For Thanksgiving this year, I felt like doing something different. For me, holiday cooking is not so much about cooking the same dishes year after year. No, the holidays are the time that I try over the top recipes that I would never ordinarily have an excuse to make. This is the time that I bring out the recipes with obscure spices, with several steps, with long preparation times, like this Pumpkin and Spice infused vodka.
It’s adapted from this recipe on Food52.
I used pumpkin instead of butternut squash because I think it’s more seasonal.
To peel and disembowel the pumpkin, pop it in the microwave for 2 minutes on high, then place it on a cutting board and slice it in half down the middle. Scoop out the guts (reserving the seeds to toast for a yummy snack), then peel and cube the pumpkin.
There’s a good video demonstrating the technique here. If you would like to keep your hands free of knife-wounds, however, please for the love of all that is good and holy, DO NOT ATTEMPT TO PEEL THE PUMPKIN WITH A KNIFE DIRECTED TOWARD YOUR BODY, LIKE THE DISEMBODIED HANDS IN THE VIDEO DO. Slow down, you eager beaver. I want to peel this pumpkin as quickly as you do, but I would also like to keep my metacarpal veins intact.
Slice each pumpkin half into quarters, first. Place them on a flat surface and peel downward, directing the knife toward the cutting board. Or use a vegetable peeler, directed away from the the fleshy flap of baby skin between your index finger and thumb. Don’t be a hero. There is not a prize for peeling this pumpkin in the most devil-may-care fashion.
Pumpkin and 5-spice infused Vodka
Makes about 1.5 Liters
For the Infused Vodka:
- 2-3 pounds sugar pumpkin (sometimes called a ‘pie pumpkin’)
- 1 liter of vodka (no need to go for the top shelf, here)
For the 5-Spice Syrup:
- 1 cup white sugar
- 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
- 1/2 cup maple syrup
- 2.5 tsp Anise Seed (Chinese 5-spice uses Star Anise, but I couldn’t find any in my local market, I know…)
- 1 cinnamon stick, broken into smaller pieces
- 1 tablespoon fennel seeds
- 1 tablespoon black peppercorns
- 1 teaspoon whole cloves
- 1 cup water
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
- Peel and Cube the Pumpkin: Place the pumpkin in a microwave and cook on High for 2 minutes. Cut in half, then clean out seeds and guts. Slice each pumpkin half into quarters. Using a sharp knife or vegetable peeler, peel the skin from the pumpkin, being careful to direct the knife/peeler away from your body. Cut the pumpkin into 1.5-inch chunks. Spread out in an even layer on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake until just tender (test by inserting the tip of a knife), 30 – 40 minutes. The pumpkin should be tender, but not falling apart. Let the pumpkin cool to room temperature, then transfer to a large mason jar.
- Add vodka to the jar until it covers the pumpkin by 1 inch. Seal the jar and store in a cool, dark spot.
- Give the jar a gentle shake every few days. Start tasting the vodka after 1 week. The finished infusion should taste very strongly of pumpkin.
- Once you are satisfied with the flavor of the vodka, pour the mixture through a medium-mesh basket strainer into a clean bowl or jar. Discard the solids. Strain again through a fine-mesh strainer into another clean bowl or jar. Set aside while you prepare the 5-Spice Syrup.
- In small saucepan, combine sugars, maple syrup, spices and water. Bring mixture to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Once the mixture comes to a boil, drop the heat to low, and simmer for 5 minutes. Let the mixture cool completely, then strain out all of the spices. Discard spices.
- Pour syrup into the infused vodka, stirring to combine. Cover and let rest for 1 more day before serving.