Pumpkins, spiced up

Curry powder, coriander, and cumin put a new spin on the versatile squash.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
Pumpkins for sale are lined up on a bench on a farm near Palmer, Massachusetts.

They're the darlings of state fairs. You've seen the pictures. They are those pumpkins big as a VW Beetle, and about as heavy. Some top the scale at 1,500 to 1,800 pounds – room enough for Cinderella herself, and a few hitchhikers she may pick up on the way to the ball.

These bulbous behemoths can put on more than 1 pound of weight an hour, up to 30 pounds a day. Perfect, if you have a garden the size of a soccer field and an insatiable appetite to bake 700 pumpkin pies for your neighborhood.

For the more conservative there are sugar pumpkins – the small, round variety usually bought for autumn displays on fireplace mantels and dining tables. When the carved jack-o'-lanterns have turned to mush, it's the sugar pumpkins that survive.

Cooks in southern France and northern Italy have known for eons that pumpkins are more than decorative. They often add chunks to stews, for instance.

I'm reminded of a small trattoria in the hills outside Bologna where I was served homemade, pumpkin-filled ravioli, topped with a cream sauce laced with nutmeg and a dusting of Parmigiano-Reggiano. Simply sublime!

Although purists will insist on cooking their own, canned pumpkin works just fine in recipes.

To cook pumpkin, cut a 3- to 4-pound sugar pumpkin in half, discarding the stem. Scoop out the seeds and stringy flesh with a heavy spoon. Set the pumpkin halves, cut-side down, in a baking dish with about a cup of water. Bake in a preheated 350 degrees F. oven for about 60 minutes, or until the flesh is tender when pierced with a fork. Scrape from the skin for immediate use, or freeze.

Any winter squash such as butternut or acorn may be substituted for pumpkin.

If you cook your own pumpkins, you get a bonus – the seeds. Simply separate the seeds from the flesh but do not wash. Combine the seeds with 2 to 3 tablespoons of vegetable oil, spread on a cooking sheet, and sprinkle with salt. Bake in a preheated 250 degrees F. oven until seeds are dry, about 1-1/2 hours. Try mixing them with raisins and nuts for a delicious snack.

If you're using your own cooked pumpkin in the following recipes, remember that a 15-ounce can is equivalent to just under 2 cups.

Creamed curry pumpkin soup

10 servings

Spicy and creamy, with just enough curry to make it interesting, this is a perfect prelude to a holiday dinner. If you don't have every one of the minor spices, not to worry, the final product will still be full of flavor. If you're especially fond of curry, add another teaspoon. For smoother results, purée the soup in a food processor.

2 to 4 tablespoons curry powder, according to taste
2 teaspoons cinnamon powder
1 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon cumin powder
1/2 teaspoon coriander
1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 medium onion, peeled and finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 15-ounce cans puréed pumpkin
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup molasses
6 cups vegetable or chicken broth
1-1/2 cups heavy cream
1 cup toasted slivered almonds, optional

Combine spices and salt in a small bowl; set aside.

Heat the oil and onion in a large, heavy stockpot over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally. When onions are wilted, add garlic and spices. Turn heat to low and stir for about 1 minute.

Add pumpkin, brown sugar, and molasses. Stir until all ingredients are thoroughly mixed. Slowly whisk in broth. Cover and simmer about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Whisk in heavy cream.

When soup has cooled, purée in food processor in small batches, if desired.

Serve soup hot with toasted almonds if desired.

New Hampshire pumpkin rolls

28 rolls

1-1/2 teaspoons dry yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 cup lukewarm water
3 cups all-purpose flour
3-1/2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup puréed canned pumpkin
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Few grates of nutmeg
1 cup stone-ground whole-wheat flour

In a large bowl, combine yeast, sugar, and water; let stand 5 minutes to proof. Stir in 1/2 cup flour. Cover, place bowl in a warm place for 1 hour.

Melt 2 tablespoons butter and pour into a medium bowl. Using an electric mixer, beat in the brown sugar, salt, pumpkin, egg, maple syrup, cinnamon, and nutmeg.

Beat these ingredients into the risen yeast mixture until just smooth.

Stir in the whole-wheat flour and remaining all-purpose flour (about 2-1/2 cups) to make a firm dough. Knead it briefly in the bowl; cover, place the bowl in a warm area and let rise 2 hours.

Punch the dough down and place it on a lightly floured surface. Knead briefly and roll out until 1/2-inch thick. Cut dough into 2-inch circles, or small triangles. Place rolls on baking sheets lightly dusted with flour; cover with dish towel and let rise 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

Melt remaining butter and brush tops of rolls.

Bake 15 minutes, or until rolls are slightly browned.

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