As I’ve mentioned, I’m moderately obsessed with the chill of autumn. Now that it’s getting to be time for gloves and huddling, though, I’m finding out, as I do every year, that I’m only obsessed with the idea of looking moody and lost in thought in the chill of autumn. After that one perfect profile picture is snapped, I’m cursing and looking for the nearest shower to warm up in.
I needed a snack tonight and found myself longing for the salsa and chip appetizer generally accompanying warm, summer nights out in the yard. And then I remembered this crazy salsa we had in the back of the fridge. I grabbed this at a time, mid-July, at the Fancy Food Show when eating it seemed a little blasphemous with all the green and red salsas lying around. But I’m good enough at planning ahead that when I see freaking pumpkin chipotle salsa, I know that come October, I’m going to be nomming for eight because it’s so good. And this was a Rick Bayless creation that seamlessly bridges the gap between summer and fall, a man whose takes on Mexican have been salivated over many an afternoon in Whole Foods. I met chef Bayless, strongarmed a jar of this, and waited four months to write about it. That’s dedication.
You’ll notice this jar is propped up like a taxidermied Anne Geddes baby. I don’t give a crap. Inside that jar, which, mind you, is clearly the more boss of seasonal flavors- eff you, heirloom tomato, is a smoky, sweet combination of chunks of peppers, tomatoes, and pumpkins bathed in a perfectly executed chipotle sauce. Chipotle is incredibly overrated, but when paired well, it’s transcendental. And this is paired very, very well. It’s not so much a smoky flavor as it is charred, with bits of blackened pepper and tomato skin floating around in the sauce, giving it a deep, rich flavor and an intensely smoked bite. At first, there’s no heat, and I didn’t expect there to be with all of the pumpkin spices, like nutmeg, cinnamon, and brown sugar, giving it a rounded, sweet potato-like flavor, but after a few bites, a lingering heat emerged and persisted for quite some time.
Like some of the other pumpkin products I’ve sampled, this manifested its fall colors in the spices it used rather than the ingredients, despite there being actual pumpkin in this. I’ve come to realize that that’s a boon rather than a bust, because the texture of pumpkin could upset the balance of a salsa with its heavy, wet mouthfeel and is pretty flavorless on its own. Though admittedly, a little thickness couldn’t hurt. This separates very easily, even after thoroughly shaking in the jar. If watery salsa annoys you, these are not the droids you’re looking for. With such an emphasis on utilizing pumpkin, this had the thin consistency of a heavily tomatillo based salsa, which it was. It wasn’t very enhanced by the gourd at all.
It’s worth noting, however, that Bayless not only used pumpkin in his salsa, a feat unto itself, but used a special Mexican variety of pumpkin called the calabaza. It’s part melon, part gourd. You know it as the plant that produces the popular squash blossom. It’s still a pumpkin. Don’t say the guy didn’t try. The only element this is missing is the crunch of toasted pepitas on top, an easy hack that will turn this into the perfect fall appetizer. I can’t wait to try this as a heated sauce over pasta or on top of pulled chicken tacos.