If you’ve been following along, you probably have realized that I am a big fan of Autumn. Being a Southern California to East Coast transplant, I remember my first “wow, there are actual seasons” moment as if it were yesterday. I was walking along 43rd street in Manhattan around 5pm. It was an ideal September afternoon; the sky was cloudless and a perfect periwinkle. It wasn’t cold enough for a scarf but I was certainly glad to be wearing a sweater that day. A few leaves were starting to turn and just as I was crossing into the block between 9th and 10th avenues, the most incredible smell captivated my senses: freshly baked apple pie. I passed by a pie shop that had just finished baking apple pies for the evening rush. As I walked past their kitchen windows I saw the crates of local apples stacked high and the rows and rows of pies ready to be boxed and ordered. The entire moment was a whole-sensory experience and it was then that I fell in love with the East Coast and September (and probably pie).
Fast forward 12 years, and the moment the second week of September rolls around, I put away my grill pan, get out the slow cooker and my pie tins and look forward to a season of good eating and comfort. Last night my husband and I joked about how much squash we have eaten this week (wait until you see the rest of my posts for this week – squash galore). Why not??! It’s completely versatile, rich in nutrition and totally in season! If there’s one squash in particular that says “hello Fall” it’s the mighty pumpkin.
When I told my son on Monday that I would be making a Pumpkin and Beef Stew, he laughed. “Isn’t that Halloweenish?” Haha. He does have a point but my thoughts on the matter are this: why should we take such a beautiful fruit (yes, it’s a fruit) and only use it one time a year to either carve or make into pie? Pumpkin has such a delicate, earthy, sweet flavor. It pairs so well with herbs like sage (mmm.. pumpkin ravioli with a sage butter sauce) and holds up nicely to robust and hearty meats.
This stew can work in the oven (in a dutch oven or cast iron pot for apprx 4-6 hours) or even in a pressure cooker (for only 30 minutes) but I prefer a slow cooker during the week. I prep everything in the morning or the night before and pop it into the cooker in the am and poof: 8 hours later a perfect and delicious dinner waiting to be served.
If you can’t find a sugar pie pumpkin (they’re the smaller ones), a butternut squash would be equally as delicious.
It’s important to try and cut most of the vegetables so that they are roughly the same size. This will ensure even cooking. Additionally, this stew is meant to be rustic so no need to show off your knife skills with this one. Keep it simple. Grab the kids for when it’s time to seed the pumpkin! I had a bunch of herbs leftover from my roast chicken recipe and so I chose to add fresh sage as well as thyme but any fresh herbs would be fine. Even dried herbs would be fantastic (like my favorite, herbs de provence).
Make sure you get a nice sear on the meat before adding it to the cooker. It isn’t necessary but it definitely enhances the flavor.
Prepping the pumpkin the night before makes things a ton easier! I like to use an ice cream scooper to remove the seeds.
Some people add meat first. I like to layer the bottom of the cooker with all the veggies so they can absorb the lovely juices the meat imparts while cooking.
Let’s close up shop and roughly 8 hours later, grab some crusty bread and enjoy!
- 2 pounds of chuck beef,cubed for stew ( hormone/antibiotic- free is a must!)
- 2 tbs olive oil
- salt and pepper
- 2 tbs of tomato paste
- 3/4 - 1 cup water or broth (chicken or beef) or red wine (or a combo of all)
- 1/4 tsp cinnamon
- 1 onion, rough diced
- 3-4 celery stalks, rough chopped
- 3 large carrots, peeled and chopped into 1 inch pieces
- 1/2 pound of potatoes, about 2-3, chopped into 1 inch pieces
- 1 small sugar-pie pumpkin, peeled, de-seeded, and chopped into 1 inch pieces*
- 4 cloves of garlic, roughly minced
- 4 sprigs of thyme and additional herbs, I chose 2 sage leaves (optional, dried herbs will work as well)
- 1 dried bay leaf
- 1. Generously season the meat with salt and pepper.
- 2. Heat oil in a large saute pan and brown meat on both sides. About 7 minutes in total. (This step is optional if you are in a rush. However, I love the taste a good sear gives to the meat).
- 3. Once browned on both sides, set the meat aside but do not clean the pan. Using the same pan, add the tomato paste, the liquid (broth, water, wine, etc) and the cinnamon, grab your whisk and combine, pulling up all the delicious browned bits of meat as you go. Turn off the heat.
- 4. Next, prep your veggies (this can be done the night before). Wash and scrub the potatoes** peel and cube. Do the same for the carrots and chop the celery, onions and mince the garlic.
- 5. Prep the pumpkin. Using a either a vegetable peeler or a sharp knife (I use a peeler), peel away its outer layer. With sugar pie pumpkins, the skin isn't very thick so this doesn't take long.
- 7.Cut a hole in the top of the pumpkin and remove the stem (like you would if you were going to carve it - I like an ice cream scooper) so that you can remove the seeds. Grab the kiddies and have them scoop it out! (Remember, you can save the seeds and roast them for a delicious snack!)
- 8. Once finished, cut the pumpkin into slices then into 1 inch cubes (this also can be done well in advance).
- 9. Start layering your slow cooker: place the potatoes, then pumpkin, then carrots, onion, celery and garlic in the basin, then the meat. Next stir in the liquid. Place the thyme sprigs, bay leaf, additional herbs and season with just a bit of pepper and salt (go easy on the salt - you can always add but not remove).
- 10. Close the lid and cook on high for about 5- 6 hours or low for about 8+.
- *butternut squash or another large, firm squash will work as a substitution
- ** when prepping white potatoes and some squashes in advance, cover in cool water and wrap basin in cling wrap and store in fridge - this prevents the flesh from oxidizing.
- Side note: this can also be cooked in the oven in a dutch oven with a tight-fitted lid. Cook approximately 4-6 hours at 300'F.