Hmmm ... pumpkins ... week two.
Truth be told, it was a rather reckless journalistic move to flamboyantly introduce an entire month's food topic -- for which I had little substantial writing material.
The cooking possibilities of pumpkin are endless, certainly. But as far as the rest is concerned, I've been jammed as a stalk of rhubarb, mulling over my strategy for maintaining a stimulating food column -- especially after I've made a daring public commitment to hovering over the lovely pumpkin for the next three weeks.
Then, a friend came by and randomly mentioned "The Great Pumpkin" from the Peanuts comic strip by Charles Schulz. The Great Pumpkin, of course.
Linus is undoubtedly my favorite Peanuts character with his bright philosophical musings and his grimy little security blanket.
He strongly believed in the Great Pumpkin, a figure that only existed in his imagination, yet one who Linus was sure would bestow generous gifts on the well-behaved children who did not doubt its existence (similar to Santa).
Linus spent one Halloween after the next, waiting in the pumpkin patch for the Great Pumpkin to appear.
Naturally, his time spent in the patch was fraught with major ridicule from Charlie Brown and gang for believing in something so improbable.
But poor Linus never gave up hope.
Linus' steadfastness in his campaign to share the good news of the Great Pumpkin is indeed amusing but also thought-provoking.
Many have questioned whether Shultz was making an attempt at being metaphorical, which he subsequently denies. Yet, it is easy to empathize with Linus, even with his outlandish Great Pumpkin conviction.
There are times in life for all of us that require sincere faith and confidence in the cause, in order to persist toward the next step, even risking the mockery that might accompany the territory of taking a risk.
Who would've thought talk of a pumpkin could be so inspirational?
Now, lest you confuse this motivational speech from "Saturday Night Live" character Matt Foley, let's get candid about cooking.
Pumpkins are so well suited to savory cooking. They have a very shy sweetness, and a perfect texture for pasta and soup. Pairing beautifully with sage and nuts, pumpkin performs wonderfully as the main event in this manicotti recipe.
This goes very well with pork or chicken, should you need a suggestion.
1 box manicotti, cooked al dente and cooled
1 shallot, finely diced
1 1/2 cups canned pumpkin
4 ounces cream cheese
1 cup whole milk ricotta
1 egg, beaten
2/3 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/4 cup Italian Parsley
1 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
2/3 cup white wine
1/2 cup butter
1/3 cup chopped hazelnuts
1/3 cup chopped sage
Pinch of salt
Parmesan, for serving
In a medium saute pan over medium high heat, saute the shallot for about 3 minutes. Add the pumpkin and saute about 1 minute. Add cream cheese, and stir until just melted and combined. Remove pumpkin mixture to a clean mixing bowl. Allow to cool for about 15 minutes. Add the ricotta cheese, and mix thoroughly. Add the parmesan cheese, parsley, salt, pepper, and beaten egg. Mix until just combined. Place the filling in a large Ziploc bag.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Snip off just less than an inch of the bottom corner of the bag, and gently fill each manicotti tube, using the bag to pipe the filling generously. Place the stuffed manicotti in a buttered 9 x 13 baking dish. Repeat until the shells are gone.
Pour wine over manicotti shells. Cover with foil. Bake for 45 minutes.
To make the brown butter: melt butter in skillet over medium heat, watching carefully. As soon as butter begins to foam, add hazelnuts and sage, stirring constantly. Cook for about 2-3 minutes more, until butter is light brown and the hazelnuts are fragrant. Remove from heat, and pour over manicotti just before serving. Garnish with parmesan cheese.
Amanda De Jager Friedman owns the Piano Caffe in Merced.