Cooking with Fresh Pumpkin

IMG_3098For many of us, October means pumpkins, and pumpkins mean special treats. I am certainly no exception and usually spend a few weekends each fall making something yummy with pumpkin.

This week, I’ve decided to dedicate each day to a particular pumpkin recipe or two, using fresh pumpkin. Cooking with fresh pumpkin is tedious, but well worth it. As an added bonus, you get to harvest the pumpkin seeds, which make a delicious, protein-filled snack!

Today’s recipe: pumpkin-apple soup

I’d never worked with fresh pumpkin before until I was in the Peace Corps and Libby’s canned pumpkin was nowhere to be found. In fact, it had never even occurred to me to cook a pumpkin until then. There was no shortage of pumpkins at the weekly market in the town where I lived, so one day I decided to give cooking a pumpkin a try. Since then, I have rarely used canned pumpkin in my cooking and baking.

If you’ve never cooked a pumpkin before, here is a basic how-to, as well as a few tips and tricks I have picked up over the years to save time and maximize a pumpkin’s utility. If you have any pumpkin-cooking tips, please share them in the comment box!

Step 1. Choose your pumpkin. For cooking and baking, smaller pumpkins work best. Often called pie pumpkins or sugar pumpkins, they are usually four or five pounds. They are easy to cut, and make for a smooth puree. This is not to say that I haven’t use large pumpkins for cooking, but they tend to have less flavor and the meat is more stringy. The large pumpkins are best reserved for carving jack-o’-lanterns.

pumpkins

Here are three pie, or sugar, pumpkins. Washing them with warm water ensures that you won’t drag dirt into them when you cut them.

Step 2. Cut and clean your pumpkin. Cut the pumpkin in half, and, using a spoon, scrape out the stringy insides, including the seeds. Don’t throw the seeds away! Save them in a bowl for later for roasting.

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Save the seeds in a bowl to roast later. As you clean the pumpkin, try to remove as much of the stringy part as you can without scooping out the meat.

Step 3. Cook your pumpkin. There are two basic methods for cooking your pumpkin: boiling and baking. Boiling is faster, but may leave your cooked pumpkin a bit watery. Baking takes longer, but the pumpkin meat will retain less water.

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Boil your pumpkin until a fork or knife can be inserted easily and the meat is very soft, about 15 minutes.

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If you choose to bake your pumpkin, place each half face down in a baking dish with about 3/4 of an inch of water. Bake at 375 degrees Fahrenheit until the meat is very soft, about 30 minutes.

Step 4. Peel the pumpkin. Some recipes will instruct you to peel the pumpkin before cooking. In my experience, this is an arduous and even dangerous task, as raw pumpkin is very hard, and trying to peel its thick skin is very difficult. If you peel it after it has cooked, the skin is much softer and often separates from the meat on its own.

Peeling pumpkin

Cut the pumpkin into smaller chunks and use a paring knife to gently remove the skin. Try to remove it as close to the meat as possible so that you don’t waste any of the meat.

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A mountain of fresh pumpkin, cooked and peeled. This is four pumpkins’ worth.

Step 5. Puree your pumpkin. This step is optional. Pureeing your pumpkin enables you to use it in a recipe just as you would canned pumpkin. Many recipes do not require pureed pumpkin. Mashing it with a fork is another option, but the result will not be as smooth as if you puree it.

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Put small batches of your cooked pumpkin meat in a food processor or blender to puree it. Avoid putting too much in at once, or you will end up with large chunks in your puree.

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Final result: A smooth, bright pumpkin puree. Store your puree in the refrigerator for use within a few days. Or, freeze it for use at a later time.

The first in my series of pumpkin recipes is a pumpkin-apple soup. It follows the same recipe as my butternut squash-apple soup, using pumpkin in place of the squash. Enjoy!

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