This time of year, there are pumpkin spice jokes ad nauseam and while I don’t particularly love the idea of pumpkin spices unless they’re in a pumpkin pie or pumpkin bread, I do, do, do love me some pumpkin. From one year to the next, one shelf in my garage storage pantry is smack full of pumpkin. I’m not afraid there’ll be a shortfall, though that almost happened in recent memory, I just know year-old pumpkin in the can tastes better than this year’s pumpkin — especially for pie, but really for anything. This often repeated tidbit is one of many my father-in-law Gene Morgan (longtime Jewel-Eisner grocery merchandiser) passed on to me early in my marriage. (There’s also that I might want a loaf or two of pumpkin bread mid-July when a can of pumpkin might be a tad difficult to locate at the store. Just look next year and see if I’m not right.) When Gene, not a big talker per se, gives you a little grocery tip, you’d best file it away and not forget it. At 19, for instance, I learned to rinse off the top of any can I was about to cook with or drink out of. His graphic description of certain sorts of insects running across the floors of grocery warehouses wasn’t something easily forgotten. And why hadn’t my mother told me this? (She might’ve and I might not have heard her, too.) Thank goodness Gene filled me in and kept us from whatever diseases roaches impart. By the way, they include things like listeriosis, plague, and dysentery, to name but a few. Ewwww.Jump to Recipe
This year, recovering from covid — speaking of diseases — and needing more comfort food than normally necessary, I was craving pasta. Thinking over once more what was available (having been at home since October 6, I knew the list fairly well), a pantry sort of meal called. And what about mixing pumpkin with tomatoes for a sauce? I was unsure, but not too unsure. Thinking the recipe through from beginning to end before I began cooking (I wrote down the ingredients I thought I’d use), I was soon convinced such a meal would be perfectly lovely — especially with some heavy cream and a happy, salty addition of Parmigiano-Reggiano to offset the sweet qualities of pumpkin, tomatoes, and the cream, too.
I’d just moved my pot of sage in from the porch as we had a freeze warning and it was at the top of my mind. Pumpkin, tomatoes, sage, cream, cheese, and what about orzo as it cooks quickly… I’d need a few aromatics for flavor-texture and I thought dinner would be on the table pretty quickly. In fact, it took under 30 minutes to make this mostly veggie pasta from start to finish. Here are a few photos to give you the idea before you check your pantry to see if you have the ingredients for this rich-feeling but inexpensive risotto-like dish:
One-Pot Pumpkin-Tomato Orzo
- 2 tablespoons salted butter or olive oil
- ¼ cup each: chopped onion and celery
- 1 tablespoon each: minced fresh parsley and fresh sage(Can sub ½ teaspoon ground sage.)
- Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
- 2 large plump cloves garlic, minced
- ¼ cup dry white wine or chicken or vegetable broth
- 15- ounce can pumpkin purée, not pumpkin pie mix
- 14.5 ounce can chopped tomatoes
- 1 ½ cups chicken or vegetable broth or more if needed to thin the dish as it cooks
- 1 ½ cups orzo
- ½ cup heavy cream or coconut milk or more vegetable broth
- Fried sage leaves for garnish, optional (Can sub chopped fresh parsley.)
- Grated Parmigiano-Regiano for serving or toasted breadcrumbs
- Crushed red pepper for serving
- HEAT THE BUTTER in a 5-6-quart Dutch oven or deep skillet over medium flame. Add onion, celery, parsley, sage, ½ teaspoon kosher salt, and ¼ teaspoon fresh ground pepper. Cover and cook, stirring once or twice, for 5-10 minutes or until just beginning to soften. (The finished dish should have a little crunch from the vegetables.) Add garlic and wine. Cook, stirring, several minutes or until wine is reduced by half.
- STIR IN pumpkin, tomatoes, and broth. Raise heat and bring to a boil. Stir in orzo and another ½ teaspoon of salt and ¼ teaspoon fresh ground black pepper. Reduce heat to a simmer, cover, and cook on low until pasta is al dente, about 15 minutes. While cooking, stir a time or two and add additional broth or water if mixture is too thick and orzo is not yet done. Turn off heat and stir in cream. Cover for a minute or two to heat through. Taste and adjust seasonings.
- SERVE HOT in warm bowls garnished with fried sage leaves, grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, crushed red pepper, and another grind or two of fresh ground black pepper. Store leftovers well-covered in the fridge for 3 days. Heat gently over low flame, adding broth, cream, or water as needed. Do not freeze.
HAVE VEGETARIANS OR VEGANS COMING FOR THE HOLIDAYS? Try this out beforehand, but I think you’ll have a hit on your hands everyone will enjoy. Do follow the instructions in italics in the recipe for the vegan version.
CHANGE IT UP: Use canned or fresh mashed butternut squash in place of puréed pumpkin, thyme instead of sage, or swap in fennel for celery. Fresh pumpkin, cut into small pieces, would probably work in place of the canned purée, as would butternut squash, but you’d need to let it cook longer before adding the pasta. Whole milk or half and half would stand in for cream, or you could use coconut milk as in the vegan version. More veggies? Try corn, chopped green chiles, diced sweet red peppers, or _____? As noted in the recipe, shredded chicken added with the cream or grilled shrimp nestled at serving time are thoughts for including more protein. (Both the husband and I liked it best sans meat and we are carnivores.) Skipping the fried sage leaves garnish? Instead of the fresh parsley I mention above, you could use toasted pine nuts — or any kind of chopped toasted nuts, for that matter. How about homemade garlicky or herby croutons?
Might you consider a little bit larger pasta, such as elbows or farfalle? I think you could, but you would need more broth and a longer cooking time. Trust yourself, stir, test, add liquid as necessary, and cook until done.
SIDES/WINE: We ate this with a small piece of grilled bread as I had baked bread the day before, but I think a green salad might have been better. Wine? Chardonnay for creamy things, please…but if you really spice this up with crushed red pepper (and it needs at least a little), try a Riesling or a Chenin Blanc.
Have you ever fried sage leaves? It’s quick and easy…. They’re perfect to top bean soups, among other things, but are totally content on this pasta dish. I like the small ones cooked up plain (and my sage has mostly small leaves), but Read up here about how the Italians do it with some of the larger leaves.
LIFE GOES ON:
It’s good to be up and at ’em after? Covid, but we are both still sleeping 12 hours at a stretch and taking afternoon naps. Our coughs aren’t disappearing any too quickly, so we are mostly home. Who wants to listen to cough, cough, cough? If we must go out (I had to renew my driving license today), we are, of course masked and will be that way for another several days, following our doctor’s instructions. While I don’t feel perfectly well, I’m grateful for time to sit in the sun on a windy day without feeling the need to rush off and accomplish something. Maybe I can hold onto that feeling. Lovely to read for however long. I’ve been catching up on the Ruth Galloway books by Elly Griffiths, one of my favorite series.
I hope you’re well and enjoying fall. Thanks for keeping me company in my kitchen. It means a lot to me.