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.)


Pumpkin still life: Golden Kabocha (left); Butternut (rear) and Buttercup (right) (Kim O'Donnel).

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.

Pepita Pesto

Ingredients

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

Method
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.

By Kim ODonnel |  October 23, 2007; 7:27 AM ET Fall Produce , Vegetarian/Vegan
Previous: Tea Geeks | Next: I Killed My Pork, Again

Comments

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Hey, does anyone out there have a good authentic-ish recipe for an Afghan pumpkin dish called Kadu or Kudu? It's a very chunky stew with pumpkin, lamb, tomatoes,onions, and garlic, and it's served with yogurt-mint sauce and flatbread. We had a recipe years ago, but it's disappeared, and we've got a hankerin for pumpkin!

Posted by: wicked cook of the west | October 23, 2007 8:27 AM

Kim - I just posted on your chat my experience with your pumpkin muffins from last year. They were great, but, of course, I want to play with them a little bit. They were my fall inspiration and now, like you, I want to play more.

Posted by: Michelle | October 23, 2007 9:04 AM

For the poster with extra carrots, I find that shredded carrots steamed until slightly soft but still with some crunch work great with some other veggies (shredded bell peppers, bean sprouts, shredded cabbage) and maybe some steamed shrimp in rice wrappers like Vietnamese summer rolls.

If you want rich, you can find some good recipes for a carrot gratinee or carrot casserole with cheese and butter, but the one that I like is very rich.

If you use a mandolin, you can make carrot chips that work fine in a stir-fry or steamed vegetable medley. Or shred and mix with cabbage and vidalia onion dressing for a nice easy (non-mayonaise) cole slaw.

Have fun!

Posted by: From live chat | October 23, 2007 1:31 PM

I missed the chat today and just caught up. There is a vendor at the Takoma Park Farmer's Market that has spaghetti squash! In fact, I just bought some this past Sunday.

As for cooking suggestions, I prefer spaghetti squash with cheese. My mom always served it just with parmesan cheese on top. I've mixed it in with mac and cheese before.
The La Leche League cookbook "whole foods for the whole family" has a good recipe that includes spaghetti squash, zucchini, a little tomato sauce, spices, and cheddar and parm cheeses mixed together and then baked.

Posted by: Kensington | October 23, 2007 7:46 PM

Takoma Park? I'll be there! Thanks Kensington!

As far as cooking--I like my spaghetti squash pretty plain--basically I cut it in half and scoop out the guts, microwave it until it just soft enough to get the strings out, but still really crunchy. I like it with a little sauce and mozzarella and sometimes real spaghetti too, but really less is more. What's not to love--it's got an awesomely weird texture and it kind of tastes like carrots!

Posted by: Squashington | October 24, 2007 12:41 PM

Some of your recipes call for hulled raw pepitas. I am in winter squash land at the moment and would love to know whether there is a trick to disentangling the seeds and getting them to an edible stage.
thanks!

Posted by: Seedy | October 26, 2007 1:44 PM

For the poster looking for a recipe for Kadu - the Afghan pumpkin dish.
The one I've tried is at:
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/chronicle/archive/1998/10/28/FD78824.DTL&type=printable
I used half the sugar, and improvised a vegetarian sauce and it came out super well.

Posted by: Mai | November 1, 2007 12:32 PM

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