The poor pumpkin has long been gutted, carved and relegated to the front steps. When it appears in recipes, it’s nearly always in packaged form. Before reaching for the can, consider these fresh ideas for putting an autumn staple on your holiday table.
Sue Cadwell, owner of the bustling takeout spot Health in a Hurry in Fairfield, Connecticut, likes cooking with pumpkin “because it’s festive and healthy.” She notes that it’s high in potassium and low in fat and calories (49 per cup). Joy Pierson and Bart Potenza, owners of Manhattan restaurants Candle Cafe and Candle 79, add that pumpkin is antioxidant rich, contains iron and zinc and is a good source of fiber. “And save those seeds!” says Pierson. “High in protein, vitamin A and minerals, they’re tasty and can help lower cholesterol.”
This pumpkin seed recipe from The Candle Cafe Cookbook (Clarkson Potter Publishers) would be a welcome nosh at any holiday gathering.
Toasted Pumpkin Seed Salsa
1/2 cup raw pumpkin seeds
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 jalapeno pepper, coarsely chopped
3 Tbsp. safflower oil
1/2 onion, coarsely chopped
1 28-ounce can organic tomatoes
1 ancho pepper, rehydrated then drained, stemmed, seeded and chopped
1 tsp. sea salt
1. Heat a large, dry skillet over high heat and add pumpkin seeds, garlic and jalapenos. Stir until toasted and the seeds begin to pop, about 1-2 minutes. Add the oil and onion and saute until the onions are translucent. Add the tomatoes and ancho pepper, bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, for 20 minutes. Season with salt. Set aside to cool.
2. Transfer to a food processor and puree in batches until smooth. Serve room temperature.
All in the Garden
Cadwell considers pumpkin a great food to get kids excited about cooking—“what better than a vegetable they are familiar with?” (Though technically a fruit like its other seeded companions in the garden, pumpkin is usually considered a vegetable in culinary terms.) When perusing the pick-your-own pumpkin patch or farm stand with the family, San Francisco-based food and travel writer Stephanie Rosenbaum advises, “Big Jack o’ lantern-type pumpkins are bred for size and color, not taste, and most are too bland and stringy to make for good eating. Instead, look for small baking pumpkins, often sold as ‘pie’ or ‘sugar pie’ pumpkins.”
Reasons to opt for organic pumpkins, say Pierson and Potenza, are “higher levels of antioxidants and minerals, sustainable soil and water supplies and a pesticide-free diet.”
Preparing fresh pumpkin is as easy as cooking any other winter squash. Cadwell suggests cutting the pumpkin in half, scooping out the seeds and placing it in a baking dish with one inch of water. Bake at 350F until tender when pierced with a fork. The flesh can then be mashed with a fork with a touch of maple syrup and cinnamon. Her favorite way to use fresh pumpkin, however, is in this hearty soup recipe full of warming spices.
Health in a Hurry’s Exotic Pumpkin Soup
2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 tsp. fennel
2 tsp. cumin
2 tsp. coriander
2 tsp. ginger
2 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. cloves
1 tsp. red pepper flakes
3 quarts pumpkin, 1-2” chunks
2 Tbsp. garlic, fresh and minced
1 tsp. salt, to taste
1 can light coconut milk
1-2 quarts vegetable broth
2 limes, juice of
1. Combine all powdered spices first. Heat oil slightly in stockpot. Add spices and cook over low heat for 1 minute. Add pumpkin, garlic and salt and stir to coat with spices.
2. Add 1 quart broth and bring to boil. Lower to simmer, stirring occasionally, until pumpkin is soft.
3. Add coconut milk and heat gently.
4. Puree mixture in food processor, blender or with an immersion blender. Add stock to achieve desired consistency.
5. Add lime juice after pureed, if desired. Adjust salt and black pepper to taste.
Candle Cafe/Candle 79 chefs Jorge Pineda and Angel Ramos also consider soup the ideal dish for pumpkin’s “sweet, golden flesh.” They shared this recipe, perfect for an elegant dinner party.
Candle 79’s Pumpkin Soup with Balsamic Caramelized Pears
4 Tbsp. olive oil
1 medium pumpkin, large-diced
1 large leek, trimmed and chopped
2 cups peeled chestnuts, fresh or frozen
1” piece fresh ginger, chopped
2 cardamom pods
1 cinnamon stick
1 whole nutmeg, cut in half
1 stalk lemongrass, chopped
1 dried chipotle pepper
2 Tbsp. fresh sage
2-3 Tbsp. pure maple syrup
1 tsp. salt, more to taste if necessary
4-5 quarts filtered water
1 small piece cheesecloth
2-3 pears, diced
1 Tbsp. grapeseed oil
1 Tbsp. pure maple syrup
1 tsp. cinnamon powder
2-3 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
1. In a large stockpot, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add leeks and saute until soft. While leeks are sauteing, place cinnamon stick, nutmeg, lemongrass, cardamom, ginger and chipotle in cheesecloth. Knot securely and set aside.
2. Add pumpkin, chestnuts, cheesecloth pouch, sage and water to pot. Water should cover squash by about 1-2 inches. Bring to a simmer and reduce heat to low. Cover and simmer for about 30-45 minutes or until pumpkin is very tender and falls apart. Remove soup from heat.
3. While soup is cooling, heat grapeseed oil in a saute pan over high heat. Add pears and saute for 5 minutes. Lower heat to medium and add maple syrup, cinnamon powder and balsamic vinegar. Continue to cook for another 10-15 minutes until pears are soft and vinegar has become syrupy and coats the pears. Set aside to cool.
4. Remove cheesecloth pouch from soup. Add maple syrup and 1 tsp. salt. With immersion or regular blender, puree soup until creamy. If soup appears too thick, add water to achieve desired consistency. Reheat and add additional salt to taste. Garnish with caramelized pears.
For a twist on the typical canned-filling pumpkin pie, Rosenbaum sometimes does away with the pumpkin altogether. “I always use butternut squash in my ‘pumpkin’ pies,” she laughs.
To prepare a pumpkin or squash for desserts calling for canned, bake as Cadwell advises (page 36), then scoop the flesh into a colander. Drain for a couple hours. Use right away, or freeze in small batches for a nutrient-dense ingredient, sans the can, all year round.