A Plethora Of Pumpkins

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On Beyond Pie

Pumpkins are just plain beautiful. Round or elongated, warty or smooth skinned, tawny or palest cream, they stand out like glowing lanterns in the browning fields. Carving pumpkins has always been one of my favorite fall activities. Some years, I gently scratch patterns on my growing pumpkins in late summer, so the scar tissue makes images of flowers and foliage, birds and animals as well as the usual funky faces.

It always seems a shame to waste the pumpkin innards that get removed to make room for candles. Most of the slimy goop can go straight into the compost heap. In fact, I often clean pumpkins on a picnic table near my compost, so it’s easy to toss what I don’t want right onto the pile. I clean the inside of my pumpkins with a trowel or a huge serving spoon, getting all the stringy bits out. If the sides are scraped as clean as possible, the inevitable rot will be slowed down. I pick out as many large, ripe pumpkin seeds as possible, putting them in a bowl of water to rinse off the sticky stuff.

Home Grown Pepitos

Pepitos or pumpkin seeds are tasty and nutritious, and we use them often as snacks, in salads, as garnish for soups, and in rice or pasta dishes. I also use them in pestos, where they replace pinenuts, walnuts, or almonds. To make your own rinse the seeds well and dry in a single layer on parchment paper. When dry, toss with a little olive oil and sea salt, then place them on parchment paper on a rimmed baking sheet and bake at 325 F. until crisp (8-12 minutes). Store pepitos in a tightly sealed jar out of direct light for up to 2 months.

Roasted Pumpkins

There are so many ways to enjoy eating pumpkins that pie is almost the least of them. For instance, you can roast chunks of pumpkin with potatoes and carrots, then toss in mild curry powder and sea salt and serve as a savory side with chicken or fish.

For a delicious entree, saute diced pumpkin with garlic, onions, and sliced kalamata olives, then toss with hot pasta. Sprinkle with soft goat cheese and lots of pepper and serve with a green salad garnished with toasted pumpkin seeds.

Baby Pumpkins

Cook mini pumpkins whole in the oven or microwave, poke a few holes with a fork, then cook until barely tender (about 20-30 minutes in the oven, and 3-4 minutes in the microwave). Cut off the top, remove the seeds and refill with something yummy for individual servings.

For a savory version, fill tiny pumpkins with spicy chili, topped with pepperjack cheese and fresh cilantro. For a sweet-hot treat, mash in a spoonful of orange juice concentrate and some chopped ancho peppers. For a totally cute dessert, fill little pumpkins (raw, and cleaned) with pumpkin pie filling and bake on a rimmed baking sheet until set (about 30 minutes).

Pureed Pulp

I use my Squeezo Strainer to remove the strings from cooked pumpkin, making a smooth pulp with lots of tasty uses. Adding pumpkin pulp to curried chicken boosts both flavor and richness as well as coconut milk without adding any fat. Stir pumpkin pulp into chili, adobo, or pork stew for a new take on old favorites.

You can also make lovely pumpkin soup, flavored in a dozen ways, by sauteeing onions and garlic, then adding pumpkin pulp and water or broth with various combinations of herbs and spices. Ginger, coriander, and cumin give an Indian flair, while chipote flakes, cumin, and oregano add a Southwestern twist. Rosemary, lemon zest, and fresh basil give it Italian overtones, while cilantro, ginger, soy sauce and hot chili oil give it Asian flavor qualities.

Sweet Treats Too

On the sweet side, you can add a cup each of pumpkin pulp and chocolate chips to your favorite bread pudding recipe with delightful results. Make pumpkin bread using a banana bread recipe and 1-1/2 cups of pumpkin pulp, adding ginger and nutmeg as well as chunks of crystalized ginger for extra zip.

Roasted Pumpkin Soup

A beautiful centerpiece, this rich, spicy soup makes any meal feel festive.

1 large (8-10 inch) pumpkin
1 head garlic, broken into cloves, not peeled
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1-2 teaspoons powdered ginger
2 quarts vegetable or chicken broth, hot
1 cup organic heavy cream, warmed
1/4 cup soft goat cheese, crumbled

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.  Remove top inch of pumpkin with stem and scrape out seeds. Place pumpkin cut side up in a baking dish, tuck garlic cloves inside and bake at 425 until tender (about 30-45 minutes). When tender, gently scoop out pulp, taking care not to damage outer shell.  Mash pulp with peeled roasted garlic  and salt, pepper, and ginger to taste. Stir in broth (start with 1 quart and add to almost fill pumpkin shell). Stir in cream and serve at once, garnished with cheese. Serves 4-6.

Custard Cups

Gently sweet and softly spicy, this tender custard can be baked in small cups or one larger dish. To make it dairy free, use almond or hazelnut milk.

Pumpkin Custard

2 cups cooked pumpkin pulp
3 eggs, lightly beaten
1-1/2 cups whole milk OR almond milk
1/4 cup pomegranate molasses
1/4 cup brown rice syrup
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon ginger
1 teaspoon coriander
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extact

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Whisk together all ingredients and pour into a baking dish. Bake at 350 for 40-45 minutes (25-30 minutes for smaller cups) or until custard is set and a knife comes out clean. Serve warm or at room temperature. Serves at least one.

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins

Buttermilk gives these tender treats a delicate texture. If you don’t have any, add 1 teaspoon lemon juice to regular milk and let it clabber for 10 minutes before using. This is one of my family’s favorite treats, and they taste even better the second day (if any are left).

1 cup cooked pumpkin puree
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 egg, beaten
1/4 cup canola oil
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1 cup unbleached white flour
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon double-acting baking soda
1 cup dark chocolate chips

Preheat oven to bake 350 degrees F and line a muffin tin with paper muffin cups. In a bowl, stir together the pumpkin, brown sugar, egg, oil, and buttermilk, set aside. Sift dry ingredients together and stir quickly into the pumpkin mixture. Stir in chocolate chips and spoon into muffin cups. Bake until set and golden (about 20-25 minutes). Makes 12 muffins.

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