Whether Fresh or Canned, Pumpkin Takes the Cake

Pumpkin Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

It’s not your normal type of dread, like the kind that takes up residence in your stomach every time you pay bills or when your boss unexpectedly arrives at your weekend place with Vuitton bags in hand. No, this dread is more primal. It occurs every November when I know I’ll once again be facing a fixture of the Thanksgiving table: pumpkin pie.

Now, I’m all for tradition. But come on, people! It’s been 382 years since the Pilgrims sat down and made history. Shouldn’t we have a little more to show for it in the dessert department? Refusing to be a gastronomic automaton and mindlessly bake yet another pumpkin pie, I instead went searching for a new American classic.

First I turned to Craig Underwood, owner of the Underwood Family Farm in Moorpark, CA. Each year he sells his pumpkins at the annual Fall Harvest Festival. With more than 70,000 people foraging for the perfect orange gourd, I figured he’d have some ideas.

“Oh, people make all kinds of things,” he said. “But pies are the most popular.”

When I asked what his favorite dessert was, his voice warmed: “Pumpkin bread.” (As it happens, the recipe was from an 1970 Los Angeles Times article.)

Of course, that’s like asking a father which of his children is his favorite. So he added pumpkin cookies and cheesecake to the list. That got me thinking that cake—minus the cheese—could possibly be this year’s pumpkin pie. Yet something was missing.

That night I was crunched down in bed nursing a wicked flu and flipping through the pages of The Vineyard Kitchen by Maria Helm Sinskey (HarperCollins, 2003). My eye landed on a recipe for a cake slathered with maple-flavored cream cheese frosting — the missing link. With that, I tumbled into the most restful sleep, perhaps owing as much to NyQuil as to the dessert I was certain would change the face of the American Thanksgiving menu.

The next morning as I was rummaging through the cupboard gathering ingredients, I remembered the words of Sara Jane Underwood, Craig’s wife: “There’s a dirty little secret in the pumpkin world,” she warned. “The canned stuff tasted nothing like the real thing.” If I wanted true pumpkin flavor, it was into the pumpkin patch for me.

According to Sara Jane, sugar babies, which are about eight inches in diameter, are the pumpkin of choice because they have thick flesh and little moisture. To use them in the below recipe, quarter one pumpkin, and remove the stems and seeds. Place the pieces skin-side up on a foil-lined baking dish. Bake for 45 to 60 minutes at 350 degrees. Let cool, scoop the flesh into a food processor, and whir.

A fever of 103 degrees prevented me from pumpkin picking, so I reached into the pantry for the canned version, which still created a cake that had neighbors pleading for the recipe.

So with apologies to Mayflower descendants everywhere—America, may I humbly introduce your new Thanksgiving dessert.

Pumpkin Cake With Maple–Cream Cheese Frosting

© 2003 Pornchai Mittongtare. All rights reserved.

Portugal’s Chouriço Sausage is Ready for its Close-up

Portuguese Sausage Frittata
My sausage is suffering from an identity crisis, and it irks me. Mention chorizo, and what springs to mind are pungent Mexican links filled with ground meat that’s redolent of garlic and chile powder. But mention chouriço (pronounced sho-ree-zoo), the musky smoked sausage of Portugal, and “Isn’t that just another kind of Spanish chorizo?” usually follows. Well, I’m tired of this culinary confusion, and I’m not going to take it anymore.

I was weaned on chouriço (sometimes called linguiça), as every good Portuguese child should be. The sausage held sway at every meal. At breakfast it was served instead of bacon. At lunch it insinuated itself into soups and tortilhas (frittatas). And at dinner whole meals were orchestrated around it: favas guisadas com chouriço (fava bean and sausage stew), cozido à Portuguesa (Portuguese boiled dinner), and the inflammable chouriço à bombeiro — sausage that had been doused with brandy and set afire at the table with a great whoosh. Accompanying it were fat, orangish batatas fritas, potato wedges that had been fried in corn oil infused with the sausage’s flavor and color. All that was needed to begin was a quick prayer, then a nod from my father.

But after a lifetime of insensitive comments from others, I began having doubts: Was chouriço merely a chorizo knock-off — a Portuguese Payless to a Spanish Manolo Blanhik?

To settle the matter once and for all, I called Herminio Lopes, owner of Lopes Sausage Company in Newark, NJ. Besides making some of the best chouriço I have ever tasted, he plays both sides of the Iberian border by also selling Spanish chorizo.

According to Lopes, both sausages are made with pork shoulder, paprika, garlic, black pepper, and salt, but an astonishing 20 percent of Spanish chorizo’s weight is paprika. Chouriço, on the other hand, has considerably less paprika and much more garlic and black pepper. In addition, lots of Portuguese red wine is splashed in to round out the flavor. In short, it’s got a bigger bite that can hold its own in lots of dishes.

Feeling a superiority dance coming, I called back and asked a clerk which sausage is more popular.

“In terms of sales, chouriço,” she said.

Yes! Portugal rules, even if no one knew it but me. But my smug self-satisfaction was short-lived. Lopes got on the line and told me that one of his biggest chorizo customers was none other than the White House. (Was that swagger I heard in his voice?) Apparently, Bill Clinton had some of Lopes’s chorizo at a fundraiser in 1996, and from then on he ordered 50 to 60 pounds a month, used to impress world leaders. When George W. Bush took office, he kept the chorizo coming. All I have to say is, “That’s okay, Washington. My campaign to put a chouriço in every pot has just begun.”

Lopes Sausage Co.
304 Walnut St., Newark, NJ 07105
(973) 344-3063
(They ship nationwide)

Portuguese Sausage Frittata

Article © 2003 David Leite. Photograph © 2009 Nuno Correia. All rights reserved.

Lisbon Trip Planner

Rua Augusta
Trip Planner
Most major airlines fly to Lisbon, either directly or via a European stopover. The most popular air carriers are TAP Air Portugal and Azores Express. This planner relates to the article Coming Home To Lisbon.

Lapa Palace
Rua do Pau de Bandeira, 4
011 351 21 394 9494

A Brasileira
Rua Garrett, 120
011 351 21 346 9451

Bica do Sapato
Doca da Bica do Sapato
011 351 21 881 0320

Bota Alta
Travessa da Queimada, 37
011 351 21 342 7959

Café Nicola
Praça Dom Pedro, 4-24
011 351 21 346 0579

Faz Figura
Rua do Paraiso, 15 B
011 351 21 886 8981

Rua da Atalaia, 57
011 351 21 346 4811

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