It seems a little early for pumpkin season, here in early September…but the demo garden yielded a perfect round pie pumpkin, and the air is cooler, now. The first flavors of fall emerging, and the time seemed right to try a new recipe. A fall recipe, from Joshua McFadden’s Six Seasons: A New Way with Vegetables.
In this variation on the classic Bolognese, the tomato is replaced by pumpkin. It’s a mellow dish, all round and warm and thick with pumpkin, meat, and dairy. Be generous with salt and pepper here, especially the pepper. The sharp black spice of fresh-ground pepper is necessary to balance all the hearty ingredients. Usually, a dash of lemon or vinegar might serve to brighten, but too much acid would curdle this sauce. So grind, and taste, and grind, and grind the pepper. Fall food, warm and hearty, orange and deep and nourishing.
Heat the oven to 400° F. Cut the pumpkin into wedges, and scrape out the seeds. Drizzle olive oil over the wedges, and sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper. Arrange the slices on a baking sheet and roast, turning once, until fully tender, about 25 minutes.
Chop the vegetables while the pumpkin cools. Scrape the pumpkin flesh from the skin and discard skin. Purée the pumpkin in a blender or food processor.
Transfer the pumpkin to a saucepan or large skillet and cook over medium heat, until the purée has lost some water and the texture is thick as tomato paste, from 10-20 minutes, usually.
Heat a glug of olive oil in a large skillet or Dutch Oven over medium heat. Add the ground meat and cook until the meat is no longer pink, but has not browned. Break up any large chunks along the way. Remove the meat from the pan.
Add the onion, celery, and carrot. Season with salt and lots of twists of pepper. As the vegetables begin to sizzle, reduce the heat to medium-low, and continue to cook, stirring frequently, until the veggies are soft but not browned, about 10 minutes.
Return the meat to the pan, then add the wine. Simmer until the wine has reduced to a small amount of liquid, about 10 minutes.
Fold in the pumpkin mixture and the milk, Season with salt and pepper, and adjust the heat to a very low simmer. Cover the pan, and simmer the sauce until all the flavors are all nicely married, another hour or so. Check on the sauce during cooking to make sure it doesn’t dry out; if it looks too dry, add another splash of wine, or water, as needed. Taste and adjust seasoning as the sauce cooks down.
Serve with cooked pasta and lots of grated Parmigiano.
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