive off its water–if you just use raw pumpkin the stew gets watery.
Around 9:30pm, start browning the lamb shank pieces (seasoned with salt and pepper) in your cooking fat of choice (butter would burn for this bit, so use olive oil if you’re not of the “I have duck fat in my pantry” persuasion). You’ll need to do a couple of batches. Multitask: Peel and dice a good-sized onion, and peel and crush (just with a knife, not a garlic press) all the cloves from both heads of garlic. When the lamb is all done (not cooked–just richly browned), put it in a crockpot, and saute the onion and garlic with the spices in the (unrinsed) skillet.
When you’re done with that, go get a stepladder to start re-hanging your shower curtain rail. Notice that the smoke detector right outside the bathroom starts making a loud chirping noise every minute or so. Think “I didn’t make that much smoke, and that sounds exactly like the ‘please replace my battery’ noise.” Look for 9-volt batteries and determine that you don’t have any. Shut off the oven (leave the pumpkin in there). Go to CVS and buy 9-volt batteries. Notice on the way that, in your haste to stop the disturbing chirping, you didn’t wash your hands before you left the house, and you smell like a crazy incarnation of Gascon cuisine.
Get home. Move stepladder to underneath the smoke detector. Replace battery. Notice that chirping does not stop. Set up a fan right underneath the smoke detector, which is what made the screeching stop a couple months ago when you were pan-grilling a ribeye. The chirping does not stop. There is a button labelled “Press to Hush”. Press it. The smoke detector makes a loud upsetting screeching noise and flashes its “smoke” and “carbon monoxide” lights at you briefly. Pull battery out again. Notice that there is a second smoke detector in your front bedroom, which is also making a chirping noise. (The one in the back bedroom, mere feet away, seems unperturbed.)
Decide that maybe it is a little smoky in here after all. Open kitchen window and move the fan from under the smoke detector onto the kitchen counter, so it’s blowing straight out the window. Make a couple more attempts at battery switching; get rewarded with screeching noises. Un-twist the smoke detectors from their housings; they hang from their wires and continue chirping. Throw the circuit breaker that cuts the smoke detectors off from the household wiring. Chirping stops. Throw breaker back into on position. Still no chirping! Success in sight! Attempt to twist the smoke detectors back into the ceiling. Fail several times. Make sure your shoulders and neck are really hurting at this point, and you are a good hour past your bedtime. Begin using intemperate language. Decide you should calm down a little.
Cover the lamb (in the crockpot) with the sauteed onion and garlic. Lid on. Put in refrigerator. Get pumpkin out of oven; set on stove to cool. Successfully restore smoke detectors to their ceiling mounts. Put pumpkin in the refrigerator (with a cover–I have a Pyrex roasting pan that comes with a cover, but foil would work fine). Go to bed. Realize you never finished putting up the shower curtain rail, so get out of bed and do that. Fail to fall asleep until 2am.
Tuesday: At 5:15am, rinse off the pumpkin seeds. Get ready for work. Get the crockpot out of the refrigerator, put it in its warming element outer sleeve thing, turn it on low, and leave for work at 6:45am. Go out to dinner with Julia after work. Get home around 10pm. The lamb shanks smell incredible and are slipping off the bone. Put them in the fridge. Sleep.
Wednesday: Get home from work at a reasonable hour. Get the pumpkin out of the fridge and realize it’s not as tender as you wanted. Pout. Peel the pumpkin and put it in a dutch oven. Add the greens. Slide the lamb meat off the bones. Put the lamb meat, the larger (marrow-rich) bones, and all the glorious garlic-onion-lamb-broth-jelly in the dutch oven. Notice that the garlic has completely dissolved into the stock, even though you just threw them in as whole cloves.
Add mushroom broth and little pieces of dried mushroom. Look at the whole thing and decide it needs a can of beans. Hope you have a can of white beans in the pantry. You do! Hooray! Rinse them and add them to the pot. Be delighted with how pretty it looks; take a picture and post it on Facebook.
Cook everything for a while. Wash and dry the Pyrex roaster and spread the pumpkin seeds out to dry in it (they toast much more crispily if they are dry to start with).
You’re going to Jeanne’s house at 8:30, so eat a bowl of stew and notice that it’s pretty good, but a bit too salty. It also tastes confused and awkward, as though the ingredients have all just found themselves teleported into the same room together, and don’t know where they are or why they are there. The pumpkin needs to cook a while longer; it’s al dente, when you were going for mashable. Put everything back in the crockpot and put it on high (you’ll be back by 10:30ish). As you are grabbing your keys to leave the house, the smoke detectors start bleeping again. This is very upsetting, particularly because the oven and the stove are both off. Investigate your home to see if mayhaps something has spontaneously combusted. Find nothing on fire. Throw the circuit breaker and go visit Jeanne. Go to a different CVS and buy a can of compressed air (for which you get carded); Jeanne buys an armful of Halloween candy. Come home. Pull the crock out of the heating element and put it back in the fridge. Notice that the pumpkin and greens aren’t quite as pretty as when you took the picture. Dust out the smoke detectors with the compressed air. Turn the circuit breaker back on. No chirping. Stay up really late messing around with Pinterest.
Thursday: In the morning, stir the pumpkin seeds. (They are sitting on the counter in the roasting pan, remember?) Go to work. Get home a bit early. The pumpkin seeds are dry! Yippee! Preheat oven to 275. Melt a tablespoon of duck fat in a glass ramekin in the microwave, and stir in a bit of coriander, dried orange peel, Aleppo pepper, and applewood-smoked salt (all mortar-and-pestled together). Pour that all over the pumpkin seeds and rub them around with your hands until the seeds (and your hands) are evenly coated with spicy duck fat. Briefly enjoy the “crazy incarnation of Gascon cuisine” moment, but then wash your hands.
Toast the pumpkin seeds for an hour and a bit, stirring every 20 minutes or so, until they are golden and make a crispy-fall-leaf-rustling noise when you stir them. Eat a couple. They are delicious. Eat a couple more. They are the best pumpkin seeds you have ever had. They are extremely crispy, and the flavor profile is intense and layered–it takes a long time to taste them from salty start to warm-chili-citrus finish. Contemplate eating all of them for dinner. Decide against it. Heat up a bowl of stew. The saltiness has mellowed–apparently the pumpkin took up quite a bit of salt as it cooked into its perfect mashable state. Marvel at how all the flavors and textures have become harmonious while remaining distinct (they bonded during the teleporting incident, and are now over at the pumpkin’s house having a potluck and watching Firefly). Be happy you know how to cook. Be grateful that your smoke detectors have not made an annoying noise in almost 24 hours and your shower curtain rail has stayed up. Write down your recipe; consider figuring out how to make a French accent aigu in a Facebook note, but decide that most people will recognize the word “saute” without it.
Postscript, Oct. 26: But wait, there’s more! I am delighted to report that this stew freezes-and-reheats deliciously. The pumpkin seeds stay acceptably crisp for at least 9 days in a pyrex-with-a-lid. They are not as mind-boggling as they were when they first came out of the oven, but they are still very good indeed.
Post-Postscript, Sept. 20, 2014: I have learned that in Apple-land, I can press and hold the e key and a little menu pops up that lets me write all the ééés I want! Also, I’m going to be gradually porting my recipe notes from Facebook onto this blog, because (a) I want to corral my creative work in the same place, and (b) digital intellectual property stuff is weird.