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From the Harvest: Pumpkin that's simply great

The pumpkin has so much more to offer than languishing on a doorstep as a jack-o'-lantern or being dumped unceremoniously into a pie for a cheap thrill at the end of Thanksgiving dinner.

The culinary uses for pumpkin are as limitless as your imagination. Fried, braised, steamed, roasted or even shaved ribbon-thin into salads, pumpkin can hold its own with any vegetable, working incredibly well in savory dishes.

Even after Halloween, the local farmers' markets will be overrun with these gorgeous gourds. Even ranging from the size of a baseball to a large beach ball, pumpkins are generally consistent in flavor. The seeds, on the other hand, become much woodier as the pumpkin gets larger, so if you are planning to roast them (and why wouldn't you?), use the seeds from a smaller pumpkin.

Give pumpkin a shot. You will be surprised at how easy, inexpensive and delicious it is to use in recipes.

john@rouxde.com

Pumpkin soup

Pumpkin soup is easy, cheap and helps fight the plummeting temperatures. This recipe makes enough to freeze some for the really cold months. Bacon adds smokiness while cream takes the edge off and helps make the soup silky. Roasting the pumpkin instead of simmering it raw in the soup deepens the final flavor.

Makes: 1 gallon of soup

1 large (about 10-pound) pumpkin, cut in half and seeded

6 slices of thick cut smoky bacon, chopped into small pieces

6 cloves garlic, chopped

2 yellow onions, medium dice

1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin

1 1/2 teaspoons ground coriander

2 bay leaves

1 tablespoon sweet paprika

2 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper

8 cups chicken stock

1 cup heavy cream

extra virgin olive oil (for garnish), optional

Preheat an oven to 375 degrees. Sprinkle the two halves of pumpkin with salt and pepper, place on a sheet pan and then into the oven. Bake for 45 minutes to an hour (when you can easily pierce the pumpkin with a knife, it is done). Remove the pumpkin from the oven and let cool. Once the pumpkin is cool to the touch, scoop the flesh out of the halves using a large spoon. Set aside the cooked pumpkin and throw away the skin. In a large heavy pot over medium heat, add the bacon and render the fat until the bacon bits become crispy. Transfer bacon bits to a paper towel. Turn the heat down to medium-low, add the onions and when they begin to become translucent, add the garlic. After two minutes, add the cumin, coriander, bay leaves, paprika, salt and pepper and stir to combine. Add the stock and pumpkin, turn the heat up to high, and bring the soup to a boil. Once it has reached a boil, turn the heat down to medium-low, cover and simmer for 20 minutes. Carefully puree the hot soup in a blender, a food processor or with a stick blender. Stir in the cream until combined and serve garnished with bacon bits and a drizzle of olive oil.

Tip: Reserve the seeds from the pumpkin and roast them as a snack. Wash and dry the seeds, place them on a sheet pan and toss with a vegetable oil. Place into a 325 degree oven for 45 minutes or until the seeds are a dark golden brown. Pull them out of the oven and toss with fine salt and any dry spices or herbs that you like. Let cool and serve.

Honey mustard-and-ale-glazed pumpkin

This is a sweet-and-sour presentation that leans more to the sweet side. It is based on the Italian agrodolce sauce, which is a sugar and vinegar mix. In this version, honey stands in for the sweet while whole grain Dijon mustard takes the place of the vinegar. To balance the two out, I added pumpkin ale to reinforce the pumpkin flavor. You can use any dark and malty ale if you cannot find pumpkin ale; if you do not partake of alcohol, chicken stock will suffice.

Makes: 8 servings

2 cups pumpkin ale (I used Heavy Seas' The Great Pumpkin)

1/2 cup course Dijon mustard

1 cup honey

3 pounds pumpkin, cut into 1 1/2-inch-by-1/2-inch pieces

1 teaspoon salt

In a large pot over high heat whisk together ale, mustard, honey and salt. Bring liquid to boil. Add pumpkin, turn the heat to medium low, cover and simmer for 20 minutes. Pull out pumpkin and reduce liquid over medium heat by 3/4 or until syrupy. Return the pumpkin to the sauce and toss to coat. Serve immediately.

Tip: You can make this dish into a jacked-up smashed pumpkin by cooking the pumpkin for an extra 15 minutes. Add 1/4 stick of butter and mash all of it together until it is your desired consistency. Add salt and pepper to taste and serve.

Baked stuffed pumpkins

Makes: 8 servings

This dish is a show-stopper and one of my personal favorites. Using the pumpkin as a serving dish makes for a nice presentation but it is the pumpkin itself that ties this dish together. Once baked, the soft pumpkin flesh is easily scoopable and when mixed with the stuffing makes for an incredible main course. Feel free make substitutions for the bread, apple, cheese or sausage.

1 pound hot Italian sausage, removed from casings if applicable

1 large red onion, chopped to a small dice

6 cloves garlic, minced

1/4 pound cheddar, shredded

1/4 pound smoked Gouda, shredded

1/4 pound baguette, chopped to a small dice

1 apple, chopped to a small dice

1/2 chopped parsley minced

1 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper

1/2 cup cream

8 small whole pumpkins (2-3 pounds apiece)

Preheat the oven to 375°. In a pan over medium heat add the sausage and cook (breaking it up into small pieces as you go) until browned. Transfer the sausage to a bowl, keeping the rendered fat in the pan, and add to it the onion. When the onion starts to become soft add the garlic. Cook the mixture for five minutes or until the garlic is soft and transfer to a bowl to cool. In a large mixing bowl add the cheese, bread, apple, parsley, salt, pepper, sausage and onion mixture. Pour the cream over everything and mix thoroughly to combine. Cut the tops off of the pumpkins and scoop out the seeds and innards. Stuff the pumpkins with the sausage mixture making sure not to pack it too tightly. Place the lids back onto the pumpkins, place on a sheet pan and put into the hot oven. Bake for one hour. Pull the pumpkins out of the oven and let them cool for at least ten minutes before serving.

Tip: To make sure you line up the lids correctly before baking use this simple trick. Before cutting the top off of the pumpkin, make a small slice where you will make your cut then take a vegetable peeler and peel the skin in a small strip starting above the slice and ending below the slice. Then proceed with cutting. When placing the lid back on just align the peeled areas.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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