Great Recipes For Pumpkin And Other Winter Squash
Orange seems to be the color of fall; the sunsets, the leaves and those bright spots of decorative color that brighten doorways, windows and public places, the pumpkins. Actually pumpkins are a summer vegetable, because they’re planted in the spring but take so long to mature that they’re harvested in fall. Hence they’re considered a winter squash and most recipes are interchangeable with other varieties. Native to North America, they now grow on every continent but Antartica, yet oddly enough only in the Americas are they primarily raised as table food. In most other places they’re a feed crop. I discuss pumpkin’s history and global presence more fully in my posts of Nov. 8, 2012 and Oct. 21, 2014. Just click on the “Archives” link on this blog’s Home Page Header to access them.
My first fall in Italy, I saw many fields of pumpkins, but never one used decoratively, or sold in a produce shop and never, never the mention of one on a menu. I asked some Italian friends about this and the response was laughter. A member of the group had been educated in the U.S. and one autumn, admitted to missing pumpkin pie. As a gag the others had paid a local chef to make one.
However, none of the Italians involved in the gift had ever eaten pumpkin. Pumpkins were for animals not people. It was before the internet, so the chef had no way to properly research recipes on short notice. Moreover, most of the ingredients are not used in Italian cuisine. So that pie was dreadful. Funny though, all the Italians and other Europeans I know who have tasted pumpkin like it.
Over the years, pumpkin has gained in popularity, at least in the U.S. as methods of preparing it have multiplied. It’s a low fat, low carb, high fiber, nutritious food. In short it’s a healthy choice, which can be turned into everything “from soup to nuts” if you consider pepitas or roasted pumpkin seeds.
Since the development of the small “pie’ variety, there’s been a trend to regard the standard ones as decoration, especially for carving. Don’t forget that they were the pumpkins used to develop the recipes we love. In fact from an economic viewpoint, both for money and time, the large pumpkins are the better investment because of the equal cooking time and greater yield and, incidentally, the pulp freezes beautifully.
Pumpkins will keep for weeks if they are not carved, or allowed to freeze and thaw standing out in the weather. They also suffer in the heat. If you want decorative ones, buy the painted kind, and if it turns cold, or hot for those in the South, take them in if you plan to cook them.
I will admit that the bigger ones are better cut from the rind, chopped in large cubes and boiled, than roasted. When drained, they can be mashed and used in baked goods or frozen for later use. Their meat is best when mixed with other ingredients. The little pumpkins don’t need to be peeled, depending on the purpose, but can be served sliced or halved and roasted, by themselves or with the meat scooped out and made into pie.
I confess my favorite pumpkin recipes are not the sweet dessert ones but those that fit into other parts of a meal. It’s those recipes I’m going to concentrate on here, but don’t worry, I plan a full post on pumpkin desserts closer to Thanksgiving, their biggest day, and there are some real winners in that group! I also have a super recipe for Stew in a Pumpkin which I’m going to share in featured post, as the entrée in a full dinner menu. So stay tuned—
One thing pumpkin and all winter squash recipes have in common is that they require cooking. There are several ways of doing this, roasting, baking and boiling are the ones I’ve tried, but there’s also steaming. This is like microwaving a potato; it’s pricked around the top, rubbed with oil and cooked whole in a 400 deg. oven for 15 min. a pound. The problem with steaming is waiting for it to cool, first to cut off the top and then to remove the seeds and membranes, before proceeding. This is time consuming when working with a large item.
These cooking methods work for all winter squash as well as pumpkin, though butternut takes less time because the skin is thinner. For each, first remove the stem end, cut in half, scoop out the seeds and membrane. To boil: Cut in large chunks and simmer, just covered in water for about 20 min. or until flesh is soft enough to cube or mash, depending on intended use. To bake: Place halves, cut side up, in a pan with ½ inch of water, pierce flesh several times with a fork and cook at 400 deg. for 45 min. to 1 hr. until pulp is soft. To roast: Cut flesh in large dice, toss with 1 Tbs. oil per 3 cups meat, salt and pepper and roast at 400 deg., on a baking sheet for about 25 min. When cooked the melon’s flesh will easily be scooped from the rind, and can be mashed or pureed as the recipe directs. As stated above, extra meat freezes well.
Spicy Pumpkin Soup: Serves 6 well
1 pumpkin about 3 1/2 lb.
2 onions chopped
4 Tbs. oil
3 garlic cloves
3 in. piece of fresh ginger grated OR 2 tsp. powdered ginger or to taste
1 tsp. ground coriander
½ tsp. turmeric
1 qt. vegetable broth
Pinch cayenne pepper
Salt and pepper
Cilantro for garnish
Cook pumpkin and scoop out flesh. Sauté the onion, garlic and ginger in the oil 4-5 min. Add other spices and cook 2 min. more. Add broth and pumpkin and simmer 20 min. Cool and puree, then reheat to serve. Check seasonings and serve with cilantro garnish.
Creamy Pumpkin Soup; Serves 6 well
1 1/2lb. pumpkin cut in chunks without rind
1 lb. white potatoes
1 Tbs. oil
2 Tbs. butter
1 large onion chopped
2 cups vegetable stock
1 tsp. tarragon
½ tsp. nutmeg
2 cups milk
1-2 tsp. lemon juice
Salt and pepper
Heat the oil and butter and sauté onion until soft; add the pumpkin and potatoes and sweat over low heat, stirring often until tender. Add seasonings and stock, simmer 10 min Cool slightly and puree. Add milk and reheat to serve, but don’t allow to boil. Add lemon juice as a seasoning perk before serving.
