Pumpkin: beyond the pie and jack-o'-lantern
Pumpkin recipes, both sweet and savory, are plentiful for easy pumpkin-themed dinners.
"An all-pumpkin menu?" asked my friend, incredulously. "That sounds like too much of a good thing, if you ask me."Skip to next paragraph
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Perhaps, but it's a short season, and many cooks delight in boldly celebrating the autumn harvest with a pumpkin-themed dinner, starring the bright-orange squash from start to finish, appetizer to dessert.
The humble gourd, which is more often carved than cooked, even stars on all-pumpkin menus at such upscale establishments as the Princess cruise ships every Thanksgiving. The Ritz-Carlton in Half Moon Bay, Calif., heralds the tiny coastal town's self-declared "Pumpkin Capital of the World" motto with an elegant six-course pumpkin dinner.
So the versatile pumpkin can be dressed up for fine dining, but it is also excellent when prepared simply, and recipes – both sweet and savory – are plentiful for home cooks who might want to host their own pumpkin-themed meal without too much fuss.
Dig for recipes at your local pumpkin festival, on the Internet from one of the many culinary sites or blogs that constantly sprout new crops of seasonal recipes (such as chocolateandzucchini.com and Kiplog.com/food) or best of all, from a pumpkin-themed cookbook by a reputable writer whose recipes you know you can count on. Cookbooks featuring pumpkins have become almost as numerous as jack-o'-lanterns on Halloween.
"Holiday Pumpkins," by Georgeanne Brennan and Jennifer Barry (Ten Speed Press), is a good place to start. Other cookbooks that will stimulate your creativity and arouse your passion for pumpkin are "The Great Little Pumpkin Cookbook," by Michael Krondl, (Celestial Arts), and "Pumpkin: A Super Food for All 12 Months of the Year," by DeeDee Stovel (Storey Publishing).
Whatever you're looking for, whether it's a simple soup, an exotic entree such as Moroccan Chicken and Pumpkin Stew, or a traditional pie, you'll find in one of these terrific recipe collections. Except for the pocket-size "Great Little Pumpkin Cookbook," which focuses only on recipes, these books also answer any questions about pumpkins ranging from their history to methods for cooking to preparing and storing.
For instance, one might not know that the pumpkins many people carve for Halloween are not the best for eating. Those jack-o'-lanterns tend to be dry and stringy and should, therefore, stay on the doorstep.
Instead look for sugar pumpkins, which are sweeter and denser. Other good choices are the pale-skinned Long Island cheese pumpkin, a Japanese pumpkin known as Kabocha, or a bright orange French Red or Cinderella pumpkin.
Cooking with fresh pumpkin is typically best, but time-strapped cooks in need of puréed pumpkin for breads or desserts could always resort to canned, unsweetened purée, which is easily found at supermarkets.
For serving a soup, risotto, pudding, or stuffed pumpkin dish, hollowed-out mini-pumpkins are a popular presentation. Just be sure to prepare the pumpkin tureens carefully by first washing the skin, then rubbing it gently with oil (such as canola), and baking the mini-pumpkins in a preheated 350 degree F. oven for 30 minutes.
The possibilities are many when cooking with pumpkin. It can be roasted, steamed, grilled, pureed, or even microwaved into a diversity of dishes. Some dishes might only hint of pumpkin while others are rich with its flavor.
So pay no heed to friends who balk at the idea of a multicourse pumpkin menu. Your harvest celebration can be surprisingly varied and deliciously memorable.
What some consider "too much of a good thing" could even become an annual tradition!
1/2 pound fresh pumpkin, seeds and fibers removed, cut into chunks
1 tablespoon olive oil, plus extra for brushing chunks
1 large onion, thinly sliced (about 1-1/2 cups)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 small red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast halves or thighs, cut into 1/2-inch chunks
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
1/4 teaspoon hot pepper flakes
Freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon tomato paste
4 cups chicken broth
1 cup frozen corn kernels
1 to 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro (for garnish)