Pumpkin From The Ground Up

by Jane Wangersky | October 31st, 2013 | Cooking Basics

pumpkin nihI don’t know about you, but tomorrow I’m going to have a lot of pumpkin to deal with. It’s the supermarket’s fault. Instead of selling pumpkins by weight, they’re just letting them go for $2.50 each, and of course I wanted to get as much as I could for my money — even if I didn’t really have much use for what I was getting. Anyway, we’ve got a jack-o-lantern big enough to power a small lighthouse. For one night, anyway.

“Carving pumpkins” and “pie pumpkins” have parted ways a little over the years, so this may not be the best kind for eating — but as long as something’s edible, I hate to let it go to waste and I enjoy finding ways to make it taste good.

So, what do you do with the insides of a large pumpkin? For now, you leave them inside. (Except the seeds, which you’ve no doubt already taken out. They can be toasted at 325 for about 20 minutes and flavored any way you like.) The first step is to get the pumpkin flesh cooked, and the easiest way to do that is to put it in the oven, on a baking sheet, at 350 until it collapses. You may have to cut it up if it’s as big as ours. The second easiest way is to boil it on top of the stove, and you’ll definitely have to cut it up if you go this way. In the oven, the process may take hours; on the stove top it’ll probably be quicker. Either way, it’s done when you’re able to pull the flesh easily away from the shell, which you should throw out.

Believe it or not, what you’ve got now is just the same as the canned pumpkin puree you were going to buy at Thanksgiving to make pie filling. Or it will be, once you smooth it out for a few seconds in the food processor. (Not the same as canned pumpkin pie filling, which already has sugar, spice, and, well, you get it.) So you can save yourself some money by putting a few cupfuls of it in the freezer for then.

Meanwhile, what else? Well, there’s pumpkin bread, pumpkin pancakes, and even pumpkin brownies, a pumpkin pie martini, and pumpkin dog treats.

The pumpkin recipes on this site alone will probably use up a lot. (Some of these recipes call for a 15-ounce can of pumpkin — that’s about 1 3/4 cups.)

You don’t have to stick to sweet stuff, either. Try putting pureed pumpkin in soup, especially with spicier ingredients like roasted red peppers. You can use it just as you’d use any winter squash like butternut.

What we think of as the pumpkin pie/pumpkin muffin taste comes mainly from the spices — the unadorned taste of pumpkin is pretty bland, but that makes it a great background for so many stronger flavors, like cinnamon, ginger, and yes, even red peppers.

So I’ve got big plans for the big pumpkin, starting tomorrow.

(Photo: National Institute of Health)

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