Pumpkin Empenada- It’s the hard that makes it great

This week’s exploration of all things pumpkin presented a terrific challenge in the test kitchen last night. The challenge of taking what is basically a dessert idea of pumpkin empenada (really it’s a pumpkin turnover) and making it into a main course that is savory, not sweet, seemed like a great idea…. right up until I started making it. but just thirty minutes in and I cringe to admit, I was intimidated. So much so that even as we sat down to eat, I had more than a half a bowl of filling that I wasn’t even sure if I would save. Throwing out anything pretty much causes my inner coding to crackle neurotically like an over-juiced overhead power line. I use the chicken gizzards and hearts in my meat sauce, turkey gizzards in my stuffing… I’m basically a permanent hock to jowl kind of guy (just ask my wife’s hocks and jowls… poor dear is a saint with what she puts up with!) in everything I do.

So to think I’d throw a massive bowl.. OUT… well, I’m simply ashamed to admit it. But my commitment to disclosure is not the same as the Obama administration, so I readily begin this post with this full omission: I began to doubt if I would even write about this strange project. Talk about breaking the very code of Effin Artist… sigh… my inner talk must be quieted: Repeat after me: “I am the acorn that becomes the oak…”

Empenada 1

Anyway, it begun chopping into the organically grown orange globe. I used Painted Hills beef and farmer’s market vegies, so this one was pretty local and small footprint and all that good stuff. But just one big slice with my knife and I suddenly realized why the grocery stores are largely out of pumpkin BEFORE thanksgiving. It’s EFFin hard to chop up and prepare a fresh pumpkin! But then I recalled the wise sage, Jimmy Dugan from A League of Their Own, (we know he’s wise: he told us. Remember this: “Avoid the clap…. HEY, that’s good advice!”) who said, “Of course it’s hard. If it was easy everybody would do it. It’s the hard that makes it great!” Still, that whole can opener thing seemed kind of appealing in this moment, but I powered through. The old “forcer” demon within in me, that I’ve worked so hard to banish through yoga, peace and love, reared up from the depths and proved effective.


As the pumpkin steamed, I made the crust. I took a Bon Appetit recipe and cut the sugar in half. I added some cinnamon to bolster its flavor a bit. There’s only so much you can do with dough. As it did its thing in the fridge, I focused on the filling.

The filling started very promising. I put my own EFFin Artist meat rub on a small piece of flat iron steak. I grilled it up and chopped it fine, then put it in a bowl with cilantro and sun-dried tomatoes. This I seasoned with a bit garlic (always the garlic… always the garlic). It looked great, I was hungry and I thought, “screw the pumpkin.” But the spirit of Jimmy Dugan urged me on.

Soon I was mashing and pureeing and thrashing about with my pumpkins. I tossed in the meat and tomatoes, and started working the spices a bit, a little at a time: cinnamon, a small amount of brown sugar, cumin. I reached for the coriander and nabbed CURRY, which I noticed just a moment too late. When that signature smell rose, my spirit sunk in like a captive in Ursula’s Sea Garden in the The Little Mermaid. At this point I got weak-kneed. That damn curry would ruin me. I tasted.

“Son of a…” sigh. I added a little more brown sugar to mask it.

Now it was decision time. Leave the filling a little gritty, with chunks of stuff in it or make it a puree. I just couldn’t decide. I thought maybe the rustic chunky-ness would work, but eventually opted for a puree. A healthy splash of heavy cream and some serious wrist curls with the immersion blender chewed my creation into baby puke.

With a sagging spirit I rolled out eight dough balls and filled them with the puree. I brushed the tops with egg whites and put them in the oven. As they cooked I made simple vegetable medley, seasoned with plenty of chili powder and other spices. I broke out a jar of EFFin Artist salsa, thinking I’d need it to mask the damn curry or even make the empenada palatable.

Here’s the final result:


So, after all that…

These were EFFIN AMAZING! I gotta tell you, I’ve never been so surprised. The complexities of flavors danced on the tongue. The vegetables were spicy and delicious. We could barely detect the curry. We didn’t even need our own salsa, which is a first. The four extras went into the fridge, the bowl of filling went into the freezer and I can’t wait to have lunch so I can have more (in fact, It’s long over due for lunch. I’m out. Gotta eat!)

If you are feeling adventuresome drop me a note and I’ll send you my recipe (I don’t really get into the whole recipe thing like food blogs, but what the heck. This one I’m proud of.) Just don’t use curry!


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