15 April 2009

Classic Stars Desserts

Emily Luchetti is a rock star among pastry chefs. She was the pastry chef at Stars, a landmark restaurant in San Francisco from 1984 to 1999. Classic Stars Desserts combines recipes from her two earlier cookbooks, Stars Desserts and Four-Star Desserts. While the book is meant to be written for a home cook, I find that the recipes seem a bit too "pastry chefy" for me. There are 8 ingredients for zinfandel-marinated raspberries! While Luchetti's books are not the first place I look for recipes, her flavor combinations are interesting and we should all aspire to be great pastry chefs even if we just want to have fresh berries!

Instead of a grand dessert, I am sharing with you a recipe for an ingredient I use often, pumpkin puree. It is so easy to grab a can off the shelf that we sometimes forget that is easy to make and the results are far superior to anything in a can. Remember to get the little sugar pumpkins!!

Pumpkin Puree

2 1/2 pounds sugar pumpkins
1/4 cup water

Preheat the oven to 325 F. Cut each pumpkin into sixths. Scrape out the seeds and any stringy pulp. Put the pumpkin pieces, cut-side up, and the water in a baking pan and cover the pan with aluminum foil. Bake until soft when pierced with a fork, about 1 hour and 10 minutes.
Remove from oven and, when cool enough to handle,scoop out the flesh with a spoon and puree in a food mill or a food processor. If the puree is watery, place it in a large saute pan and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until thick. the timing depends on how watery the puree is.

Let cool, cover, and refrigerate until using.

Luchetti says you can freeze the puree for a month. Many people feel a year is OK. The Department of Agriculture has a low opinion of frozen of canned pumpkin because of the varying amount of water given off by pumpkins. Remember, it's your kitchen, so you know what is best. If you use canned pumpkin, you have a good idea of the consistency of the puree you need. If you need to dry out your puree, another way to proceed is to spread a layer out on a rimmed baking sheet and roast in a low, 200 F oven for a while. Again, there is no specific time as the water content varies. As with anything canned or frozen, if you open it and it seems funky -- throw it out!

If you are interested in the California culinary scene with a decidedly snarky bent, check out Jeremiah Tower's memoir,California Dish: What I Saw (and Cooked) at the American Culinary Revolution.

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