Pumpkins: A Frightfully Tasty Squash
Pumpkins were a big part of the American experience long before they landed the starring role in Halloween. An anonymous Pilgrim penned this verse some time around 1630:
"For pottage and puddings, and custards and pies,
Our pumpkins and parsnips are common supplies.
We have pumpkins at morning and pumpkins at noon.
If it were not for pumpkins we should be undone."
The Pilgrims' resourcefulness was legendary. Not so their rhyming skills.
Pumpkin is a squash. A giant, orange squash. It's a little disheartening to think that such an American institution is second cousin to the mild zucchini, but there it is.
Come on, though, who doesn't like pumpkin pie with Thanksgiving turkey? Talk about a true blue American tradition. The smell of freshly baked pumpkin pie along with the aroma of a turkey browning away in the oven speaks of American Thanksgiving more than any other aroma in the world! Although most people prepare pumpkin pie with commercial pumpkin pie spice consisting of cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, ginger, allspice, and mace, I like my pumpkin pie with just cinnamon and nutmeg. Try it!
There's carvin' pumpkins, and then there's eatin' pumpkins, and don't get 'em confused. The pumpkins intended for jack-o'-lanterns are bred for size and shape, and their meat is stringy and relatively tasteless. For cooking, choose the smaller sugar pumpkins, available at most farmers' markets and many supermarkets through the fall and early winter.
Pick pumpkins with smooth shells and no soft spots. Keep them in a cool, dry place, and they'll last upward of a month.
To make pumpkin puree, cut your pumpkin in half, remove the gunk, and put the halves face down on a nonstick baking sheet. Bake until they're soft, about 45 minutes to an hour and a half. Scoop out the meat and puree in a blender or food processor.
- Make a pasta sauce with sautéed onions, some chicken stock, pumpkin puree, goat cheese, and a little nutmeg.
- Add pumpkin chunks and some cinnamon and cumin to a pork-based stew.
- Make a simple soup by sautéeing onions and adding pumpkin, chicken stock, milk or buttermilk, and almost any combination of spices (pumpkin soup can be spicy or mild). Puree until smooth, and top with cilantro.
- Doctor-up a traditional pumpkin pie by adding brandy, rum, maple syrup, chopped dates, crystallized ginger, candied orange peel, or almost anything else that strikes your fancy.
- Blend pumpkin (and appropriate spices) into half your cheesecake filling, then swirl the pumpkinized half into the plain half before baking.
- Make a spicy vegetarian stew with cubed pumpkin, fennel, and black beans, flavored with ginger, cilantro, red pepper, and a little coconut milk.
- For a pumpkin dessert with a fraction of the fat and calories of pie, simply bake pumpkin pie filling in a casserole, and top it with toasted pecans, chopped crystallized ginger, or crumbled ginger snaps.
Don't forget the seeds - clean and dry them, spread them on a baking sheet (sprinkled with a little salt, if you like), and roast them at 250 degrees F until they're crispy, about half an hour or so.