I’m not a simple cook. I’m really not. I understand that it is possible to make some truly incredible dishes from just a few really good ingredients, but given the choice I’d rather make a day of it. I don’t know why, but I’m just drawn to the elaborate recipes. The ones with twists and turns, lots of weird ingredients and even more room for error. It’s my hobby. It’s what I like to do. Some people paint. Some people run. I putter about the kitchen.
The problem with having cooking as your hobby is that sometimes you really just need to eat. Sometimes you’re just hungry and sleepy and your belly is making weird growly noises that won’t stand for a few hours of chopping and mixing and tasting and stirring for the mere pleasure of it. Sometimes, simple really is the way to go.
Friday night was one of those nights. It was freezing when I got out of work. Oh not literally, of course, but certainly cold enough to make me spend the whole train ride home wondering where exactly I tucked away my coats and scarves last May. I didn’t even want to change out of my work clothes once I got inside the door; the thought of pulling off my jeans and sweater and standing bare in my bedroom while hunting around for my comfy flannel man-pants for even a few seconds was too much. So I dropped my bag and keys on the coffee table and opened up the fridge.
The fridge was in one of those uninspiring kind of states. You know what I mean, I’m sure. When bottles of juice and containers of leftovers and bags of God-knows-what fill every shelf and yet there isn’t really anything to cook with. It’s like the kitchen equivalent of those BlueFly commercials where the naked lady stands in front of a full closet and then chucks it all and heads to the party in the buff. (Hmmm, that’s the second nude lady I’ve brought up so far…) Anyway, I poked around here and there and with the help of that growly tummy I got to cooking. Forty minutes later I was curled up on my couch feeling quite pleased with the steaming bowl of spicy sweet pumpkin chili I’d concocted. Topped with creamy quenelles of fresh ricotta and served with a few slices of buttered homemade pumpkin challah (more about that later) and the October Gourmet magazine, I really couldn't have asked for a more perfect supper.
If you’re looking for something quick and dirty (and warm) this pumpkin chili is it. It’s easy, hearty, and the pumpkin gives it just enough something extra without being overwhelmingly fussy. I used ground veal because it’s what I had in the fridge and I loved the tender sweetness it added, but feel free to substitute beef, pork, or a combination of the three. I’m also sure a cup or two of black beans would make an incredible addition to this recipe. Play around with it as you’d like but remember to keep it simple. I mean, if even I can do it, I’m sure you can…
(For two or one, twice.)
1 pound ground veal (or beef, pork)
1 cup canned pumpkin puree
4 oz tomato sauce
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 vegetable bouillon cube (low-sodium)
1 tablespoon smoked Spanish paprika
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
4 cups of water
Optional garnishes: chipotle hot pepper sauce, ricotta, sour cream, chives, grated cheddar
1.In a medium pot, heat a 2-count of olive oil over medium heat. Add the crushed garlic cloves and let sizzle for a minute until just a little bit brown and fragrant.
2.Add the ground meat and stir occasionally until browned. Add the spices and bouillon cube and mix until well incorporated.
3.Add the tomato sauce, pumpkin, and water
4.Let simmer for about 15 minutes until the water is reduced by about a third and the soup thickens. Taste and adjust seasoning accordingly.
5.Serve immediately topped with desired garnishes. (the ricotta plus a drizzle of chipotle sauce is my pick)