The Great Pumpkin Menu
Do you say "pumpkin" or "squash"?
Pumpkin has a much better ring to it, I think; as Elizabeth Schneider writes in "Vegetables: From Amaranth to Zucchini," it's "a more pleasing word to me than the long-winded term 'large hard-skinned squash.'"
So when did we North Americans botch up the works and start calling the Halloween jack o'lantern a pumpkin and recognize the rest of the cucurbita maxima, moschata and pepo families as "squash?" Why can't we keep things simple like lovers of orange-fleshed vined plants in other parts of the world -- Australia, the Caribbean and southern Africa -- and call a pumpkin a pumpkin? (Because it would be too easy, like metrics.)
Whatever you call the tough-skinned beauties, they are autumnal eye candy, showing off their glistening oranges, golds, gray-blues and Mallard greens, and their many costumes, that include turbans, horns and multi-textured cloaks. I never tire looking at them, discovering nuances of shade, texture and shadow like I might find in a sculpture or a painting.
In the kitchen, the pumpkin has proven to be more than just a pretty face; she's versatile, diverse in flavor and texture and plays nicely with leafy greens, legumes and grains. She can act sweet, showing up in pies, puddings, muffins and custards -- and she can act savory -- holding her own in curry, risotto and ravioli.
Easily roasted, pureed, stuffed, steamed or grilled, the pumpkin has emerged as one of the most accessible, cook-friendly fall vegetables -- if you know how to wield an axe.
Okay, okay, I'm exaggerating, but you best have a large knife that's sharp enough to pierce the tough exterior of most medium and large pumpkin varieties (unless of course, you're into smashing pumpkins).
Otherwise, the pumpkin is your new best friend, a culinary muse that gladly invites you, the cook, to improvise and create an entire menu incorporating her into every course of a three, six or ten-course meal.
The pumpkin-y fun doesn't stop at the flesh; those seeds, when roasted and hulled, transform into earthy green nibbles called pepitas, which can eaten out of hand, used as glam garnish or pounded into a heady pesto (see recipe details below). Lastly, don't forget the leaves, which are tender, fragrant and quick-cooking, like the sweet potato greens featured in last week's blog space. In "Recipes From the African Kitchen," Josie Stow offers up msamba, a recipe from Malawi that marries the greens with ground peanuts, onions and tomatoes.
Over the years, I've incorporated pumpkin into my fall repertoire -- pumpkin seed brittle, pumpkin bread pudding and pumpkin-tofu pie always hit the seasonal spot, but inevitably I manage to cook my way through autumn without savory, fleshy pursuits, and so this year, I've decided to embrace more of the pumpkin than ever.
To wit, Sunday night's supper was roasted pumpkin -- a golden Kabocha as well as a blue-green variety with a turban that probably was a Buttercup. I hacked away at both, scooped out seeds and strings, lathered them up with olive oil and seasoned with salt before placing into a 400-degree oven. During their hour-long roast, I cleaned and chopped a bunch of Swiss chard and heated up a can of black beans which I doctored with onions, cumin, oregano and a chopped chipotle chile.
I also toasted up a few cups of hulled green pumpkin seeds and pulverized them in the food processor, then mixing with herbs, lemon, garlic and olive oil, for a new twist on pesto.
Although the pesto seemed a bit rich for the pumpkin, I could see it making magic in pasta or maybe in a turkey sandwich. I loved how the black beans played off the sweetness of the pumpkin, now tender and creamy, which in turn mellowed the heat of the chipotle chile.
I guess I had better sharpen my knives; I'm hooked on pumpkin and I've got it bad, real bad.
Now it's your turn; share your favorite pumpkin love story in the comments area below. Recipes, tips and tricks are encouraged!
For more information on all things winter squash-y.
Today is chat day; join me at noon ET for another batch of What's Cooking.
2 cups hulled (green) raw pepitas, toasted
1-2 cloves garlic, smashed
1 bunch flat-leaf parsley or cilantro, coarsely chopped
1/4-1/2 cup olive oil
juice of 1/2 lemon
salt to taste
When pepitas are cool, pulverize in the bowl of a food processor (alternatively, use a spice grinder or mortar & pestle) until finely ground.
Add garlic and herbs and process until well combined. Gradually add oil, checking pesto for texture. You want it to be more dry, less oily than the typical herb-based pesto. Add lemon and salt to taste.
Store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to one week.
Makes about one pint.
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