January in Indian Valley is not the most auspicious time of the year, by my calculation at least. Indian Valley is prone to inversions & (frozen) fog in the winter, & can get quite cold & snowy, tho how cold & how snowy can vary pretty significantly from one year to the next. This year so far: colder & more snowy than a lot of them.
This has resulted in a few days of being “snowbound”—snowed-in, driveway too big for either of us to shovel & our fellow who plows is very reliable, but can only get to everyone just so fast. Yesterday’s 1 to 3 inches of predicted snow managed to triple at the high end, & there you have it. A driveway impassible even to our reliable (but relatively low clearance) Subaru Outback.
Of the many activities you can undertake while snowbound, cooking is one among the most enjoyable, & so yesterday afternoon, Eberle & I decided to whip up a batch of her wonderful pumpkin, black bean & sausage stew. Doesn’t that sound great? Well, we’ll get to the details in a moment, but first some back story.
As anyone who’s read this blog at all knows, both Eberle & I are music teachers in a very rural area. This has led us to some creative solutions in terms of payment: to make a long story short, at this point, we’re getting eggs, milk, yogurt, butter & blue cheese(!) all farm fresh/handmade, & we recently came into some homemade, farm fresh sausage & some lovely pumpkins. I think you can see where this is leading—lots of fresh ingredients in this recipe & the follow-up one that will appear next Wednesday!
OK, so whether you’re ingredients come from a local farmer or the supermarket, here’s what you need:
1 pie pumpkin. As Eberle says, pumpkins are easy to grow, easy to store, & once cooked, can be frozen. They used to be a staple food, & not just the seasonal jack o’lantern or pie filling. My taste buds actually prefer pumpkin to most winter squash.
1 cup dried black beans, or one can of same. Soak your black beans overnight if you’re using dried beans.
sausage or bacon—I don’t give a weight because there was no weight on the package of homemade sausage we used; as you can see, it was a pretty substantial amount. If using bacon, probably about 6 strips would do.
1 dried hot pepper—we like the smoky chipotle
1 onion, roughly chopped
about ¼ cup of either cooking wine or red wine vinegar. In our case, we used Eberle’s homemade vinegar. She made her own mother of vinegar a couple of years ago from our homegrown pears, apples & plums!
a dash of orange juice—you can use lime juice instead or in addition to
a dash of BBQ sauce—the secret ingredient!
1-2 tsp of chili powder; we used two, but you can make it milder if you prefer.
¼ tsp cayenne—again, this is to taste
¼ tsp cumin
1 pinch of cinammon
Pre-heat your oven to 350, then start in on the pumpkin (this is assuming the beans have been soaked, or that you’re using canned beans). Knock the stem off the pumpkin using the handle of a large knife. Then, using the tip of the knife to start, cut the pumpkin in half & scoop out the seeds & string with a large spoon. Place the pumpkin face down on a baking dish & cook for approximately 25 minutes—the real test is that the pumpkin is done when it’s just a bit more firm than fork tender. Let the pumpkin cool before working with it further! Once the pumpkin is cool, cut it into slices, & peel it by cutting away the flesh (as Eberle is demonstrating in the photo.)
Simultaenously with this, you can cook your black beans until they’re tender, about an hour. When the beans are done, reserve the bean stock—you’ll be using it later. Begin to sauté the sausage—it will be sautéed until brown. Soak your dried hot pepper in water (about 15 minutes should do the trick), & chop that onion. When the sausage is brown, add the onions. Sauté the sausage & onions together for a few minutes, then add the cooking wine or red wine vinegar, the orange (&/or lime) juice, the BBQ sauce & the spices.
Now it’s time to work with the pepper—be sure to wear latex or rubber gloves! Remove the stems, slit & wash out the seeds as Eberle is demonstrating in the photo, then add the pepper to the sausage & onion, & finally add the sliced pumpkin. Sauté all these ingredients together for several more minutes. Then, cover the sautéed ingredients with bean stock & cook on a low simmer for about 20 minutes. This operation may involve transferring the ingredients first to a larger pot or skillet if, like us, you began with a relatively small skillet! Then add your cooked beans & gently simmer for approximately 10 minutes.
This stew goes well with cornbread (of course) & would also be complemented, I think, by a spinach salad topped with real blue cheese dressing. Just the thing for a snowy winter’s afternoon or evening!
Stay tuned, because next Wednesday we’ll have more snowbound cooking adventures!