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)
1. Making 1 1/4 cups Essential Roasted Tomatillo-Chipotle Salsa. For dried chiles, toast them on an ungreased griddle or skillet over medium heat, turning regularly and pressing flat with a spatula, until very aromatic, about 30 seconds. In a small bowl, cover the chiles with hot water and let rehydrate 30 minutes, stirring frequently to ensure even soaking. Drain and discard the water. (Canned chiles need only be removed from their canning sauce.)
While chiles are soaking, roast the unpeeled garlic on the griddle or skillet, turning occasionally, until soft (they will blacken in spots), about 15 minutes; cool and peel. Roast the tomatillos on a baking sheet 4 inches below a very hot broiler until blackened on one side, about 5 minutes, then flip and roast the other side. (For the sake of efficiency, you can roast the tomatoes from step 2 while you're roasting the tomatillos.)
Scrape the tomatillos (and their juices), rehydrated or canned chiles and garlic into a food processor or blender, and process to a rather fine-textured puree. Transfer to a bowl and stir in enough water (3 to 4 tablespoons) to give the salsa a medium consistency.
2. The braising sauce. Roast the tomatoes on a baking sheet 4 inches below a very hot broiler until blackened on one side, about 6 minutes, then flip and roast the other side. Cool, then peel and roughly chop, collecting any juices with the tomatoes.
In a large (10- to 12-inch) heavy skillet, heat the oil or lard over medium-high. If you're using the cubed pork, fry it now, turning and scraping up bits of browned meat, until nicely golden all over, about 10 minutes; scrape into a small bowl, leaving behind as much oil as possible.
In the same skillet, fry the onion, stirring regularly, until well browned, about 10 minutes. Add the tomatillo salsa and the tomatoes to the skillet, stir for several minutes as it all thickens and reduces, then stir in the broth or water. Taste and season with salt and sugar.
3. Finishing the dish. Turn on the oven to 350 degrees. Place the pumpkin cubes in an ovenproof baking/serving dish just big enough to hold them in about an inch-thick layer (a 9x9-inch Pyrex dish works well). Mix in the browned pork if using it. Pour the sauce over everything, cover with foil or a lid and bake until the pumpkin is tender, 40 to 45 minutes.
Uncover, raise the oven temperature to 400 degrees, bake until the sauce has reduced a little and the top is crusty, about 15 minutes longer, and it's ready to carry to the table.
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.
CHILE-GLAZED SWEET POTATOES WITH CINNAMON & ORANGE
Camote Adobado --
Serves 6 to 8 as an accompaniment
For 2/3 cup Essential Sweet-and-Spicy Ancho Chile Seasoning Paste:
5 garlic cloves, unpeeled
6 medium-to-small (a scant 3 ounces total) dried ancho chiles, stemmed and seeded
1 tablespoon finely chopped orange zest (orange rind only), plus some thinly-slivered zest for garnish
1/2 cup fresh orange juice
2 tablespoons honey
Salt, a generous teaspoon
2 tablespoons melted butter or olive oil (optional), plus a little extra for the pan
A few tablespoons chopped cilantro, for garnish
1 or 2 tablespoons Thick Cream (page 165), crème fraîche or sour cream thinned with a little milk, for garnish
1. Making 2/3 cup Essential Sweet-and-Spicy Ancho Chile Seasoning Paste. Roast the unpeeled garlic on an ungreased griddle or heavy skillet over medium heat, turning occasionally, until soft (they'll blacken in spots), about 15 minutes; cool and peel. While the garlic is roasting, toast the chiles on another side of the griddle or skillet: 1 or 2 at a time, open them flat and press down firmly on the hot surface with a spatula; in a few seconds, when they crackle, even send up a wisp of smoke, flip them and press down to toast the other side. In a small bowl, cover the chiles with hot water and let rehydrate for 30 minutes, stirring regularly to insure even soaking. Drain and discard the water.
Combine the oregano, cinnamon, black pepper and cloves in a food processor or blender, along with the chiles, garlic and broth or water. Process to a smooth puree, scraping and stirring every few seconds. (If the mixture just won't go through the blender blades, add a little more liquid.) Press through a medium-mesh strainer into a small bowl.
2. Assembling the dish. Slice each of the sweet potatoes into 4 lengthwise wedges. Lightly butter or oil a 13x9-inch baking dish, and lay in the sweet potatoes in a single layer. Combine the chile seasoning paste with the orange zest, orange juice and honey. Taste and season with salt (it should taste salty, since this is the seasoning for the potatoes). Spoon evenly over the sweet potatoes.
3. Baking the potatoes. Turn on the oven to 350 degrees. Drizzle the sweet potatoes with the (optional) butter or oil, cover with aluminum foil and bake for 45 minutes or until the potatoes are almost fork-tender.
Raise the oven temperature to 425 degrees, uncover the potatoes, baste with the juices and bake until the potatoes are nicely glazed and the sauce reduced to a medium-thickness, about 10 minutes. Sprinkle with slivers of orange zest, chopped cilantro and a drizzle of cream if you wish, and it's ready to serve.
Advance Preparation — The seasoning paste may be made a week or so ahead. The potatoes can be assembled through Step 2 several hours in advance, or they can even be baked and reheated. Garnish right before serving.
MACARONI & CHEESE
Serves 8 generously
2 cups milk
4 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups Roasted Poblano-Tomato Salsa or Roasted Jalapeno-Tomato Salsa
3 cups (12 ounces) shredded cheddar cheese
Salt, about 1.5 teaspoons
1 pound dried pasta (though elbow macaroni will do, I suggest you try cork-screw cavatappi or the spiral rotini or fusilli)
A couple of tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro, for garnish
1. Into a large pot pour about 4 quarts of water, cover and set over high heat. Measure the milk in a glass measuring cup and warm for a minute in a microwave on high (or warm in a small saucepan). In a medium-size saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat, then stir in the flour and whisk until the mixture turns a deep golden, about 2 minutes. Add the warmed milk all at once and continue to whisk constantly until the mixture thickens and comes to a full boil, 4 or 5 minutes. (Whisk diligently and there will be no lumps.) Stir in the salsa, remove from the heat, then stir in cheese, stirring until it melts. Taste and season generously with salt.
