Time for more Halloweeny goodness! For cooking (and nearly everything else), fall is my favorite season. You still have most of the delicious summertime crops, but you’re now also getting mature fall crops: winter squashes, cold-weather kale, frost sweetened root veggies, etc. Oh, yes. And lamb.
Wait! you say. Isn’t lamb a spring meat? Actually, no. In fact, that makes almost no sense. Lambs are born in the spring, and when they are born, they are tiny. Most sheep farmers want some time to let their lambs grow and fatten up a bit, harvesting them at about six months old. Thus, lamb is typically harvested in the fall. That’s one reason why, come Easter, you see so much lamb from Australia and New Zealand – it’s fall there. Here in New England, fall is when you find good, fresh, peak lamb. I highly recommend Chestnut Farms for the excellent quality of their meat and especially their lamb.
When I got lamb stew meat in my last meat share, I knew exactly what I was going to do with it. This recipe brings together nearly all of my favorite fall flavors: kale, pumpkin, heirloom tomatoes, and lamb, with just a hint of chile. I found this recipe in the Gardener’s Community Cookbook, my go-to for figuring out what to do with your farmshare or garden surplus. Of course, I’ve meddled with it a bit, adding kale, for example. My husband hates cinnamon, so I substitute nutmeg.
LAMB-IN-A-PUMPKIN SUPPER (Serves 8)
- 1 medium pumpkin (6 to 8 pounds)
- 1/4 cup vegetable or olive oil
- 2 pounds lean lamb stew meat, cut into 1-inch pieces
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 large onion, not too finely chopped
- 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 cup light beef broth
- 1/4 cup brandy
- 4 cups coarsely chopped fresh or canned tomatoes and their juices
- 1 bunch kale, stems removed, coarsely chopped
- 1 teaspoon red chile powder or smoked paprika
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon or nutmeg
- 1 tablespoon brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- Roasted pumpkin seeds, for garnish (optional)
Wash the exterior of your pumpkin thoroughly with soap. Cut off the top of your pumpkin as if preparing for a jack-o-lantern. You’ll need that pumpkin top for a lid later, so try to cut it off cleanly. Scoop out the seeds and connecting membranes. (Save the seeds if you want to roast them for garnish.) With a melon baller, ice cream scoop, or other sturdy spoon, remove the flesh, leaving enough of a wall (1/2 to 3/4 inch thick) to keep the shell intact. Reserve the flesh. Place the pumpkin shell and its lid on a baking sheet and set aside.
Heat the oil in a nonreactive pot until beginning to smoke. Brown the lamb over medium high heat in batches so that the pieces are not crowded in the pan. Transfer to a bowl as you go.
When all the lamb is browned, reduce heat to medium and add the garlic, onion, and pumpkin flesh (you may need to chop the pumpkin into bite-sized pieces first) to the pot. Saute until the onion is translucent, about five minutes. Add the flour and stir until the flour begins to cook, about two minutes. Pour in the brandy to deglaze, followed by the broth.
Add the remaining ingredients (except the pumpkin seeds for garnish) and the browned lamb along with any collected juices and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to very low and simmer gently for one hour, until the sauce is thickened and the lamb is almost tender.
While the lamb is simmering, preheat the oven to 350 degF. Ladle the finished lamb mixture into the pumpkin shell and top with the pumpkin lid. Bake for 35 to 45 minutes or until the outside of the pumpkin is golden and nearly soft. If your pumpkin starts to slump a bit, watch out! The bottom cooks faster than the top, and if you try to move the pumpkin, it will break off – stew everywhere! If it has not begun to slump, you can attempt to transfer it to a platter and serve, garnished with pumpkin seeds (optional).
This is a fantastic party dish. For additional wow factor, pour a little brandy on top of the stew, turn off all the lights, and light it! (Warning: this trick works about 50% of the time for me.) I’ve made this dish at least a dozen times, and it never fails to please. Years later, people will run into me and say, Wow, remember that pumpkin stew you made? In a pumpkin?
Last weekend, I tried a variation I’ve been considering for a while: individual pumpkins. We had a family member visiting and celebrating her 80th birthday, which is cause for fancy cooking! Next weekend, I’m making this meal for about thirty people, and I have more family coming to visit, so I thought I’d make the stew in advance, freeze it, then thaw it the morning of the meal, toss it in a jumbo-sized pumpkin, and cook that, easy shmeezy. I quintupled the recipe, planning to use some for the birthday dinner and make up the shortfall with a vegan version next weekend.
To this end, I bought small, 1-pound-ish sugar pumpkins (yum), but I knew their walls would be too thin to scrape down much, so I also bought two 3-pound pumpkins, which I peeled and chopped. I should note that peeling a fresh pumpkin is MUCH harder than it sounds. I ended up using a good sharp vegetable knife to do the job. Also, there’s no good way to speed up browning the lamb, even if you use a ginormous pot, so budget extra cooking time.
When I cooked the pumpkins, I found that they all cooked at slightly different rates. The one non-sugar pumpkin I used, a small ornamental pumpkin for Nora, actually took the longest to cook and then kept absorbing all the broth out of the stew! Overall, I don’t think I’ll attempt this again. It’s a cute trick but really not worth the effort, and the kids think a gargantuan pumpkin is far more impressive.