For more than a decade my grandparents have owned a home directly on the water at Smith Mountain Lake, a rustic small town in the heart of Virginia. At least five times a year the family members uproot their normal lives to drive hours to this charmed place. We drink, we eat, we laugh, and we annoy the hell out of each other. The men typically spend the entire weekend fixing things while the women cook and the kids sleep in. It’s just the way it is down there. We all revert to 1950’s house wives.
I am not sure if it is the long, windy tree topped roads, the gorgeous Virginia Mountains, or the absolute tranquility we feel spending just a couple of days in the country. But we simply can’t stop going, and we simply would not. All of us don’t make it down for every weekend but we do our best. The kids are all in college, the older cousins are establishing their lives, and the aunts and uncles are strewn about. The truly special occasions are when we all make it, and the house is filled with wild hooligans just ready to cook, drink, and chat the night away by fireside on the gorgeous wooden deck overlooking what feels like our lake. All of this makes me miss my mom, dad, and brother while I bond with my father’s side of the family. It also makes me feel not so alone since they moved to Texas.
A couple of month ago just when autumn was beginning to take root, and the leaves were slowly changing colors, we hopped in the car and met the family there for a long weekend. After a morning run on the quiet roads I joined my aunts to scout for antiques. We soon found ourselves headed to a farm for pumpkins and a corn maze. My aunts were kind enough to appease my childish need to finally run through corn; something I truly have never done, and took only minutes to find our way out of. After surviving the maze and wild boars (exaggeration alert: they were wildly mean but they were fenced in), we then found ourselves in a giant pumpkin patch raping the farmer of all his most beautiful pumpkins. Considering the farm was selling them for pennies on the dollar we scooped up more than 20 of them for a ridiculously low price. So ridiculously low that I refuse to part with the farms name because I am going back next year to pillage again, and I don’t feel like sharing. There were green ones, white ones, giant jack o lanterns, and gorgeous cheese wheel pumpkins that were light creamy orange and “squashed” resembling a wheel of cheese (hence the name). I couldn’t take my eyes off them, and when the farmer helped us carry our loot back to the barn he told us these were the absolute best pumpkins to make pie with.
Cheese wheel pumpkins are simply the most delicious, sweet, soft pumpkins I have ever tasted. Their flesh is much less stringy than a traditional pumpkin and much sweeter. I cracked open the smallest one and got a beautiful whiff of fresh sweet pumpkin. I just knew I wanted to do more with it than roast and puree for pies. I came up with this savory recipe which you can also make with butternut squash if you can’t find one of these beauties. It is absolutely delicious, and a perfect side dish for a holiday buffet.
Pumpkins are infamously hard to crack open, seed, and chop but I have a few tricks up my sleeve.
- Cut straight down one side of the stem with a very heavy, sharp knife
- Clean out the halves using a large thin-edged spoon, discard the stringy pulp and clean/dry the seeds for roasting later.
- Place pumpkin cut side down and slice in to wedges about 1 inch thick. It is best to wedge the pumpkin first before peeling…unless you want to spend an hour try to peel the pumpkin.
- Remove the peel from each wedge using a sharp paring knife, then slice the wedge in to cubes.
- Tada! You are ready to make the recipe below. One small cheese wheel pumpkin yielded at least 10 cups of pumpkin. Save the rest in an air tight container in the fridge. Feel free to roast and puree the rest for pumpkin pie. Will last 5-7 days.
Roasted Pumpkin with Rosemary Pepita Pesto
Time in kitchen (not including pumpkin carving time): 45 minutes
Nutrition information per serving: 125 calories, 2 grams saturated fat, 4 grams protein, 10 carbohydrates
- 4 cups fresh cheese wheel pumpkin, cubed (butternut squash is a great alternative)
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, chopped
- 3 sprigs of thyme, leaves removed from stem
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- Freshly cracked black pepper
For the Rosemary Pepita Pesto:
- 2 cups fresh flat leaf parsley
- 1 tablespoon rosemary leaves
- 1/3 cup pepitas, toasted
- 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
- The juice from ½ meyer lemon
- 1 small garlic clove, roughly chopped
- ½ teaspoon sea salt (more to taste)
- Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Lay pumpkin in a single layer on a large sheet pan. Drizzle with olive oil, salt, rosemary, thyme, and pepper. Toss to coat. Roast in the oven for 40 – 45 minutes, removing once to toss. Cook until a knife can easily pierce the flesh and the pumpkin is caramelized.
- While the pumpkin roasts place the flat leaf parsley, rosemary, toasted pepitas, meyer lemon juice, chopped garlic, and salt in a small food processor. Blend until it is a desired consistency, scraping down the sides a few times to well incorporate.
- To plate, top the warm roasted pumpkin with dollops of pesto (about 3 tablespoons) and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. This recipe makes more than enough pesto. I only used about ¼ of the recipe. Pesto keeps well in the refrigerator for a few days. Also great on pasta, salads, or dolloped on creamy soups.