2. When the water has come to a boil, add the dried pasta. Stir well so no pieces stick together and boil until the pasta is al dente, about 10 minutes. Drain thoroughly and return to the pot. Stir in the cheese sauce, then spoon into a serving dish. Sprinkle with the cilantro and you're ready to dig in.
Note: If you want a wonderful contrasting texture, spoon the macaroni and cheese into a buttered baking dish. Top with buttered bread crumbs and bake in a 375-degree oven for 10 to 12 minutes, until richly browned and crisp.
GUACAMOLE WITH TOASTED WALNUTS & POMEGRANATE
Yield: about 3 cups
1 fresh poblano chile
3/4 cup walnuts
3 ripe, medium-large avocados
1/2 medium white onion, chopped into pieces no larger than 1/4 inch (1/3 cup)
2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley leaves
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
Seeds from 1/2 medium pomegranate, removed from pith
Roast the poblano over an open flame or 4 inches below a broiler, turning regularly until blackened all over, about 5 minutes for an open flame, 10 minutes for the broiler. Place in a bowl, cover with a kitchen towel and let cool until handleable. Rub the blackened skin off the chile and pull out the stem and seed pod. Rinse to remove bits of skin and seed. Roughly chop and scoop into a mortar.
While the chile is cooling, heat the oven to 325 degrees, then spread the walnuts on a baking sheet and bake them until toasty-aromatic, 8 to 10 minutes. Cool. Scrape about 2/3 of the walnuts in with the poblanos; set aside the remainder for garnish. Use the pestle to crush the walnuts and poblanos together to a coarse puree. Scrape the mixture into a large bowl.
Mash the avocado flesh with the poblano and walnut: Cut the avocados in half, running a knife around the pit from top to bottom and back up again. Twist the halves in opposite directions to release the pit from one side. Scoop out the pit, then scoop the flesh from each half. With an old-fashioned potato masher, large fork or back of a large spoon, coarsely mash the avocado with the poblano-walnut mixture.
Scoop the onion into a strainer, rinse under cold water, shake off the excess and add to the avocado along with parsley and lime. Stir to combine, then taste and season with salt, usually about 1 teaspoon. Cover with plastic wrap directly on the surface of the guacamole and refrigerate until you're ready to serve. When that moment arrives, scrape the guacamole into a serving dish and sprinkle with the pomegranate seeds.
Yield: 1 cocktail
To make Peppery Cinnamon Salt, mix 3 parts coarse (kosher) salt with 2 parts ground cinnamon (preferably fresh-ground Mexican canela) and 1 part fresh-ground black pepper.
Peppery Cinnamon Salt (see Bartender's notes above) or coarse (kosher) salt
1 lime wedge
1.5 ounces 100% blue agave reposado tequila
1/4 ounce fresh lime juice
1/2 ounce apple brandy (Calvados is the most famous one)
1.5 ounces Apple-Habanero Puree (see recipe below)
6 to 10 small ice cubes (about 3/4 cup)
Spread the Peppery Cinnamon Salt on a small plate. Moisten the rim of a 6-ounce martini glass with the lime wedge, and upend the glass onto the salt to crust the rim. Set aside.
In a cocktail shaker, combine the tequila, lime juice, Calvados, Apple-Habanero Puree, apple cider and ice. Cover and shake vigorously until frothy and cold; tiny ice crystals will appear in the drink after about 15 seconds of shaking. Strain into the salt-crusted glass and serve immediately.
PITCHER RECIPE FOR A PARTY:
Yield: 8 cocktails
1.5 cups 100% blue agave reposado tequila
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
1/2 cup apple brandy (Calvados is the most famous one)
1.5 cups Apple-Habanero Puree (see recipe below)
Peppery Cinnamon Salt (see Bartender's notes above) or coarse (kosher) salt
1 lime wedge
6 cups ice
In a pitcher, combine the tequila, lime juice, calvados, Apple-Habanero Puree and apple cider. Cover and refrigerate until chilled, about 2 hours.
Crust the rim of 8 6-ounce martini glasses with salt as described above. Fill a cocktail shaker 3/4 full with ice, and pour in 1.5 cups of the margarita mixture. Shake and strain into 3 of the prepared martini glasses. Repeat for the remaining margaritas.
BOX: Apple-Habanero Puree
2 large apples, peeled, quartered and cored (you need about 12 ounces/3.5 cups of cleaned apple quarters)
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 to 1/2 fresh habanero chile, stemmed
1/4 cup agave syrup (light organic syrup gives the best flavor) or Rich Simple Syrup (page 000)
Heat your oven to 400 degrees. Spread the apples onto a baking sheet and sprinkle with the sugar, tossing them to coat evenly. Add the habanero to the baking sheet, and slide into the oven. Roast for 20 minutes, then use a spatula to flip the apple pieces. Roast for another 20 minutes, until lightly browned and completely soft.
In a food processor or blender, process the roasted apples with the agave syrup (or Rich Simple Syrup) and ½ cup water until completely smooth. Chop the habanero (seeds and all), then add a portion to the apple puree—start with a quarter to make it a little spicy, half for the full experience. Process to blend thoroughly, taste and add more habanero if you were too timid at first. Pulse to blend. Pour into a storage container (strain the mixture if you think there may be unblended bits), cover and refrigerate until you are ready to use, up to 5 days.