That pumpkin brightening your doorstep this time of year is actually a pretty versatile little (or perhaps big?) squash. As you carve it into a jack-o’-lantern, take a minute to use the fleshy fruit’s (yep, it’s a fruit) pulp and seeds for some recipes beyond pie. Its fibrous flesh makes a perfect puree for pie, to be sure, but it’s also great for roasting, or making soups and stews — with or without other vegetables. The seeds can be roasted and toasted with any sort of salt-and-spice blend for a great snack or as a crunchy addition to salads.
While most of us delight in the pumpkin pie that graces our Thanksgiving tables, savory uses of Cucurbita pepo, the cultivar derived from indigenous North American squash, are known the world over — from Africa to New Zealand, where they are boiled, mashed, roasted, pickled and candied. Indigenous Americans have been using these gourds, native to what we now know as Central America and Mexico, for over 5,000 years; they were originally mistaken by white settlers for melons. Antarctica, apparently, is the only continent where pumpkins can’t grow.
Pumpkin puree and cooked pumpkin can be stored in airtight containers and frozen for later use for up to three months. And pumpkins are highly nutritious — full of vitamins (especially A and C) and fiber, and low in calories.
So a little work now will yield easy eating all winter long.
A Pumpkin Primer
Cinderella’s bright orange coach may be the perfect pumpkin for sprucing up the front step, but it’s also good for roasting and pureeing for pies. Its appearance is bright orange, deeply ribbed, and shaped, well … like Cinderella’s coach.
Cheesy, or Cheese, pumpkins are so named because their color and shape resemble a wheel of cheese. They add variety to fall decor, but are also good in soups and stews.
Ghost pumpkins, or Lumina, are pale or white, and are deliciously sweet for roasting, when they’re not being used for Halloween decorations. Don’t try to carve them, though — their tough skin doesn’t make for easy jack-o’-lantern making. Better to paint or just leave them as they are.
Pie pumpkins are aptly named, because the puree made from the flesh of these small, unribbed beauties makes perfect puree that isn’t too fibrous or watery for pies.
Big Autumn, Harvest Moon and Connecticut Field pumpkins are probably the most common for carving and decorating. When you’re picking out a pumpkin for a jack-o’-lantern, you’re mostly likely choosing one of these. But they’re also good for pies, roasting and stews.
Curried Pumpkin Soup
This is perhaps one of the easiest (and quickest!) soups you’ll ever make — and it’s full of flavor (not to mention vitamins and fiber). If you’re not feeding a crowd, freeze any remainder in an airtight container for up to three months. To get the soup super smooth, you’ll need a heavy-duty blender, food processor or immersion mixer. Feel free to roast your own pumpkin (see instructions in the recipe for Roasted Pumpkin with Harissa and Cinnamon), or use canned pumpkin puree. The curry can be adjusted to your taste, as well — simply combine the spices and chiles you prefer to create a flavor that’s all your own. Nut allergies? Omit the peanuts.
Roasted Pumpkin with Harissa and Cinnamon
Use small, 3-pound pie pumpkins for this recipe — the yield will be about 16 ounces of puree (enough for the Curried Pumpkin Soup, above). Here is the yield on other pumpkins, if pie pumpkins can’t be found:
3-pound pie pumpkin = roughly 2 cups puree
5-pound round pumpkin = roughly 3 cups puree
6-pound carving pumpkin = roughly 2 3/4 cups puree
Remember that the spices you use on your roasted pumpkin will flavor your puree, so keep the end result in mind when seasoning. If you’re not making puree, these slices are the perfect accompaniment to a fall meal of roasted chicken or pork chops. Serve with a dollop of creme fraiche or yogurt for breakfast or lunch.
Roasted Pumpkin Seeds
Use these delicious seeds to eat out of hand, sprinkle into popcorn, or for Dark Chocolate Bark with Roasted Pumpkin Seeds, Pepitas, 5-Spice Chile and Sea Salt (see recipe).
Dark Chocolate Bark with Roasted Pumpkin Seeds, Pepitas, 5-Spice Chile and Sea Salt
This is a great “treat” for tricks — the dark chocolate, seeds and spices are chock-full of antioxidants, so you don’t have to feel guilty about indulging. The chile peps up flavor, but feel free to get creative and sprinkle the bark with your own blend of spices to taste.
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