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Food for Thought
Autumn Delight: Pumpkins
It's October, and you can't flip through a magazine or go on the Internet without being bombarded with pumpkin recipes. Pumpkin cookies, pumpkin bread, pumpkin muffinsthe stuff is everywhere . . . with good reason!
Sugar pumpkins (also known as pie pumpkins) are piled up in bins at the grocery store, at the best price you'll find all year. They're sweeter than the kind you would buy for pumpkin carving, and a lot easier to handle in the kitchen. Turning them into purée is as easy as . . . well . . . pumpkin pie! I have nothing against canned pumpkin, and use it all the time (it's quick and convenient), but I love to take advantage of the fresh produce that fall provides.
Making your own purée is simple. To avoid the hassle of peeling and chunking (or in my case, to lessen the odds that I'll cut myself), just slice a clean pumpkin in half and scoop out all of the seeds and stringy stuff. Rinse the inside of each half and immediately place them cut side down on a baking pan so that the moisture can steam them. Bake at 350 F for about an hour, or until a fork pierces the skin easily. Your pumpkin may deflate a bit and sink in the middle, which is OK. When it's cool enough to handle, scoop the flesh into a bowl and mash with a fork or potato masher. If you're using it for soup or breads, it's fine just as it is, but if you want a really smooth purée for pies, you may want to run it through a blender. If it seems too watery to you, you can cook it down a little by putting it into a saucepan on low heat for 10 minutes or so, stirring often. And remember: the smaller the pumpkin, the sweeter the flesh!
This colorful, smooth paste is a baker's delight, and a nutritionist's dream. A cup of cooked pumpkin delivers an impressive 12,231 IU of Vitamin A, which is 245 percent of the recommended daily value. It is low calorie, low sodium, low carbohydrate, high fiber, and full of minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants. Pumpkin has no cholesterol and is practically fat free.
Since eating a cup of cooked pumpkin didn't appeal to me, my goal was to create a recipe that would retain the health benefits of the pumpkin and still make me want to come back for seconds. I wanted something savory and reminiscent of frost, and harvest, and leaves crunching under my feet. Something hot and spicy . . . something like soup!
I tried to make a pumpkin ginger soup. It really sounded good in my minda hearty soup with bacon, potatoes, and onions, with a little fresh lemon and wine to brighten it, and a jalapeño pepper to add some zip. But between the culinary masterpiece I imagined and the serving bowl, something went wrong.
The bacon overpowered the pumpkin. My husband complained that it was too "gingery." I added cheese because it needed . . . something. Then I added Worcestershire sauce because it still needed something. A little rosemary was next. More salt. And finally, I gave up. A lesson that I'm slowly learning is: when you feel the need to keep adding ingredients it's best to cut your losses and start over.
The chickens loved it.
Plan B was a lot easier, and better. Not great, but better. I used wild rice and sautéed mushrooms, but it was still a little bland. So I did what I do every time I get stuck: I Googled for ideas.
Interestingly, I found a woman looking for help with her bland pumpkin soup (see? it's not just me), and a mother lode of ideas to try, which included peanut butter, Dijon mustard, paprika, bay leaves, cumin, and maple syrup. I had this big pot of soup on the stove that was probably going to become chicken food if I didn't do something, and the little voice in my head was starting to worry me: maybe I just liked the idea of pumpkin soup, but not the soup itself? Let the experimenting begin!
I separated the soup into four small pans. In the first pan I added peanut butter. In the second I threw in some paprika and dry mustard. In the third pan I added maple syrup. The fourth pan had a little powdered ginger and nutmeg. In the meticulously scientific study that followed, my husband was okay with the peanut butter, hated the ginger, liked the maple syrup a lot, and was ambivalent about the paprika and mustard. I liked everything except the ginger, but they all were lacking SOMETHING!
My "ahhhhhh" moment came when I mixed the peanut butter and maple batches together. This was exactly what I was looking for. The peanut butter was a little strong, and I really couldn't notice the maple, but the combination was still stunning. One more batch was made to fine-tune the quantities and to take this picture of the final winner.
Because I can't just leave you with "healthy," here is one of my very favorite autumn recipes. It's quick and easy, and absolutely not good for you. But . . . yum! Pumpkin Drops are a cake doughnut (no yeast!) that are fried in oil, shaken in sugar and cinnamon, and are just the right size to pop in your mouth.
I rarely deep-fry anything. It can be messy, it's not exactly a healthy cooking alternative, and the oil is expensive. But baked doughnuts are just lacking the texture and flavor of fried doughnuts, and you can always strain your oil, refrigerate it, and use it again. Trust me, once you've made these, you will be asked to repeat the performance.
One more recipe, and then I promise I won't even bring up the "P" word for another year. Here is a pumpkin bagel recipe with rum-soaked raisins in it. They're lovely fresh or toasted, and if you thinly slice the top and bottom off and then slice the remaining bagel in half, it makes incredible French toast.
Save a few of those pumpkins in a cold place for next month when the abundance of pie recipes hit the media!
Contact Lorinda at firstname.lastname@example.org
Lorinda resides in Eastern Washington, where she joyously combines her love of cooking and gardening. Baking is her passion, and licking the batter off the spoon after making a cake is her reward. When she's not in the kitchen, she's out in the garden pulling weeds and snacking on young peas. Enjoy Lorinda's blog, The Rowdy Baker.
Food for Thought copyright 2013.