We are used to pumpkins belonging to October: jack-o-lanterns, cookies, pumpkin lattes. Pumpkin pie is a favorite for the Thanksgiving table, but then, these cheerful, round squash seem to fall off the list of edible must-haves. It’s a shame, given their nutritional value, complex flavor and versatility. Pumpkins are still at farm stands and at several grocery or gourmet food stores on the East End. They are not hard to prepare, and the meat can be used in many wonderful ways: pies, tarts, soups, muffins, bread and sauces.
Make sure you buy a cooking, as opposed to a decorative, pumpkin. Some varieties are used for both; the difference is mainly how they are grown (without pesticides, for example). Good pumpkins for cooking include the sugar pumpkin, and the Long Island cheese pumpkin.
Roasting a pumpkin is the easiest way to cook it. Cut it into wedges, quartered is fine. Remove the stem and seeds, lay wedges on in a shallow baking dish with about a half-inch of water, and bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes. Let the pieces cool, then peel them (use a spoon to help get all the meat off the skin). It’s a nice idea to freeze pureed pumpkin in baggies for later use. From one 12-inch diameter sugar pumpkin, I made a pie, pumpkin bread, soup and sauce for pasta.
I absolutely love pumpkin soup. It’s full of flavor, and can be easily into so many different variations. Add curry for an Indian flavor, or sweeten it with roasted pureed apples; add roasted carrots and dill for yet another take. It’s so endless, it almost rivals chicken broth for versatility. Here’s my favorite pumpkin soup recipe — sweet, savory, and satisfying —which I came up with over years of trying different versions:
Best Pumpkin Soup
Into a medium saucepan, put a few tablespoons of olive oil and 1 or 2 cloves of chopped garlic (depending on how much you like garlic). Heat up garlic, but don’t brown it. Add to this:
2 cups pureed pumpkin
1 cup apple cider
1 cup chicken or vegetable broth
1 tablespoon fresh minced sage
1 teaspoon dried ginger
Dash of nutmeg
Sea salt and pepper to taste
Stir over low heat until well-incorporated and smooth. Spoon into bowls and, just before serving, float dollop of sour cream or slice of fresh apple on top.
Pumpkin Pasta Sauce
Reheat leftover Best Pumpkin Soup in saucepan. Lower heat. Whisk in cream or half-and-half (sauce should be two-thirds pumpkin soup to one-third cream). Next, add a few tablespoons of chicken or vegetable broth, about 1 tablespoon of grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese and more sea salt to taste. When sauce is smooth and hot, spoon over spinach ravioli, then sprinkle with fresh basil ribbons and grated cheese.