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November 02, 2006

The Great Pumpkin

When October rolled around, lots of food magazines ran features on cooking pumpkin. Vegetarian Times did one, and Cooking Light did one. So, when I came across a beautiful pile of Cinderella pumpkins at a local market a few weeks ago, I picked one up, figuring I'd cook it.

Now, the key thing to know about cooking pumpkin is that the big orange pumpkins that you buy for carving into jack-o-lanterns are lousy for cooking (according to all of these articles), though the seeds are very tasty toasted. If you're going to cook and eat the flesh of the pumpkin, you want one of the following varieties: sugar or "pie" pumpkins, cheese pumpkins, or the Cinderella pumpkin, also known as the rouge vif d'etampes.

The Cinderella pumpkin is so called because it really does look just like the Cinderella's pumpkin carriage in the Disney movie. It's a deep orange, and a lovely shape.

The Cinderella pumpkin I brought home weighed something like 3.5-4 pounds. This turned out to be a lot of pumpkin. So, I've been cooking a lot of pumpkin. Read on to find out how.

Pumpkin and Red Lentil Curry

This recipe came from the October issue of Cooking Light. It was tasty, especially the day after it was made. But it used a bit less than half of my enormous pumpkin.

I peeled the remaining pumpkin, cut it into largish (1.5 inch) cubes, and stored it in a ziploc bag in my fridge. I also separated the seeds from the pulp, and spread them on a paper towel to dry.

Roasted Pumpkin

The next day, I roasted the pumpkin cubes. I tossed them with rosemary salt, pepper, and olive oil and put them in a roasting pan. I roasted at 375 degrees for 30 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes. The pumpkin cubes got soft and sweet and very tasty, but never browned. Next time, I'll use higher heat.

Spiced Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

Proof, if more be needed, that Mark Bittman is a genius. I took his suggestion from How to Cook Everything and tossed a cup of pumpkin seeds with a teaspoon of garam masala, a half teaspoon of salt, and a tablespoon of olive oil, and spread them on a baking sheet. I put the baking sheet in a 350 degree oven. Bittman suggests roasting for 30 minutes or so, but after about 15 minutes, pumpkin seeds were exploding from the pressure of hot steam inside the shells and ricocheting all over the oven, so I declared them toasted.

I plucked a hot pumpkin seed off the baking sheet and juggled it to my mouth. "Wow! These are good!" I shouted. Mr. Spaceling came and tried a seed. And another. And another. They were really magical: crisp and hot and salty and nutty and addictive. After they cooled, I put them in a small tupperware. They are still really good, but not quite as amazing as they were hot out of the oven.

It was totally worth having to clear out half a dozen burnt exploded seeds from the bottom of the oven.

Pumpkin Soup

I used some of the roasted pumpkin to make a pumpkin soup: I pureed roughly three cups cooked cubed pumpkin with 2-3 cups chicken broth. Then I heated the soup over low heat in a saucepan, and added cumin (3/4 tsp.), cinnamon (1/2 tsp.), coriander (1/2 tsp.), and hot paprika (1/2 tsp) to make a spicy soup. When it was hot, I drizzled it with yogurt mixed with premade harissa (Tunisian chili paste). Not bad, though Mr. Spaceling liked the yogurt sauce better than the soup.

And I still have about 2-3 cups of roasted pumpkin in the fridge! Will I be cooking pumpkin again? Absolutely. But I think I'll start with a smaller one.

Posted by spaceling at November 2, 2006 11:59 AM

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