If you like the circus act where a crowd of clowns emerges from a tiny car, then you’ll love spaghetti squash.When I see the stacks of orange orbs in front of grocery stores, I can’t help but think that pumpkins have been hijacked for that trick without a treat, the Halloween jack-o-lantern. The hijackees have been bred not for their texture or flavor, but for their bright color and substantial stems.
Not Your Typical Grocery Store Pumpkin
To find a truly great and delicious pumpkin, look for the opposite of the typical jack-o-lantern pumpkin. The best ones are either the small “sugar” or “pie” pumpkins on the one hand, or the large “cheese pumpkins” on the other. Either way, you will get two treats of the season in one – soft pumpkin flesh and crunchy pumpkin seeds.
At farm stands and farmers markets, you’ll find pie pumpkins ranging from light cream to taupe to a dark bronze or dull orange. Their stems may be thin or even broken off. But remember, you’re buying this pumpkin for the beauty within.
Pumpkins of All Shapes and Sizes
The cheese pumpkins (Winter Luxury, New England Pie, Long Island Cheese, and Cinderella) are flattened and squat, just like a big round of cheese. Some have vertical pleats running from the stem end to the blossom end.
New England Pie is the classic orange pie pumpkin. The flesh is stringless, giving it a nice consistency without putting it in a blender or food processor.
Winter Luxury is my favorite culinary pumpkin. It has a russeted, finely-netted soft orange-gray skin, and smooth, velvety, rich-tasting flesh.
Whichever pie pumpkin you choose, start by cutting it in half and placing it cut side down on an oiled baking sheet. Bake at 350 F until you can easily pierce it with a fork. Then cool to room temperature and scoop out the flesh to make a soup, stew, or your favorite pumpkin dessert. Any way you use it, it will make for a deeply satisfying meal on a chilly autumn evening — another reason to revere the great pumpkin and give thanks.
Spicy Pumpkin Soup with Roasted Pumpkin Seeds
4 Tbsp butter
2 medium yellow onions, chopped
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1/8 to ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper
2 teaspoons curry powder
½ teaspoon ground coriander
Pinch ground cayenne pepper (optional)
6 cups roasted pumpkin flesh
5 cups of chicken broth (or vegetable broth)
2 cups of milk
¼ cup brown sugar
½ cup heavy cream
- Melt butter in a 4-quart saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onions and garlic and cook, stirring often, until softened, about 4 minutes. Add spices and stir for a minute more.
- Add pumpkin and 5 cups of chicken broth. Bring to a boil and reduce heat, simmer for 10 to 15 minutes.
- Transfer soup, in batches, to a blender or food processor. Cover tightly and blend until smooth. Return soup to saucepan, and add brown sugar. Slowly add milk and cream, stirring to incorporate. Adjust seasonings to taste. Re-heat gently.
- Serve in individual bowls, and sprinkle with roasted pumpkin seeds.
Roasted Pumpkin Seeds
Seeds scooped out of a pie pumpkin before roasting
- Place the seeds in a colander and rinse to separate the seeds from the strings and flesh. Measure the pumpkin seeds and then in a saucepan, put 2 cups of water and 1 tablespoon of salt for every half cup of pumpkin seeds. Bring the salted water and pumpkin seeds to a boil. Let simmer for 10 minutes. Drain.
Preheat the oven to 400°F. Coat the bottom of a roasting pan or heavy baking sheet with about a tablespoon of olive oil. Spread the seeds out in a single layer. Bake on the top rack until the seeds begin to brown, 5-20 minutes, depending on the size of the seeds. Keep an eye on the pumpkin seeds so they don’t burn. When nicely browned, remove the pan from the oven and let cool on a rack.
The best way to enjoy healthy, seasonal produce is to buy it from your local community farmer. To locate the farmers’ market or CSA nearest you, visit www.localharvest.org.
Farm Fresh Now! is a project of The Land Connection, an educational nonprofit that preserves farmland, trains new farmers, and connects people with great locally-grown foods. This series is made possible with generous support from the Illinois Department of Agriculture.