2 heads garlic, separated into cloves but not peeled (approximately 20 cloves)
1 3-pound sugar pumpkin or butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1-inch cubes
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 large eggs
2 cups heavy cream
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh marjoram leaves
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
Coarse salt and freshly ground white pepper to taste
8 small sprigs
fresh marjoram, for garnish
Put the garlic cloves in a small saucepan. Add enough cold salted water to cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Drain, discarding the water. Return the garlic cloves to the pan, add more water and salt, and repeat twice more. When the water comes to a boil for the third time, reduce the heat and simmer for about 12 minutes, until the cloves are tender. Drain, and set aside 8 cloves for garnish. Peel the remaining cloves.
Meanwhile, put the pumpkin in a 2 1/2-quart saucepan. Add enough cold salted water to cover, and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat and simmer for about 6 to 8 minutes, or until tender when pierced with the tip of a small, sharp knife. Drain.
In a 12-inch sauté pan, heat the butter over medium-high heat. Add the squash and peeled garlic cloves, and cook for 5 to 10 minutes, stirring often to avoid scorching, until the excess moisture evaporates. Remove from the heat to cool to room temperature. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Transfer the squash and garlic to a blender or a food processor fitted with the metal blade and process until smooth.
Add the eggs, cream, marjoram, and nutmeg. Season with salt and pepper, and pulse to combine. Ladle the custard into eight 4-ounce ramekins. Set the ramekins in a shallow roasting pan or baking pan, cover loosely with a sheet of foil, and put the pan in the oven. Pour enough hot water into the pan to come halfway up the sides of the ramekins.
Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until the custards are set around the edges but still a little shaky in the center. Check the custards after about 15 minutes in the oven. If they are puffing up and resembling souffles, reduce the oven temperature to 325°F. Carefully remove the pan from the oven. If not serving right away, let the heat escape from the oven and, at the same time, reduce the temperature to its lowest setting (between 180° and 200°F). Let the custards cool slightly in the water bath, then lift the ramekins from the water and serve immediately or return them to the oven to keep warm. Serve the custards in the ramekins or unmolded, inverted onto a plate. To serve, garnish each custard with a reserved unpeeled clove of garlic and a sprig of marjoram.
If making well in advance, remove the ramekins from the water bath and allow to cool to room temperature. Cover the ramekins with plastic wrap and refrigerate them. To reheat, place the custards, still covered with plastic wrap, in a large saute pan and add enough water to come about 1/2 inch up the sides of the ramekins. Bring to a simmer over low heat for about 30 minutes, or until the custards are warmed through. Off the heat, the custards will keep warm in the water bath for up to 30 minutes.
This recipe can be used to make custards with vegetables that have low fiber and water content, such as cauliflower, carrots, parsnips, and turnips. If using a more fibrous vegetable such as peas or asparagus, you must first sieve them.