The Pumpkin Puree
In the minds of most Americans, it seems, pumpkins and autumn are inseparable. You carve Jack-O’-Lanterns for your porches on Halloween, and you make pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving. A quick glance at Wikipedia (which is always accurate, of course) revealed to me that the fruit is much more international. They cook it in China, in Europe, and even in Africa.
Here in America, we buy tons and tons of them, mostly in two forms: The bigger carving pumpkins used for the aforementioned Jack-O’-Lanterns, and pureed in cans. Unfortunately, the carved pumpkins end up rotting in the garbage or smashed on the street. I’m amazed at how much food value is just chucked away each year.
Still, this posting isn’t about crusading, it’s about cooking.
Lately, I’ve been more and more fascinated by the culinary possibilities of the pumpkin. I’ve done some cool cooking with them in the past. I do my own pumpkin pie, of course. I did some of it last week, for the cover of the book. I also love to do the Dinner in a Pumpkin!
The thing I’m loving more and more about the pumpkin is that it’s so adaptable to being the basis for both savory and sweet dishes. And, even, dishes that combine both elements.
Then, I saw some recipes floating around the ‘net for a savory, spicy pumpkin soup. As soon as I saw it, I knew I had to try it. And, of course, I had to make it my own. So, I looked around the ‘net for some other variations to get some ideas. I’m very excited to do it.
To talk about making dinners out of pumpkins, you have to understand the difference between certain varieties of pumpkin. The larger pumpkins are made primarily for carving and decorating. They don’t taste bad. I’ve used them in the savory dinner-in-a-pumpkin dish. The smaller ones, however, are much better eatin’ pun’kins. They’re often called “pie”, “sugar”, or “sweet” pumpkins, and that gives you a good idea of why you’d want to cook with them. In addition to being tastier, they’re also less stringy.
...and they’re cheaper, ‘cuz they’re smaller and weigh less.
Also, as Linus taught us many years ago, always select your pumpkins, sweet or otherwise, from the most sincere of pumpkin patches.
When I make pumpkin puree, I like to do it as a sort of combination of roasting and steaming. Tonight, I took one sweet pumpkin, that was kind of on the large side, and quartered it. That made it pretty easy to scrape out the guts and seeds (which you’ll keep for later, right?). Those sections, I halved, lengthwise, yet again, and finally, halved them crosswise. I ended up with a bunch of pumpkin triangles, about 3 inches on a side. I put these in a dutch oven, with about a half cup of water poured in. I put this on some coals, about 12-15 below, and the same amount above. I just let it cook for 45 minutes to an hour. When you can stick a fork in them and feel little or no resistance, they’re done.
Then, I pulled the wedges off the coals, and brought them inside. I separated the cooked flesh from the skin and put it in my blender. Yes, my electric blender. I’ve tried, for the sake of Dutch oven authenticity, to do this with a hand blender, and with a potato masher. These all still resulted in a stringy mush. If you want a decent puree, ya gotta plug it in and fire it up.
In all the times I’ve done this, I’ve always scooped out all of the pumpkins and then run the blender. I think it would be much easier to scoop a few pieces, puree them, then do a few more. Sometimes it’s tough to get the stuff on top to get down to the blades.
The resulting puree went into a zip-top baggie and into the fridge, awaiting the soup, tomorrow!
Also, you might notice that this time I didn’t sprinkle on the brown sugar, like I usually do with the pumpkin pie preparations. Since this is going to be a more savory soup, I thought I’d just cook the pumpkins alone.
I separated the seeds from the goop with my fingers and put them into a colander, where I rinsed and separated even more. Finally, they were free of orange attachments, and no longer slimy, and I spread them out on a cookie sheet to dry. These will figure heavily in our final product tomorrow!
Mark has discovered a love of Dutch Oven Cooking. Mark also has other sites and blogs, including MarkHansenMusic.com and his MoBoy blog.