FOOD FOR THOUGHT
More than an over-sized Halloween candle holder or table
decoration, the Great Pumpkin is a versatile veggie that deserves to
be promoted to the main course not just sweets at the end of a meal.
A member of the squash family, pumpkin supplies more than 300% of
the recommended daily allowance of vitamin A an anti-oxidant that
promises to halt the aging process and give us younger looking skin.
This smooth-textured, super nutrient with a subtle nutty flavor is
most commonly sweetened and used in pies, breads and muffins. But it
is also turning up in lots of Italian specialties (pumpkin ravioli,
risotto and even pizza). I’ve even seen recipes for Chilean Chicken
Stew with Pumpkin and Wild Rice and Asian Hot and Sour Pumpkin Soup.
Experiment a bit and resist the temptation to sweeten it. You’ll
discover that different combinations of spices give a variety of
delicious results. Like other squashes, it absorbs the flavors of any
cooking liquid you use.
Once featured only in outdoor Halloween displays, supermarkets are
bringing more of the smaller pumpkins inside with the other
Specialty produce and farmers markets also have good choices
without that shiny coating on the skin.
The “sugar” pumpkin is perfect for cooking. It should be around 2
to 3 pounds and “heavy for its size.” (Pick up two specimens about
the same size and compare weights.) Store at room temperature for up
to a month or keep in the refrigerator for up to three months.
Jack-o-lantern pumpkins are too tough to use in the kitchen.
You’ll find recipes for dishes that begin by boiling raw pumpkin,
much the same as for mashed potatoes. Cut off the top (stem end) and
use a heavy cleaver or large chef’s knife to cut in half and then in
quarters. Holding each piece on its cut side, remove the skin with a
sharp knife in downward strokes. Remove seeds and membranes, cut into
1-inch pieces and proceed with the recipe. This works well if you
need whole chunks.
However, if you’re making a puree for baked goods, soups or other
dishes, it’s much easier bake with the skin on and work from there.
Simply slice off the top (2 to 3 inches from the stem), cut in half
and remove the seeds and membranes. Place halves cut-side down in a
roasting pan with about one-half inch of water on the bottom, cover
with aluminum foil and bake at 375 degrees for about an hour, or
until tender but not mushy.
The point is to steam the pumpkin so that it doesn’t dry out. When
it’s cool enough to handle, scoop the pulp out of the skin.
Working with about one cup at a time, puree in a blender until
very smooth. Pumpkin is about 80% water, so you’ll want to drain it
very well, unless you’re making soup. This is really important if
you’re using it for pies or other baked goods. Place the puree into a
large, fine sieve or strainer, over a bowl, and put it in the
refrigerator for about an hour.
After the water has drained off, you should have about two cups of
puree (from a two-pound pumpkin). This is the perfect amount for a
I’m preparing batches of it now and freezing it for holiday
baking. Besides traditional autumn baked goods, I use pumpkin most
often for soup. Low in calories, sodium and rich in vitamins, it’s
the perfect cool weather everyday comfort food that is also an
elegant starter for a formal meal.
Creamy Pumpkin Apple Soup serves 4
Pumpkin puree, un-drained, from one 2-pound Pumpkin
One apple, any kind, peeled and coarsely grated
One 14-ounce can vegetable broth, more if necessary
1/4 teaspoon each -- curry powder, powdered ginger, freshly grated
1/2 to 1 teaspoon kosher salt
3 to 5 tablespoons heavy whipping cream
Place un-drained puree in sauce pan and add broth. Blend and bring
to a simmer over medium heat. Stir, adding more broth if necessary
along with grated apple. (It should be less thick than pea soup.)
When well blended, add spices and simmer for about 10 minutes. Check
seasoning and adjust to taste.
This is definitely better after a day’s rest in the refrigerator.
You can also freeze it at this point. When ready to serve, reheat
over low heat, adjust seasoning if necessary and add cream. A little
cream goes a long way and you may need less than you think. Garnish
with thin apple slices and fresh sage leaves.
Note: Don’t substitute chicken stock for vegetable and don’t be
afraid to play around with the seasoning. Some cooks add a little
allspice or grated orange rind.
* LILLIAN REITER is a Laguna Beach resident. A self-described
“shameless foodie,” she is currently co-authoring a cookbook. She can
be reached at email@example.com or P.O. Box 248, Laguna Beach,
CA 92652, or via fax at 494-8979.