Dining Upon the Jack O’Lantern

by The Gilded Fork

[Ed: This article has become a perennial favorite. Karen Resta is one of the most engaging food philosophers I’ve ever met, and her writing hits me in that special place.]

by Karen Resta

The wind blows dry leaves into bursts of dance, trailing its chilly fingers down the back of your neck. Dusk wraps its muffled blanket around the trees, houses, and street, but for a dim streetlight here and there. Silence is anchoring children’s feet to the sidewalks in fear of what might be around the corner on this yearly night of enchantment.

It is Halloween night, the night we save for spooks and witches, monsters and devils, cartoon characters in plastic masks, ghosts and goddesses; the night we walk out into the darkness with those who are not real, not of this earth. We enter into the dusk in search of treats, showing ourselves in trickery, fun or frightening. Yet what is it that awaits us on the porches of the homes we approach in our determined efforts with our sacks, awaiting candy, sweets, or maybe the odd granola bar?

A familiar face greets us, and it is glowing! It is glowing from within with a light that looks like the warmth of a loving soul. Orange, bittersweet orange, bright, happy, in-your-face orange sits in the place of honor on each porch step, orange pumpkins grinning from ear to ear with delight at our presence. It is our friend the Jack-O’-Lantern.

The pumpkin is set proudly in that place of honor on Halloween night. It completes the triad of vegetables we tend to remember as first nurturing the Native American, then the Pilgrim upon arrival to this country: the fat, round, orange pumpkin; the tall, rustling, blonde cornstalk; and the merrily curling mahogany vines of beans. This jolly squash that sits on the porch on Halloween night can offer so much more than a welcome inside from the dark. Pumpkin is not just for pie.

Look closer at that glowing face on the porch this shivery Halloween night, and dream perhaps of bringing the magic of this round orange offering into the bright light of your own kitchen. How, you ask?

Here are some ideas to spark the taste buds of your imagination: tortellini, perhaps, filled with pumpkin tossed in a sweet tomato-herb butter, all dolloped into a deep round bowl; pumpkin cheesecake studded with candied ginger, towering sideways, shapely and rich; pungent broths with chunks of pumpkin and slivers of deep green, fragrant in small, round, earthenware cups; a creamy rich purée of baked pumpkin gathered next to ladles of sweetened chestnuts, nestled next to a fine garlic-studded roast; sweet pumpkin butters spiked with Caribbean rum and zests of citrus, spread thick on nutty whole-grain bread; a bite or two of herb honey-candied pumpkin melting on the tongue; mouthwatering risottos dabbled with shiny triangular bits of  soft pumpkin and sharp cheese; a flaky strudel exploding into the fine softness of puddles of nutmeg-scented cranberry pumpkin sauce; the hot fragrant crunch of a long thin spike of pumpkin tempura, dipped gently into a soy-chili sauce, transported to mouth accompanied by murmurs of sensual pleasure.

Consider, please, giving a wee smile back — with quite serious intent — when that glowing warmth of the grinning pumpkin greets you in the dark on this fearful Halloween Eve.  Inviting the Jack O’Lantern into your home as the guest of honor just might bring a taste of ethereal pleasures and mouthwatering illuminations to the feast.

Karen Resta has had an…interesting…career history, one part as Executive Chef for Partners Dining at Goldman Sachs in NYC, and another as VP for Goldman Sachs NYC. Her final career choice: Avoid the word career like the plague and refuse to talk about the juicy parts for money or fame.

This article was originally published on 10/31/05. Since then Karen has launched a fun new food blog, Postcards from the Dinner Table.

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