Pumpkin!

This fall, you can’t turn around in a grocery store without running into some sort of seasonal pumpkin-flavored product. Admittedly, we are enjoying our fair share of pumpkin products, like Trader Joe’s pumpkin ravioli, numerous pumpkin pancake mixes, Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Granola cereal, Pumpkin Spice M&M’s, Pepperidge Farms’ Pumpkin Swirl bread, Thomas’ pumpkin spice bagels spread with a thick layer of Trader Joe’s pumpkin butter…those are just some of our favorites. But what interests me most is what to do with those pie pumpkins in the farmer’s market/CSA box that is of a more savory nature than sweet.

Creamy Chicken and Pumpkin Pasta

Creamy Chicken and Pumpkin Pasta

Tonight’s version of a pumpkin dinner is a derivative of the Creamy Chicken & Pumpkin Pasta from taste.com.au. Since I can’t just make a recipe as-written, I always adapt it. Sometimes it’s adapted for speed, sometimes to lighten it, sometimes because I don’t have a particular ingredient, and sometimes just because I’m contrary. This time it’s because I’m reducing the fat. I’ve “found” a new (to me) way of cooking chicken breast so it tastes great and has a lovely moist, tender texture, yet uses no added fat.

I got the idea to do this from the process of velveting chicken for Asian recipes. This is the process of coating the chicken with seasoned corn starch, then quickly deep-frying it until almost done, finalizing the cooking when added to the stir-fry. Y’know that wonderful very white, succulent chicken in Moo Goo Gai Pan? Yeah, it’s probably velveted! But I really don’t want all the calories in oil. I wondered why one couldn’t use chicken broth instead of hot oil, so I tried it, and it works well! A few Google searches later, I found I didn’t invent anything — poaching in broth is an alternative method of velveting. Alas, I’m not a pioneer, but I did find a wonderful way to get succulent chicken.

I decided to lighten it further by omitting the cornstarch, particularly since I didn’t need any thickener for the sauce as I would for Moo Goo Gai Pan. And it turned out quite well! Simply poaching thin slices of chicken in chicken broth makes them taste buttery, tender, and delicious. My official taste-tester even commented on how wonderfully rich the chicken tasted, and was concerned about the saturated fat content. He was quite surprised to learn that there was no added fat!

I’m guessing that you’re wondering how I lightened up the “Creamy” part of the recipe. It’s not like a half-cup of cream is exactly “light!” Well, you’re right. Cream is very tasty thanks to the wonderful milk fat. Several years ago I found a suggestion for substituting evaporated milk for cream. I was skeptical, since it seems to have a “canned” flavor to it, but it really works quite nicely. Then I found fat-free evaporated milk (it’s a bit harder to find than regular evaporated milk, but larger stores should have it). That works well, too. No, it’s not as rich and decadent as what is made with real cream, but it makes a lighter, nicely flavored dish that significantly reduces the saturated fat and calorie content of the dish. In a way, my family likes it better because dinner doesn’t sit as heavy on the stomach, yet we still have a nice, creamy dish. [Note: evaporated milk is milk that has had the water evaporated from it, making it thicker and concentrated. Condensed milk is also concentrated, but lots of sugar is added to sweeten it. You do not want condensed milk for this recipe.)

Another way of making a dish lighter and faster is to use real bacon bits or pieces instead of cooking bacon. Well, I’m not sure the resulting recipe is any lighter, but at least I don’t make extra bacon to eat and I don’t have to worry about adding the yummy (but less-than-healthy) bacon fat to a recipe. And it’s much, much faster to pour out some bacon bits than to cook it and deal with the extra grease.

Roasting the pumpkin turned out to be a pleasant surprise, as the small chunks of roasted pumpkin were like candy. Left to our own devices, the taste-tester and I would have eaten the entire pan of roast pumpkin before it made it into the dish! But with a bit of self-control, we were able to get most of it into the dish.

So, without further ado, here’s the new recipe.

Creamy Chicken and Pumpkin Pasta

Serves 4

  • 2+ cups fresh pumpkin, cut into 1″ cubes (about half of an 8″ pumpkin)
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 chicken breasts (a little over a pound)
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 1/2  medium onion, sliced
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1-4 ounce can of mushrooms (use real ones if you have them; I didn’t)
  • 1/4 cup real bacon pieces
  • 1 Tbsp spicy brown mustard
  • 1/3 cup dry Sherry (or other white wine)
  • 1-5oz can fat-free evaporated milk
  • 1-2 cups spinach
  • Homemade fettuccine to serve 4

Instructions:

  1. Place the pumpkin cubes on a cookie sheet sprayed with cooking spray. Drizzle with the tablespoon of olive oil (or spray with cooking spray if you really want to lighten it up), then season with salt and pepper. Place in a preheated 450F oven for 30-40 minutes or until the edges are browned.
  2. While the pumpkin is roasting, thinly slice the chicken breasts across the grain. In a large skillet, heat the chicken stock over medium-high heat. When boiling, drop chicken in and cook, turning at least once, until just done, about 2-4 minutes. Work in small batches to keep the stock boiling, adding more water or stock if needed.. Removed cooked chicken to another bowl and reserve.
  3. After all chicken is cooked, discard all but about 1 cup of stock. Reduce heat to medium. Add onions, garlic, mushrooms, bacon pieces, and mustard. Cook until onions are translucent. Begin boiling the water for the fettuccine.
  4. Add Sherry and cook until reduced by half.
  5. Reduce heat to low, then add evaporated milk. Cook, stirring frequently, for about 5 minutes.
  6. Add roast pumpkin and spinach, and cook another 3-5 minutes or until spinach is wilted. Also add the fettuccine to the boiling water and cook for 2-3 minutes (or until it floats).
  7. Serve the sauce over the pasta and enjoy.
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