Edibles

Pumpkins
Good not only for jack-o'-lanterns, the season's plump orange pumpkins also find their way into many delectable recipes. Photos by Anthony Saffery

Pumpkins, beauty on the inside

By JJ Gonson - October 26, 2006

All those gourds, grinning toothily from every porch. All those fiery eyes and lopsided noses. All that pulpy flesh and rind. It seems a shame to carve them up only to throw them away. So, what is to be done with the jack-o-lantern on Nov. 1? Sadly the answer is: compost it. Unless you are carving tiny, sugar pumpkins, which is unlikely, with the exception of the seeds, the great round pumpkins we cheerfully decorate for Halloween are not food. They won't actually hurt you, should you choose to eat them, but the flesh of the bigger pumpkins, engineered for size to compete, hurl, or carve, is far less sweet than the group of little squashes, sometimes called pie pumpkins.

Somehow, most of us have forgotten that the pumpkin is actually a fresh vegetable, preferring to pull our pie ingredients from a can. Pulping pumpkin is a bit of a chore, but your body will thank you for the extra effort. That lovely shade of orange is a give away that pumpkins are mega-loaded with lutein, alpha- and beta-carotene, nutrients that turn to vitamin A in the body. Pumpkin is also a good source of vitamin C, and is practically fat- and sodium-free. The biggest problem with it, from a nutritional standpoint, is that we tend to mix it with a lot of eggs and condensed milk, but there are healthier recipe options.

Kaddo Bourani
Kaddo Bourani, a traditional Afghani dish, is as simple as it is exotic.

The simplest is to pulp the pumpkin, stir in a dollop of butter and some maple syrup or brown sugar, and serve it much the same way as you would a side dish of squash. You can also mix it into mashed potatoes as you would sweet potatoes. To do either, however, you have to get at the inside of the thing. So, let's start there, since you will need to do that for most pumpkin recipes.

The simplest way to pulp a pumpkin is to cut it in half, along the top and bottom seams. Remove the stem, and scoop out the pulp and seeds (set those seed aside - we'll get to them in a minute). Then place the halves, open side down, on an oiled baking sheet and bake, untouched, for about an hour at 350 degrees.

While the gourd is baking, separate the seeds from the pulp, which you can compost, or throw away. Toss them in olive oil, ground pepper and a nice, rough, sea salt, and toast them in the same oven until they are crisp and dry, stirring them periodically to make sure they aren't sticking together. Depending on the amount you are toasting, this takes about 30 minutes. The healthy properties of pumpkin seeds have been investigated more and more recently. High in manganese, zinc, and other essential minerals, they are thought to promote prostate health and strong bones. So, when they are done, put them in a bowl, and enjoy a healthy snack while you are finishing the rest of your pumpkin recipes.

When you can pierce the skin of the pumpkin easily with a knife, take it out of the oven, allow it to cool down a bit, and then scoop out the soft flesh and mash it with a potato masher or ricer or in a food processor.

See? That wasn't so hard, now, was it?

Now that you have the all-natural equivalent of several cans of "One Pie," what to do with it? You can use it in muffins, cakes, and breads, and, of course, pies. But here's a unique soup recipe that will surprise and delight your dining companions. Serve it with fresh cornbread for a warm lunch or light dinner

Mexican Pumpkin Soup
Mexican Pumpkin Soup is a spicy warm-up for chilly autumn days.

Mexican Pumpkin Soup

1 large onion, chopped
5 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 jalapeño, seeded and diced
1 Tbsp. oregano
1 Tbsp. chopped cilantro
pinch of cayenne
several pinches of Old Bay spice
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
4 cups of vegetable or chicken broth
juice of 1/2 lime
drizzle of honey (or brown sugar)
2 cups of mashed pumpkin
2 cups of cooked, drained beans (black or red)
5 medium sized waxy potatoes (red or white), cubed salt and pepper to taste
1/3 cup cream or milk (optional)

Cilantro to garnish

Heat olive oil in a large soup pot and sauté onion, garlic, jalapeño and spices until fragrant. Then add all of the ingredients except for the milk and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 25 minutes, or until the potatoes are fork tender. Off heat, stir in the cream or milk if you choose to use it, and serve warm with a sprig of fresh cilantro. If you don't use milk you can also serve with lime wedges.

A far more simple pumpkin preparation is a traditional Afghani dish called Kaddo Bourani. In this dish the pumpkin isn't pulped, but is baked until it is almost jelly like, then served hot, topped with yogurt and meat sauce (if you want it), as a side dish with meat or vegetables, or as a main course on pilaf.

Pumpkin Kaddo

2 3-pound sugar pumpkins
1/4 cup or more vegetable oil
3 cups of sugar

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Cut the pumpkins into 3- to 4-inch pieces, clean out the pulp and peel well. (You should get about 8 pieces per pumpkin.)

Coat the pumpkin in oil and then in sugar. It seems like a lot of sugar, but you need that much. Lay the pieces curving up in a single layer in a baking dish and bake for 3 hours and 15 minutes, basting with the pan juices after about 2 and a half hours. The pumpkin is finished when it is dark orange, nearly translucent and very tender.

Serve with yogurt (not nonfat) either plain or mixed with a clove of crushed garlic, a bit of dry mint and salt, and a simple sauce of ground beef sautéed with onion and simmered in tomato sauce until thickened.

Finally, this is the recipe that my family begins to clamor for before Thanksgiving and keeps right on begging for though New Year's. After all that talk of how healthy pumpkin is for you on its own, I'm going to toss it all out the window for this one. So, if you want to feel less guilt, just eat it in moderation, but as a holiday dessert, this one can't be beat.

Pumpkin Cheesecake

Crust:

Mix one and one half cups graham cracker crumbs with one cup sugar, and moisten with one quarter cup of melted butter and enough heavy cream to pack into the bottom and one inch up the sides of a springform pan. Bake the crust at 350 degrees for about 10 minutes, or until it puffs up. Cool before filling.

Filling

4 8-oz. pkgs. of cream cheese or
Neufchatel at room temperature
1 cup sugar
4 eggs
1 cup pumpkin
1 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. each nutmeg, ground clove, ginger, and allspice

Heat oven to 350 with a pan of water on rack at the bottom.

In a standing mixer, whip the cream cheese and sugar on high for 15 minutes, then add the eggs and mix well. Stir in the remaining ingredients and pour into the cooled springform pan.

Bake in center of oven for an hour, or until the cake is set at the outside but still slightly loose in the center. Turn the oven off and open the door several inches, allowing the cheesecake to cool slowly.

Chill for four hours before serving iced with plain sour cream and a sprinkle of cinnamon.

Store leftovers in fridge.

Happy Halloween and enjoy the pumpkins!

JJ Gonson is a private chef who contributes occasional photos and stories to the Times. She operates Cuisine En Locale, an in-home dining service, in Cambridge, and comes to the Vineyard to cook and eat.