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Cooking Pumpkins  


It's the Great Pumpkin

According to an Irish myth, one day a man known as "Stingy Jack" for his miserly inclinations had a drink with the devil.  True to his name, Jack convinced the devil to transform himself into a coin in order to pay for the drinks. The devil did so but Jack kept the coin for himself.  He placed it in his pocket next to a cross so the devil could not change back.  Jack then freed the devil under the conditions that he would not bother him for a year and could not claim his soul upon his death.  The following year, Jack trapped the devil in a tree by carving a cross on its trunk.  This time Jack received ten years of immunity for the devil's release.  During that decade Jack died but heaven refused to allow such a shady character into its eternal splendor.  The devil, bound by their first agreement, could not accept him into Hell.  Thus, the devil sent Jack out into the night with a solitary burning coal to light his way.  Jack placed the coal in a carved out turnip and proceeded to spend eternity roaming the earth.  Jack's ghost then became known as "Jack of the Lantern."  People in Ireland and Scotland made their own jack-o-lanterns by carving scary faces in turnips and potatoes to scare Jack and similar ghostly riff raff away.  When the colonists came to America, the Indians provided them with the ultimate jack-o-lantern:  the pumpkin. 

Pumpkins are fruits from the gourd family and originated in Central America.  As stated, the Native Americans introduced them to the early colonists and they have been a Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas favorite ever since.  The colonists made the first pumpkin pies in the 1600's.  However, pumpkins are also used in soups, bread, and other desserts.  They can also be substituted for squash in most recipes.

Pumpkins are high in Vitamin A and potassium.  Choose specimens that are heavy for the size, are free of soft spots, and still have a stem in tact.  Stemless pumpkins will decay faster.  They will keep for a month at room temperature or three months in the fridge.  The flesh from smaller pumpkins is tenderer than their big brothers.

One of my favorite things to do with pumpkins is to roast the seeds.  They make a delicious and nutritious snack.  The seeds are rich in fiber and vitamins B and E.  Preheat your oven to 350.  Remove all the seeds from a pumpkin and rinse them thoroughly in hot water, removing as much of the slime as possible.  Then spread them out on paper towels and dry them.  Some people leave them unwashed, being of the opinion that the pulp adds flavor.  I like them clean and dry so the oil used for coating will stick better.  Your choice.  Toss the seeds in a bowl with vegetable oil and salt to taste.  Spread them out in an even layer on a baking sheet and roast them until they're browned.  There are a zillion variables that will affect how long it takes so I'm not going to quote a time frame.  OK, maybe a half hour or so.  Keep an eye on them since they can go from done to burnt rather quickly.  I check on them periodically, swirl them around to ensure even roasting, and add a little more salt with each swirl.

Here's a recipe for pumpkin soup.  It comes from Jon Gatewood, the executive chef of Emma's restaurant in the Silas Griffith Inn in Danby, Vermont. 

4 cups pumpkin pulp, chopped
1 cup leek, chopped
1/2 cup carrot, chopped
2 ounces butter
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 bay leaf
1 cup white wine
1 quart water
1 pint half and half
1/2 cup maple syrup
Salt and pepper to taste
Nutmeg to taste
Angostura bitters to taste

 Peel the pumpkin, cut out the pulp and chop.  Briefly sauté the pulp, leek, and carrot in butter in a heavy pot.  Add the garlic and bay leaf and sauté briefly.  Deglaze with wine and reduce slightly.  Add water and simmer until the pumpkin is soft, (about 30 minutes).  Puree soup with a hand blender or in a regular blender in batches.  Strain through a medium sieve.  Add cream, maple syrup and seasoning.  Note:  the water should cover the ingredients by an inch.  Adjust the amount accordingly.  Also, add the nutmeg last, just before service.

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