From Nuts To Soup
This year, my three year old grandson is enchanted with pumpkins, and so am I. For one thing, they are so beautifully plump and rounded, whether symmetrical or pleasingly eccentric in shape. 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, though I hadn’t bothered in recent years, since my house has never had trick-or-treaters. This year I was also invited to help carve pumpkins for a clever, inventive Haunted Hayride put on by our local Parks (this year, a purple water-snorting dragon was a special guest).
It’s been delightful to reclaim this happy pastime, and I am already planning to grow plenty of pumpkins and gourds next year. I can imagine groups of arty gourds dripping gracefully from the trellises and arbors at Hannah’s Garden, a delightful mixed planting tucked into our island’s accessible play space, Owen’s Playground. It will be fun to show kids how to gently scratch patterns on the swelling 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. However, though I’ve experimented with recipes of various kinds, the sad truth is that this stuff isn’t very nice to eat. However, I’ve noticed that newer varieties bred to be carved rather than eaten often have dry, stringy innards instead of the sloppy, gloppy kind. I saved some seeds to grow on and will be intrigued to see what comes of them. Anyway, unless it’s raining, I clean pumpkins on a picnic table near my compost, so it’s easy to toss the slimy goop right onto the pile.
It’s quite easy to 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. Once clean and dry, they can be saved for next season’s planting and/or used in the kitchen for snacking and garnishes.
Nuts (Ok, Really Seeds)
When carving, I always save some pumpkin seeds, perhaps better appreciated by their Spanish name, pepitos. Like most seeds, pepitos are very high in protein yet low in carbs, making them a healthy choice for snackers. To roast pumpkin seeds, rinse them well, then dry them in a single layer on parchment paper. Toss with a little avocado or olive oil, give them a light sprinkle of sea salt, then place them on parchment paper on a rimmed baking sheet and bake at 325 F. until crisp (8-12 minutes).
If you want to play with flavoring them, toss them while still hot with a little chili powder, smoked paprika, curry powder, cumin, or even cinnamon sugar. Store pepitos in a tightly sealed jar out of direct light for up to 2 months or freeze them for longer storage. Mine rarely last that long, since I like to use them in salads, as garnish for soups, and in rice or pasta dishes. I also use them in pestos and hummus, where they can replace pinenuts, walnuts, or almonds.
There are so many ways to enjoy eating pumpkins that pie is really the least of them. For instance, you can roast chunks of pumpkin with potatoes and carrots, then toss with herbes de Provence or a spicy masala powder and serve as a savory side with chicken or fish. For a heartier entree, saute diced cooked pumpkin with garlic, onions, and sliced kalamata olives, then toss with hot pasta. Sprinkle with grated hard cheese and lots of pepper and serve with a green salad garnished with toasted pumpkin seeds. Pumpkin can work as well as any winter squash in lasagna or risotto, and of course makes marvelous soups.
Creamy pumpkin soup was an autumn treat in my New England girlhood, but these days I’m more apt to spike it with smoky chipotle peppers, stir in fresh peanut butter and coconut milk, or give it a more sophisticated French or Italian treatment. Here’s a festive version to serve for a party or a holiday. Be sure to use a heavy walled cooking pumpkin, not a jack-o-lantern type, which are often thin skinned and stringy, with rather watery pulp.
Roasted Pumpkin Soup
1 large cooking pumpkin
1 head garlic, broken into cloves, not peeled
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
1-2 teaspoons powdered ginger
1 teaspoon powdered coriander
2 quarts vegetable or chicken broth, hot
1 cup organic heavy cream, warmed
1/4 cup soft goat cheese, crumbled
1/4 cup roasted pepitas
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, paprika, ginger and coriander 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 and pepitas. Serves 4-6.
To cook mini pumpkins whole in the oven or microwave, poke a few holes in the top, 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).