Saturday, October 3, 2009

Local Find of the Week - Calabaza or West Indian Pumpkin

It's officially October now and October means pumpkins. In temperate climates no October is complete without a visit to the pumpkin patch, but here we don't have pumpkin patches or Pumpkin U-Picks. No, we have a tent by the side of the road where some carnies sell pumpkins they've hauled down from Up North. Once the pumpkins run out they return with Christmas trees. In July they return and fill the very same tent with fireworks. Not exactly the pumpkin picking scene I remember from my childhood. Does that mean then that pumpkins don't grow here? Of course not. We have our own kind of pumpkin in the tropics and it's known as the Calabaza or West Indian pumpkin. It's my local find of the week.

I've never had it before, this Calabaza. Until today, I didn't even really know what it was, but now I'm quite familiar. The Calabaza is eaten all over the Caribbean in curries, soups, stews and sopped up with roti. It's shell is so tough that it's rarely sold whole. Instead you can find it like I did, hacked into easy to manage chunks. My Calabaza came from Whole Foods in Fort Lauderdale by way of Paradise Farms.

The hunk I purchased was very reasonably priced (I thought) at $1.21. It was large enough to serve about three people, I would say, or two very fanatical and starving ones. I really had no clue what to do with it. I'm not a huge pumpkin or squash eating fan. I like them in soups or the occasional Thanksgiving pie, but I'm not very enthusiastic beyond that. Normally I find the squash family to be grainy, stringy and bland. But still, I decided to give the Calabaza a try. I drizzled it with olive oil, sprinkled it with coarse salt and set it to roast. First I had the oven at 425 because I was making a pizza. Then I had to turn it down to 350 to bake a pan of brownies. The Calabaza didn't mind. In all, I cooked it a little over an hour, until a fork sunk in without putting up a big fight and the top had begun to caramelize nicely. Then I took it out and tried a bite. Wow!! This is no bitter acorn squash or disappointing sugar pumpkin. The Calabaza means business. Its flavor (it HAD flavor) was roasty, sweet and had some body to it. The Calabaza would make a mean local pumpkin pie or flan. I liked it plain though, but imagine how good it would be with a squiggle of saw palmetto honey and a scatter of crushed allspice berries. It would be impressive as an Autumn side dish. I think I'd like it mashed as a bed for some freshly caught, roasted fish too. I'm already thinking of a million uses for it. Jack 'o' Lantern though, is not one of them.

More information about the Calabaza or West Indian Pumpkin.

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