Baked Halves: 2 servings per item
My family loves roasted acorn squash or sugar pumpkin halves and I’ve never had a problem cooking them. I hollow them out, spear the inside several times with a fork, put a small sliver, about a teaspoon, of butter in each and bake at 350 degrees for 45 min. Then I sprinkle 1 tsp. sugar and a bit of cinnamon in each half and cook for another 15 min.
Although with the price now at about $0.99 lb. for acorn squash and acorns usually average 1 ½ to 3lbs, we may see less of it as a side and more as an entrée. One of the simplest ways to do this is to bake it as above for 40 min., then fill it with your favorite meatball recipe or another ground meat mixture including the usual ingredients, onions, celery, peppers and /or breadcrumbs, but no egg and continue as directed above or until the stuffing is done.
It’s important to remember when baking ANY squash in its shell, even the summer ones in their edible skins to use a water bath or they may burn. That means to add at least ½ inch of water to the pan first. If the pan is metal, include a teaspoon to a tablespoon, depending on the size of the pan, of lemon juice or vinegar to prevent discoloration of the pan.
Mashed: Calculate 2 servings per pound of item raw
All winter squashes mash or puree well and can be served that way. However they are watery, so strain them in a lined sieve before seasoning them. Coffee liners work well here. If you want the dish to have more body, add a cooked mashed potato, white or sweet, depending on preference. The usual seasonings with these offerings are butter, salt, pepper, nutmeg, ginger and cinnamon, even a bit of cream, combined according to taste. They should be added after the pulp is drained and before it’s reheated for serving.
Pumpkin Pineapple Soufflé: Serves 4-6
2 cups pureed, drained pumpkin meat
3 Tbs. melted butter
½ tsp. zested lemon rind
½ tsp. salt
¾ cup crushed, drained pineapple
Combine first 2 ingredients. Beat egg yolks until lemony, beat in pineapple and add to pumpkin. Beat egg whites until stiff and fold into yolk mix. Pour into a greased 7 in. greased baking dish. Bake at 350 deg. for 40-45 min. Serve at once.
Pumpkin Ravioli; Serves 6
1 lb. pumpkin-cut into chunks and cooked
1tsp. ground nutmeg
1 tsp. sage or 15 fresh leaves Or equal amount of parsley
4 oz. butter melted
Salt and pepper
Grated Parmesan cheese
Mash pumpkin with a fork, add seasonings. Whether using Method 1 or Method 2 below, place a heaping teaspoon of the mixture on the dough or wrapper, slightly flatten with the back of a spoon, cover and seal edges with water then crimp with a fork. Gently place in boiling water. Do not crowd pan, and cook until al dente, about 4 min. The raviolis will rise to the top. Season with salt and pepper, sauced with melted butter and garnished with Parmesan. Serve very hot.
1 ¾ cups flour
3eggs lightly beaten
Process these 2 ingredients until they form a dough. Form into a ball and let sit 30 min. Divide dough in halves and roll them out into equal sized rectangles about ¼ inch thick. Place the filling on one half in evenly spaced mounds in straight rows. Brush the spaces between the mounds with water and cover with the second rectangle of dough. Cut between the mounds making separate raviolis, pressing the edges to seal. Cook and serve as directed above.
Buy wonton or spring roll wrappers from the supermarket. You will need about 16. They come in several sizes, so if necessary, you may have to cut them to a size to hold 1 tsp. filling. Place filling in the center of the wrapper, fold over to cover. Seal edges, cook and serve as directed above. Note: I often use this recipe and with canned pumpkin or frozen squash it’s very fast and easy. Just remember to if using frozen squash to drain it well first.
ENTRÉE PASTA SAUCES- FAST and EASY
Quick Pumpkin or Butternut Sauce: Serves 6
2 lb. “pie” pumpkin or butternut squash, peeled and diced
2 leeks washed and thinly sliced
½ tsp. ground nutmeg
11/4 cups heavy cream or half and half*
3 Tbs. toasted pine nuts or chopped walnuts
1 lb. pasta – recommended penne
Saute the leek over low heat, covered in the butter for 5 min; add the pumpkin and nutmeg and cook 8 min. Add the cream, 3 Tbs. of water, bring to a boil, cook stirring constantly for 8 more min. meanwhile cook pasta al dente and drain. Toss pasta with sauce, garnish with nuts. Serve.
Cinnamon Sauce: Serves 6
¾ lb. “pie” pumpkin or butternut squash, peeled diced and cooked
1 ½ Tbs. butter
2 cloves garlic crushed
1 onion chopped
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 cup cream—heavy cream or half and half*
1 Tbs. honey
¾ cup grated Parmesan
Chopped fresh chives to garnish
1 lb. penne
Cook pasta al dente and keep warm. Saute the onion in the butter until soft about 3 min., add the cinnamon and garlic and cook for another minute. Add the cream, pumpkin and honey and bring to a boil, then simmer until sauce reduces, thickens slightly and pumpkin is heated through, about 3 min. Add cheese and stir until melted, add pasta to pot and toss until heated through Serve at once with chives on top.
*Only heavy cream and half and half can withstand boiling without separating and curdling
Check out the 2 posts I mention above for more recipes and come back next week for other ways to use this wonderful winter produce.