Now that Halloween is behind us, there will be a lot of pumpkins at the markets going for a song. The best pumpkins for eating are the small, 3 – 4 pound sugar or pie pumpkins. While the large, dark orange Jack o’ lanterns do not make for great eating (they are bred for size and skin color more than juicy, delicious flesh), you can often find larger-than-pie-pumpkin pumpkins and winter squash that are delicious and very economical. I cracked open a 20-lb Hubbarb squash (grown at Fishkill Farms) yesterday and yielded a gallon bag of squash chunks (for freezing), nearly 2 quarts of purée and a quart of juice. Queensland blue, fairytale and Long Island Cheese pumpkins are all larger varieties that are valued for taste as well as decorative value. If all else fails, butternut squash is lovely; in fact, rumor has it that Libby canned pumpkin pack is actually made from a variety of butternut-type squash (curcubit moschata vs. curcubit pepo for the gardeners in our midst). For a nice round-up of edible squash varieties, see this What’s Cooking America article.
Homemade pumpkin purée is a bright, festive orange (rather than the darker, brownish orange of canned pumpkin pack) and has a clear pumpkiny flavor (for lack of a better term). The flavor just seems to come shining through so much better than when you cook with the commercial canned version. I find making pumpkin purée a pleasure. It is one of those things that I tend to save for a weekend; cracking open the pumpkin and scooping out the seeds, warming up the kitchen while the pumpkins are roasting in the oven, scooping out the flesh and allowing the juice to drain off, separating and roasting the seeds (one of my all-time favorite snacks). It’s all somehow restful and contemplative, with none of the urgency (and much less of the mess) of canning.
Once you have all of your fresh pumpkin purée, what to do with it? Well, there is pie, of course. But also pumpkin breads (yeast and quick), pumpkin granola, pumpkin potato pancakes. There are pumpkin gnocchi (on my list!) and ravioli, pancakes and scones, really the list goes on and on. So, pick up a few pumpkins this week, put on some good music and your favorite comfy pants, and beat the heck out of a couple of innocent squash. It’s good for you!
And please, please, please – VOTE! We need your voice in the debate. It’s more fun than a peck o’ pumpkins!
- 1 pumpkin (I used a 4-lb sugar or pie pumpkin)
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
- Scrub the outside of the pumpkin, break off the stem and, using a sturdy knife, slice the pumpkin in half. Scoop out the stringy insides and seeds (reserve the seeds for roasting, sweet or savory) and place the pumpkin halves, cut side down, on a rimmed baking sheet. Roast in the 375 degree F oven until flesh is very soft, (skin will be easily punctured by a knife and flesh will be falling-apart tender) about 1 hour.
- Remove pumpkin from the oven. When cool enough to handle, scoop the baked flesh from the skin and transfer to the bowl of a food processor or blender. Purée until very smooth (it will look like baby food at this point).
- Transfer the purée to a scalded jelly bag or a colander lined with several layers of dampened cheesecloth. Allow to strain for at least two hours (or overnight, refrigerated, ideally). Squeeze the jelly bag or cheesecloth to eliminate all possible juice from the purée, then transfer the purée into storage containers and freeze. Reserve the pumpkin juice for another recipe (see Options below).
One 4-lb pumpkin yields about 1 lb (2 cups) of purée and 1 – 2 cups of juice.
- You can, of course, use this technique with any winter squash: butternut, Kabocha, Hubbard, etc.
- You don’t have to roast the pumpkin: you can boil or steam pumpkin chunks to soften, or even microwave pumpkin halves in their skin. I like both the flavor and the ease of flesh removal provided by roasting.
- Most recipes for making purée do not include draining the juice; you do not have to (you can simply freeze the purée following blending) but you will find that your purée is much more watery than the commercial canned version. Since most recipes are developed using canned pumpkin pack, the extra liquid will impact your recipe. If you are short on time (and long on freezer space) you can always freeze the purée as is and drain before using.
- Pumpkin juice can be used as a natural thickening agent for risotto, to add flavor to soups & stews, to add flavor and texture to rice, couscous or other grains. Or, serve it to your kids with a Hogwarts Theme Menu: bangers & mash and treacle fudge!
Frozen, both pumpkin purée and juice will last for up to 1 year. I like to freeze purée in 1-cup portions for easy use in recipes. Unfortunately, there is no safe recommendation for home canning, either by boiling water bath or pressure canning, for puréed pumpkin.
Fall into winter.