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In celebration of the Great Pumpkin

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.

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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

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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.

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Once featured only in outdoor Halloween displays, supermarkets are

bringing more of the smaller pumpkins inside with the other

vegetables.

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

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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

standard pie.

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

nutmeg

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.

Bon appetit.

* LILLIAN REITER is a Laguna Beach resident. A self-described

“shameless foodie,” she is currently co-authoring a cookbook. She can

be reached at reitersinc@net-star.net or P.O. Box 248, Laguna Beach,

CA 92652, or via fax at 494-8979.


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