This baked pumpkin holds a black bean soup.
Creating a tablescape to suit your meal is a snap for this holiday.
The Druids would be surprised to see what's happened to Halloween.
Bonny Wolf is a regular contributor to Kitchen Window and to NPR's Weekend Edition Sunday. She is working on a book of food essays for St. Martin's Press.
When they built bonfires to sacrifice crops and animals to Celtic deities 2,000 years ago, they did not foresee millions of Harry Potters, Jedi Knights, princesses and witches going door to door asking for candy. They could not have imagined the cashier at the supermarket dressed as a punk pumpkin or the young banker as a vampire. The Celts were worried about the dark, the cold and death.
But today, Halloween is a celebration. And when it comes to accessorizing, it's almost as big as Christmas.
The National Retail Federation (NRF) expects consumers to spend more than $3 billion on Halloween this year, up 5 percent from last year. The decoration shopping is second only to Christmas. The NRF found that more than half the consumers they surveyed plan to celebrate Halloween this year, and a lot of the revelers are well above trick-or-treat age.
Halloween is obviously not just for the young anymore. Since adults can't really go out trick-or-treating, we've made the night one of the biggest parties of the year, right behind New Year's Eve and the Super Bowl. But there's no traditional Halloween food — no champagne, no chili and wings, just candy — so you have to be creative.
Celebrity Chef Nigella Lawson has a whole Halloween dinner in her book Feast. She gives recipes for slime soup (pea based), blood and guts potatoes (ketchup), witches' hair (squid ink pasta), blood clots (red Jell-Os), pus (lime Jell-O and milk) and a ghoul-graveyard cake involving black color paste and black sugar sprinkles.
Being a little squeamish, I take another route — the all orange-and-black dinner. Explanations for the traditional Halloween colors vary. Black is certainly the symbol of death while orange is probably a reflection of the fall harvest.
Setting the table for this holiday dinner is easy. Halloween paraphernalia starts showing up in stores toward the end of summer, and the choice is vast: spider web cocktail napkins, foam tabletop tombstones, pumpkin candleholders, wire trees with faces, black plastic spiders. You don't have to go any further than the corner drugstore.
For my table, I use an orange tablecloth, black napkins and black plates, all of which I got at yard sales. I have a $1.29 black plastic cauldron from the drugstore that I fill with an orange mum. I use orange tapers in glass candlesticks and votive candles shaped like candy corn and then, of course, sprinkle the table with real candy corn. At each guests place is a little orange and black plastic jack-o'-lantern full of black licorice sticks.
Appetizers can be baby carrots and orange pepper slices with a black olive tapenade; red fish roe or smoked salmon on squares of black bread; orange cheddar cheese encased in black rind with dark rye crackers or pumpernickel bread; black olives; blue corn tortilla chips (they look black) and red pepper hummus. If you want to go downscale: Cheetos.
A first course of black squid ink pasta with orange peppers would be nice, but it's hard to find the pasta. So I substitute a salad of shredded carrots and currants. For the main course I make a black bean and pumpkin soup with spicy chorizo sausage and serve it in a hollowed-out pumpkin. Dessert is simple — orange sorbet with Halloween Oreos, made with orange cream centers. (Full disclosure: I serve a green salad. It just seems necessary.) Guests are asked to dress in black and orange.
The Celts celebrated their new year on Nov. 1, marking the end of summer and the harvest and the beginning of the long winter, a time associated with death. They believed that on the night before the new year, ghosts came back to earth to damage crops and do other mischief. So their priests, the Druids, built the sacred bonfires and the Celts wore costumes. We kept the costumes but lightened the mood.
Some say it's all gone too far. I say, enjoy.
Black Bean Pumpkin Soup
3 15 1/2-ounce cans black beans, rinsed and drained
1 1/4 cups canned tomatoes with green chilies, drained and chopped
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
6 shallots, minced
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3-4 tablespoons combination olive oil and butter
4 cups chicken broth
1 15-ounce can pumpkin puree
1/2 cup dry sherry
2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
3/4 pound chorizo, sliced and cooked through
Coarsely puree beans and tomatoes in food processor.
Heat oil/butter in a heavy kettle. Add onions, shallots, garlic, salt and pepper and cook over medium heat until softened. Add chorizo and cumin and stir to mix. Stir in broth and bring to a simmer. Add bean puree, pumpkin and sherry and simmer, uncovered, 30-40 minutes. Stir occasionally. Add vinegar and check seasonings.
Serve with sour cream (although this does mar the color scheme).
You'll need a big, squat pumpkin. Try to find one with a nice handle.
Wash the pumpkin in warm, soapy water and dry well.
Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
Using a sharp knife cut off the top to make a lid. You can do it in a straight line or in a zigzag pattern. Scoop out the strings and seeds. (Keep the seeds for roasting.) Oil the pumpkin lightly inside and out with vegetable oil.
Place the pumpkin and lid on a heavy baking sheet lined with parchment paper or sprayed with oil. If you don't have a heavy enough pan, use two baking sheets on top of each other.
Bake the pumpkin and its lid for under an hour, depending on the size of the pumpkin.
Important note: Don't overcook the pumpkin or it will be too soft to hold the soup. The shell should be warmed through and slightly soft but still holding its shape. So watch it carefully. Start checking after 30 minutes. Remember, it will keep cooking when you take it out of the oven, so err on the side of undercooking.
Let the shell cool. Ladle the hot soup into the pumpkin and use the lid as a cover if you want.
And if you do overcook the pumpkin and company's on the way, hopefully you have a well-sized bowl to slip inside.