I’ve been excited about Hallowe’en ever since that very first time my mother held me by my shoulders, bent over, looked deep in my eyes and uttered those magic words, “Tonight it’s OK to take candy from strangers.”
I continued to be enthralled by Hallowe’en right through until it was my turn to be the candy man, admire the costumes (but only the homemade variety) and ration the Hershey’s Kisses so that we wouldn’t have to turn the lights out and worry if the kids could see the glow of the hockey game through the drapes.
I’d cherish the moments when I’d pass a field and see pumpkin flowers first lifting their heads to the sun. I’d welcome the times we’d head out to a country market and resist the temptation to purchase the largest pumpkin. I’d treasure the annual search for my exacto knife so I could carve my trademark pointed eyebrows in their faces (I once unsuccessfully attempted a Jack Nicholson with his “Here’s Johnny” scowl). I loved it when there was a gentle breeze on that All Hallow’s Eve and the jack o’ lanterns twinkled at me on my way back from the bar that we escaped to the night we didn’t ration the Hershey’s Kisses.
But I have never enjoyed eating pumpkins. And, especially, pumpkin pie.
Who was the deranged chef who decided to put vegetables instead of fruit in a pie that’s served for dessert? You can disguise it all you want with ginger, cloves, nutmeg and cinnamon. You can drown it in butter and brown sugar. But you’re never going to get me to like pumpkin pie.
But, you’re saying if you’re a regular reader of Don Day, you don’t write about things you don’t like to eat, so where in the devil’s name is this Hallowe’en blog going?
It’s going to the very start of a pumpkin’s young life. It’s going to that genuine treasure locked inside the orange orb. It’s going to something much finer than the flesh. It’s going to those sensational seeds.
When I started to spend part of my life in Mexico, I became much more familiar with pumpkin seeds. I’d find them in their shells at San Miguel de Allende’s Tuesday Market but, more often, I’d see the seeded variety, kept prisoner in plastic bags and hanging on hooks in grocery stores and supermarkets. In Mexico, pumpkin seeds are called pepitas and I’d find them both raw and roasted, salted or unsalted, plain or mixed with chiles and/or lime.
Historically, pepitas are one of Mexico’s most important foods. Specimens found in caves suggest that they were cultivated as far back as 10,000 years ago, predating corn and beans, the other two foods that form the trinity of Mexican agriculture.
These days, pumpkin seeds are frequent flyers in dinners at home. Don Day’s Wife often sprinkles roasted pepitas on salads. And, even more often, sprinkles them on cream soups. They’ve found their way into sauces as well, with pepitas even replacing pine nuts in her pestos. Not just because pepitas are cheaper but because we both believe they make pesto taste even better.
So, for my first Hallowe’en treat, a recipe. And a very simple recipe. So simple that even I can do it. Yet I think it’s one of the best additions to my diet in years.
Hallowe’en Treat Number One: Pumpkin Seed Pesto.
Let me first say that I’m not just an old guy. I’m an old-fashioned guy. I don’t like people messing around with tried-and-true recipes. But when it comes to pesto, I make an exception. Because a while back Don Day’s wife developed a pesto that strays away from using pine nuts and Genovese basil. And I think this might be the best pesto I’ve ever tasted.
Like so many other great recipes, it came from necessity. We found Italian basil almost impossible to find (I’ve even failed at growing my own) in San Miguel de Allende while Thai or sweet basil can be easily found at both the Tuesday market (at a stall about 30 meters north and east from the southwest corner) and at the Mercado Ignacio Ramirez (on the second row in from the south wall, just past where the ladies of the campo are selling their fruit and vegetables).
Pine nuts or piñons as they’re called in Mexico are easy to find but not easy to afford. Even if you buy them from the back of one of those five years past beat-up pick-ups you see beside the road to Queretaro at this time of year they’re expensive, not to mention almost impossible to shell.
So, necessity being the Frank Zappa of cuisine, Don Day’s Wife improvised. And came up with what she will now type on my Underwood (her iPad is nicknamed Remington).
2 cups fresh Thai basil leaves (if the plants are in flower include some of them as well)
1/2 cup olive oil
3/4 cup toasted unsalted pumpkin seeds
2 garlic cloves
3/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Sauté the garlic in a little olive oil before making the pesto, otherwise the taste of the garlic can be very strong and bitter and overwhelming. Other alternatives are to use roasted garlic, or to parboil the garlic for a few minutes.
Blend all ingredients except the basil in a food processor until smooth. Just before serving, add the basil and blend – this will help maintain its fresh green colour.
Toss with freshly-cooked pasta and serve.
Note: (from Don Day who now has Underwood back in his possession) If you’ve noticed in the photo that there’s chopped up lobster tail and therefore we serve seafood with cheese and you consider it the eleventh sin, we promise to never invite you to dinner.
Hallowe’en Treat Number Two: Giving while you do some very tasty taking.
The second seasonal treat is not something you can eat or drink. But of course it involves something you can eat or drink.
It’s information. About an event. An event that considerably benefits what I consider an extraordinary charity called Feed The Hungry. A charity that provides lunch almost a million times a year to San Miguel’s less than financially fortunate.
It’s called Ghouls For Schools and I’ve already bought our tickets. Don Day’s Wife has already started shopping for a suitably wide brimmed and pointed black hat.
The proceeds from just one ticket will pay for 116 hot lunches for San Miguel’s poorest children. I think giving this way sure beats all of those years of giving sugar rushes to not-so-needy kids. Here’s hoping I see you there. And by the way, I still take candy (and drinks) from strangers.
You’ll find all of the details and how to purchase tickets for Feed The Hungry’s Hallowe’en event at http://feedthehungrysma.org/events.html