RECIPES: Pumpkin Fritters, How to Make Pumpkin Purée, Pumpkin and Wild Rice Bread Pudding, Apricot Pumpkin Bread, Thai Stir-Fried Pumpkin with Tofu and Basil, Turkey Pumpkin Chili with Chipotle, Toasted Pumpkin Seeds, Savory Pumpkin Garlic Flan, Pumpkin Ravioli with Walnut Cream Sauce, Creamy Pumpkin Flan with Caramel, Indian Vegetable Stew, Thai Curried Pumpkin and Walnut Soup, Pumpkin Quinoia Muffins, Pumpkin Soup, Pumpkin Tortelloni with Browned Butter and Sage Sauce
To most people in the US, pumpkins are the familiar, striated orange-skinned winter squash with orange flesh, which are carved for Halloween or turned into pie. However, “pumpkin” is a word used to describe many varieties of squash around the world that come in many shapes, colors, and sizes. Although the pumpkins we associate with autumn are usually orange or deep yellow, some fruits are dark green, pale green, orange-yellow, white, red and gray and come in many different shapes. Pumpkins are native to North America, with evidence of pumpkin-related seeds dating back to 7000 BC in Mexico.
When it comes to flavor, don’t look to pumpkin on its own for anything dramatic – think instead of deep mellow flavors with nuance. Depending on how they are cooked, pumpkin will be tinged with sweetness or a touch of bitterness. When building a dish, look for flavors to complement or act as counterpoint. For example, if I make a puree of Kabocha pumpkin, which has a nutty taste, I like to add chestnuts as a complement. For pumpkin soup, I might use sherry or balsamic vinegar as a counterpoint – both have acid and an astringent brightness that acts as a foil to the rich feel and blander flavor of the squash. Nuts and roasted pumpkin seeds make a great garnish to most pumpkin dishes. If you can find pumpkin seed oil, it has an amazing flavor, especially drizzled on pumpkin soup or puree.
How a pumpkin is cooked affects the flavor a great deal. Roasting or baking tends to bring out the sweetness, while wet cooking, like steaming or stewing, tends to bring out the “squash-ness,” and the slightly bitter flavors and vegetable quality all squash have.
Some pumpkins, like Kabochas, tend to be fairly dry, and wet cooking methods work well with these. Wetter pumpkins and squash benefit from dry cooking first to develop fuller flavor. Even when making soup, roast the pumpkin first before adding it to liquid. Winter squash will also stand up to sautéing, with great results. Cut it in small pieces and sauté it fast – it will caramelize and retain its shape, and is great added to risotto or mixed with cooked whole grains and greens. Adding pumpkin at the beginning of a dish, pumpkin will melt and add sweetness and some body.
Pumpkin can also be cooked in the microwave – just don’t try to cook it whole or it will explode! Microwave halves of pumpkin and then finish in a hot oven for flavor when in a hurry.
When splitting and peeling pumpkins, be careful! If you are nervous, try using a carpenters knife to first score the skin deeply, and then use a knife or cleaver to split it. Use a rubber mallet to tap the blade where it connects to the handle if a little “oomph” is needed.
Don’t forget to save the seeds! Rinsed and dries, then lightly oiled and salted, they are a great snack or garnish, and keep well.
At the market, you won’t see a lot of Jack O’ Lanterns, which are more decorative and not particularly good to eat. However, there are many varieties of pumpkins at the market. You can also get slices of larger pumpkins from some vendors like KT Farms, who have Hmong (looks like a Jarrahdale) squash, and be sure to stop by Thomas Farms to check out the beautiful selection of pumpkins and winter squash they have. Other vendors such as Webb’s, Coke’s, and Pinnacle have a wide selection of pumpkins as well, so look around and have some fun.
By the way, just to show you that pumpkin and squash are interchangeable, it turns out that most canned pumpkin is actually made from butternut, Hubbard, or other squashes that are sweeter and smoother! Check it out!