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Pumpkin primer

Turn the fall harvest into a feast
By TODD RICHARD  |  October 17, 2008

ANOTHER OPTION: Pumpkin spice pancakes with warm apple bourbon brown sugar compote.

For budget-conscious shoppers, the arrival of pumpkin season is a boon. A single pumpkin can yield an amazing amount of food, for a ridiculously low price. Since they are everywhere this time of year, selecting a pumpkin is easy. “Sugar” pumpkins are the smaller of the family, sweeter and more tender than their larger jack-o-lantern siblings, and ideal for eating. A good rule of thumb: when choosing your pumpkin, opt for one no bigger than your own head.

Many people have childhood visions of Dad assembling a phalanx of tools, ready to sacrifice the orange globe in some sort of holiday ritual. But a large, sharp knife should suffice. The first cut should be from the stem end to the opposing blossom end, leaving two fairly symmetrical halves. Use a large metal spoon to remove the seeds and guts, setting them aside.

Begin by putting the two halves on an oiled cookie sheet or baking pan and roasting them in a 350-degree oven for about two hours. After the pumpkin is soft and caramelized, the flesh can be scooped out and will be ready for pureeing. Conversely, if you need chunks or pieces, cut the pumpkin halves into quarters and parboil them for about 10 minutes. This will soften the pumpkin enough to easily cut it from the tough outer shell. Then, cut the pieces into the desired size, toss with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and roast them on a baking sheet, once again cooking slow and low.

While your pumpkin is cooking, place the guts and seeds in a colander, and rinse with cold water — get your fingers in there to loosen the strands from the clumps of seeds. Place them out to dry in one flat layer on a cookie sheet. Season with salt and roast at 375 degrees for 25 minutes (longer if they are not dry), checking and tossing every five minutes.

If you can’t convince your holiday guests that pumpkin pie doesn’t come from a can, there are countless other ways to add pumpkin to your meals. Wonton appetizers are great for your Halloween or holiday parties. Mash roasted pumpkin in a bowl with butter, salt, and pepper to taste. Cook some sage leaves in a skillet with some butter on medium heat until they are brown, and add them to the mix. Add some goat cheese, and stir. Scoop the filling into wonton skins (like you find in the fresh Asian foods section of the grocery), cutting to size and sealing the edges like raviolis. You can then sauté these in a skillet in olive oil, until golden brown and crispy.

For a wonton dip, make a simple pumpkin seed pesto. Wash and pat dry a bunch of basil. Add it to a food processor with some grated parmesan or Romano cheese, a few cloves of garlic, some salt and pepper, and a handful of your roasted pumpkin seeds. Pulse to begin blending. After the mix is rough-chopped, add olive oil in a slow, steady stream. Use it as a dip for your raviolis, or add as a layer to a roasted pumpkin lasagna, or perhaps toss with pasta and roasted pumpkin, fennel, and red peppers. Roasted pumpkin halves also make great soup bowls for bisques, chowders, and chilis.

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  Topics: Food Features , Culture and Lifestyle, Food and Cooking, Foods,  More more >
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