Back in 2008 I wrote a post about several culinary oils--olive, of course, as well as avocado and butternut squash seed oil. I was especially smitten with the butternut squash seed oil from Stony Brook. It was so utterly redolent of the squash, even to the heady scent. So, when the folks at Emile Noël Artisan Oils got in touch with me to offer me a sample of one of their many organic oils--and I saw they had pumpkin seed oil--I immediately selected that as my sample.
But, the pumpkin seed oil surprised me. Clearly, I was expecting a similar experience to the butternut squash seed oil--anticipating a wild rush of pumpkin concentrated in oil. It's not. The flavor in this oil, which looks like a thick balsamic vinegar or maple syrup, is more of a cross between sesame seeds and shitake mushroom. A deep, dark flavor.
Like many of these high-quality oils, they're primarily used for finishing or dipping. I had another idea. Croutons. But not just any croutons with your basic white bread. These needed a bread worthy of the oil's deep flavor, so while shopping at Whole Foods I picked up a dark pumpernickel and a bread new to them, an S-shaped Pane Siciliano made with semolina and lots of sesame seeds. It actually reminds me of challah.
While I was at it, I also roasted a little pumpkin I had, with the idea of putting together a salad of greens with the pumpkin and the croutons--and a pumpkin seed oil vinaigrette.
Homemade croutons are easy to put together and the taste is so much better than store bought that it seems silly not to do it. Plus, you can create your own flavor profiles with herbs and spices. Because I wanted to feature the oil, I kept the seasoning to just sea salt, but you can add freshly minced garlic, various ground peppers, dried oregano or parsley--whatever you please. These came out with that heavenly umame flavor, enriched by the butter but nicely offset by the sea salt.
Pumpkin Seed Oil and Butter Croutons
Makes 1 pound of croutons
1 pound of slightly stale bread (crusts on or off--I like on)
6 tablespoons pumpkin seed oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
Freshly ground sea salt to taste
Preheat oven to 375˚.
Slice bread into one-inch cubes and place into a large bowl.
Combine the oil and butter. Add to the bread cubes and mix thoroughly so that all the cubes are coated.
Spread onto one or two baking sheets in a single layer. Sprinkle with salt and put into the oven. At the five-minute mark, pull the croutons out and turn them over with a spatula. Place back in the oven for another five minutes or until the bread is browned enough to your liking--perhaps another five minutes after that.
Remove from the oven and let cool. You can then store the croutons in a plastic bag for several days, that is, if you can keep yourself from nibbling on them.
You can find Emile Noël Artisan Oils online or at Whole Foods in San Diego.