You run into them everywhere this time of year. Bushels and crates of brightly colored pumpkins. Walk the city streets and corner fruit & vegetable stands display them like orange floodlights you can view from blocks away. Suburbanites adorn their homes – inside and out – with pumpkins of every size. More rural areas feature farmers’ markets with crates and crates of them. It’s pumpkin mania, I like to call it. But it doesn’t stop there. Along with pumpkins comes a mélange of their Winter squash kin. Some green and yellow speckled, some sporting the same bright orange color. Even our supermarkets offer a bounty of squash, pumpkins and even gourds to welcome the season. Great on the eye, but what about the stomach? You know me. I’m always thinking of my next meal.
Well, the gourds aren’t edible. So they’re off the table. However, pumpkins and Winter squash make mighty good eats in my opinion. Let’s begin with pumpkin cuisine. I should mention that the oversized variety, although great for Jack-O-Lanterns, is not really recommended for cooking. Way too stringy. You’ll be looking for smaller pumpkins. Or even better, sugar pumpkins, which are small and deeply colored. That being said, there’s no end to the versatility this Fall fruit brings to your kitchen. Use the fleshy part, free from strings and seeds, and you’re ready to rock ‘n roll. Boiled or steamed, then mashed with lots of sweet butter and heavy cream. Baked or roasted and served with melting butter and a touch of cinnamon. Pureed into a chicken stock, with a kiss of nutmeg and offered in a pumpkin shell with a swirl of crème fraiche. Stuffed into ravioli and prepared with a simple brown butter-sage sauce. Sliced and sautéed in olive oil with garlic and finished off with a pinch of oregano and a splash of red wine vinegar (thanks for that one, Nonna.)
Sound yummy? There’s much more. A dark, moist pumpkin bread or muffin makes the perfect morning repast, especially with a smear of cream cheese. Of course, pumpkin pie is a consummate favorite in my home this time of year. So many recipes. I like mine in the traditional style, highly spiced with a flaky crust and placed in front of me with a dollop of homemade whipped cream. But pumpkin cheese cake and pumpkin flan are winners in my book as well.
OK. So what about the Winter squash? Well, there are lots of varieties from which to choose. Butternut, acorn, turban, Hubbard, petit pan, delicata, buttercup and spaghetti squash are all favorites of mine. They’re fairly easy to find, and like their pumpkin cousin, are extremely multitalented. I like to mix several types, cubed and roasted with just a bit of olive oil. Colorful and so satisfying as a side to roasts. I also include them in stews, soups and casseroles. They add a nutty flavor and sweetness that always tastes like more when I serve them to friends and family. Or keep it simple. Take an acorn squash, cut it in half and bake until tender. Offer it with melted butter, even a bit of brown sugar and cinnamon. Comes in its own bowl and is fun to scoop out. Looks pretty on the plate, too.
Here’s something unique. Spaghetti squash is so called because when it’s cooked (microwaving actually works fine), you can scrape the inside flesh with a fork and produce spaghetti-like strands that are surprisingly al dente. A great substitute for pasta if you’re looking to cut down on carbs. Plate it up with a bit of marinara or al fredo sauce, and believe me, even my mother wouldn’t complain about this pasta-less wonder. Really delicious.
One more thing before I go. Pumpkin and Winter squash seeds, or pepitas as the Mexicans call them, are delicious snacks and quite easy to prepare. Just be sure that your seeds are free from any flesh or strings. Toss them with a very light coating of vegetable oil and salt, spread on a baking dish and roast at 350 F for 3-5 minutes or until they are slightly browned and fragrant. You may also add garlic powder, cayenne pepper or any other favorite seasoning before roasting. Everyone will love them.
That’s my take and pumpkins and their squash kin. Be sure to check out Phyllis’ recipe below. And create some of your own. Take advantage. They only roll around this time of year.
Tangy Roasted Pumpkin Soup
Roasting the pumpkin for the soup encourages the natural sugars to caramelize and enriches its flavor creating a more complex soup.
1 medium pumpkin, about 4 pounds
1 T butter
2 slices bacon, diced
1 large yellow onion, chopped
6 cups chicken stock
½ cup heavy cream
¼ cup orange juice
1/8 t freshly grated nutmeg
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup crème fraiche, thinned with milk just until pourable
1 cup julienned roasted pumpkin
Roasted pumpkin seeds*
To roast the pumpkin, preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Cut pumpkin in half through stem end and then cut each half into several pieces. Remove strings. Reserve seeds for garnish.. Place pumpkin on a baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast in oven until tender but not falling apart, about 45 minutes. Let cool and peel away skin. Julienne a cupful for garnish. Dice the remainder.
Melt butter in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Add bacon and onions and cook stirring occasionally until onions are soft and bacon is just turning golden. Add the pumpkin and stock and simmer until pumpkin falls apart, about 30 minutes. Let cool about 20 minutes.
In batches, puree soup in a food processor until smooth. Strain through a mesh sieve; add cream, orange juice and nutmeg. Reheat. .Ladle into bowls and garnish with julienned pumpkin and toasted pumpkin seeds*. Drizzle on crème fraiche. 6 servings.
*How to Roast Pumpkin Seeds
1. Rinse pumpkin seeds under cold water and pick out the pulp and strings. (This is easiest just after you’ve removed the seeds from the pumpkin, before the pulp has dried). Simmer seeds in salted water for 10 minutes. Pat dry thoroughly.
2. Place the pumpkin seeds in a single layer on an oiled baking sheet, stirring to coat.
3. Sprinkle with salt and bake at 325 degrees F until toasted, about 25 minutes, checking and stirring after 10 minutes.
4. Let cool and store in an air-tight container. There is no need to crack open to remove inner seed.
Photographer Bill Brady <a href=”http://bit.ly/9wFYxm” target=”_blank”>http://bit.ly/9wFYxm</a>
Written by Victor Ribaudo <a href=”http://theribaudogroup.com” target=”_blank”>theribaudogroup.com</a> theribaudogroup.comRecipe Provided by Phyllis Kirigin, aka sweetpaprika <a href=”http://sweetpaprika.wordpress.com” target=”_blank”>http://sweetpaprika.wordpress.com</a> http://sweetpaprika.wordpress.comFood Stylist <a href=”http://www.preston-campbell.com” target=”_blank”>Brian Preston Campbell</a>Blog syndicated at the datingsymbol.com <a href=”http://datingsymbol.com/” target=”_blank”>http://datingsymbol.com/</a>http://datingsymbol.com/