Many years ago, there was a very special, itty-bitty little pumpkin called “The Littlest Pumpkin”, and he belonged to a very special, itty-bitty three-year-old boy, my son. “The Littlest Pumpkin” was about the size of a small apple, and his unblemished and smooth skin was the vibrant, orange-yellow color of a fall fire; his gorgeous golden-green little stem was just slightly curled and twisted at the end, and he sat ever so proudly, perched on my son’s little table in his room, keeping him company as he slept or played. My son loved “The Littlest Pumpkin” so very much. He was his perfectly portable little friend, and would get picked up by that little twisted stem and taken everywhere that my son went, whether it was from one room to another, or into the car when we’d go out to run errands, and then into his jacket pocket when we would arrive at our destination. My son didn’t go anywhere without his dear, special friend. After all, this was his prized possession, a little “being” with a seemingly living spirit, one that he had chosen with his very own tiny little hands, after much painstakingly searching through the various supermarkets and their pumpkin bins. My son was determined to find the most perfect, tiny little pumpkin he could find to become a part of his beloved seasonal pumpkin collection, or pumpkin “family”, and find him he did, indeed. “The Littlest Pumpkin” was cherished for months to come, and lasted well past the fall season and into the winter and beyond, until he finally softened and became moldy, and we all had to bid a sorrowful goodbye. I can’t imagine that either my son or I will ever forget “The Littlest Pumpkin” and all of the joy that he brought to us, and the warm affinity he created for all pumpkins from that day forward.
If my now fifteen-year-old son knew I was recounting the memory of “The Littlest Pumpkin” publicly, he’d have a right heart attack, I fear. Though he hasn’t “collected” a pumpkin family for many, many years now, and he and I no longer go from store to store looking for the perfect pumpkins to bring home anymore (let me pause to wipe away the tears!), he still has an affinity, as we all do, for these whimsical squashes. Prior to having “The Littlest Pumpkin” come into our lives, I had never thought of pumpkins in a kindred sort of way; but seeing the attachment my son had to all of his pumpkins, and to this one in particular, it created in me affection for their unique, rustic beauty. Now, my husband and I go out each year, just the two of us, and hand-pick the perfect orange orbs to bring back to the house to keep on display, cook with, and also carve happy little faces into. Scooped out pumpkin seeds are sprinkled with oil and sea salt and roasted, joyfully nibbled on as an evening snack; and the lightly sweet flesh of the sugar pumpkin is added into hearty soups that fill and warm, or roasted to add into a savory-sweet, creamy risotto that is such a comfort on a cool evening. Pumpkins are still very adored in our home.
Though “The Littlest Pumpkin” probably never knew it, his presence created fond memories of childhood in the fall; he even inspired a little boy to develop into a young man that has an interest in nurturing something from a seedling to its season of fruition. Our son, though not so much the “collector” anymore, has instead taken to planting his own small pumpkin patch over the past couple of years, successfully raising a few pumpkins during each season for us to proudly display. These autumn beauties sprout up from the very seeds that he saves of the previous year’s pumpkins. “The Littlest Pumpkin” established a gold standard for all the pumpkins that followed to be measured against, one that I still secretly use today when I go to choose a pumpkin of the itty bitty variety. And though we were never able to find another little pumpkin quite like “The Littlest Pumpkin”, his legacy continues as he serves as the precious symbol of all of the warmth, love and family time that the fall brings into our lives; and of the innocent, precious companionships of childhood.
Taste what’s good and pass it on.
Roasted Pumpkin Risotto with Sweet Italian Sausage, Apples and Gruyere
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(Serves about 4)
1 small sugar pumpkin, peeled, seeded and diced to ½” cubes
2 medium golden delicious apples, peeled, cored and diced to ½” cubes
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided use
½ teaspoons salt
½ teaspoons black pepper
2 tablespoons honey
3 tablespoons butter, divided use
1 small onion, chopped
1 cup Arborio Rice
½ cups white wine
4 cups chicken stock, very hot
2 sweet Italian sausage links, casings removed and browned
¼ cup shredded Gruyere cheese
¼ cup shaved Parmesan Cheese
4 leaves fresh sage, chopped
-Preheat the oven to 400 degrees, line a baking sheet with foil, and drizzle it with a little olive oil.
-In a medium bowl, toss together the cubed pumpkin and the apples with the pumpkin pie spice, salt, pepper, honey and 2 tablespoon of the olive oil, and turn them out onto the foil-lined baking sheet in a single layer; place them into the oven to roast for about 25-30 minutes until golden brown, stirring them a bit about halfway through the roasting to prevent them from burning on the bottom (don’t worry if the apples begin to break down); set aside.
-While the pumpkin and apples roast, begin the risotto by preheating a large, heavy-bottom pan over medium/medium-high heat; once hot, add 2 tablespoons of butter and the remaining tablespoon of olive oil to the hot pan to melt together, and then add the chopped onion and sweat for about 2 minutes until translucent; next, add the Arborio rice and gently stir, making sure to coat all the rice grains in the butter/oil for about a minute or two; next, add the white wine to the rice and onions (careful if cooking with flame), and give a gentle stir; allow the wine to reduce until almost absorbed, but not quite completely; next, begin adding the hot chicken stock to the rice mixture, about ½ cup to ¾ cup at a time (about 1 to 1 ½ ladles), stirring gently to incorporate and allowing the rice to slowly absorb the stock (adjust your flame if necessary, so the rice is at a gentle simmer, not bubbling too harshly, evaporating the stock too quickly); once this first increment of stock is mostly absorbed (roughly 3 minutes), add another ½ cup – ¾ cup of stock, stirring and allowing it to almost absorb, repeating this process until the rice is soft and creamy, but not mushy—roughly 23 minutes or so, total (you don’t have to stand over the risotto guarding it the entire time, just don’t walk away for too long as the stock can absorb fairly quickly).
-To finish the risotto and serve, turn the heat off from under the pan; add in the remaining tablespoon of butter, the grated Gruyere, the shaved parmesan, the browned sweet Italian sausage, the roasted pumpkin and apples, and about ½ of the chopped sage; gently fold all ingredients together in the pan, and spoon generous portions of the risotto into bowls, and serve immediately, garnishing each serving with an additional sprinkle of the sage, and an additional sprinkle of cheese, if desired.