I had a good friend whose mother-in-law wouldn’t give her the family recipe for the pumpkin pie served at Thanksgiving. The mother-in-law was a fabulous cook and baker whose kitchen included tons of goodies; all of them were made from scratch. This otherwise lovely and reasonable woman who had raised an amazing son passed on many family recipes, but bristled every time her daughter-in-law would ask for the pumpkin pie recipe.
Year after year, my friend attempted to replicate the pie her husband raved about. Her experimental efforts were appreciated, but the results just never were “mom’s pumpkin pie.” . Exasperation finally set in one year, and my friend bought a Mrs. Smith’s Frozen pie. Following the directions, she took it out of the box and put it in the oven for an hour. Then she let it cool. She described it as dense and a little rubbery, but not bad….put enough whipped cream on top of anything and it’s going to be edible. Her husband whooped and hollered joyfully. This was his mother’s pumpkin pie.
Having mastered her mother-in-law’s pumpkin pie recipe, my friend’s life is much simplified when she makes Thanksgiving dinner.
Pumpkins are not just for jack-o-lanterns. They are delicious and nutritious. They can be used in both savory and sweet dishes. Pumpkin works as the star of a show or as a background player that adds depth to other dishes. It can substitute for other winter squashes, but it is clearly not any of the others. Pumpkin can be found prepared in cans, fresh and sometimes frozen.
One of my favorite autumn appetizers is pumpkin quesadillas. These are easy to make and seem to impress folks.
2 pounds fresh or frozen sugar pumpkin or butternut squash, or 2 cans Libby’s pumpkin puree
1 seeded jalapeno, finely chopped – about 2 T
1 dozen 8″ whole wheat tortillas
10 ounces feta or blue cheese crumbled
1 1/2 c coarsely chopped cilantro (best with feta) or flat leaf parsley (for those who do not like cilantro, or with blue cheese)
1/4 c toasted walnuts, chopped fine
12 wedges of lime (2 limes cut into six wedges is a nice size usually)
If using fresh pumpkin, you have two choices about how to cook it.
Choice 1: seed, peel and cube the squash into 1 1/2 inch pieces and dump into a saucepan of boiling salted water until it’s tender, but not falling apart – about 10 minutes. Drain and cool for about 10 minutes. While pumpkin is still warm, transfer to a food processor. Puree until smooth.
Choice 2: cut the pumpkin into large wedges and seed them. Rub cut surfaces lightly with oil and sprinkle with salt. Roast in a 400 F oven cut side down for 20 minutes. Turn over and continue until the flesh is tender and the edges begin to brown slightly. Take out of oven and let cool until you can handle comfortably. While still warm, scoop flesh from the shell directly into a food processor along with 1/4 c water. Puree until smooth.
If using canned pumpkin, put the pumpkin into a casserole dish and cook uncovered in a 350 F oven until heated through and top begins to brown slightly.
Add the jalapeno to pumpkin puree and stir in. Use salt and pepper to season.
Lay out 6 tortillas and spread the pumpkin mix evenly between them (about 1/4 cup on each.) Sprinkle cheese, nuts and cilantro/parsley over the pumpkin. Top with second tortilla.
Cook in a large skillet over medium-high heat about 1 minute per side or until golden and slightly charred, or toss onto a hot grill until charred in a yummy way.
Cut into wedges with a pizza wheel and serve with lime.
At a cocktail party or at a buffet, I’ll serve these from a warming tray, a tortilla keeper, or a heated baking dish lined with clean cloth napkins. At a dinner party, I’ll serve 1/2 quesadilla per person on a plate along with a small green salad tossed with an oil and vinegar dressing next to it. I have also served at a luncheon giving each person a whole quesadilla with a light salad on top.
Pumpkin is, of course, a squash. As such, it can be prepared anyway you would prepare any other thick-skinned squash. For cooking, look for varieties of pumpkin with the word “sugar” in their name. The pumpkins sold for Halloween are generally not great eating pumpkins. I like to cut the pumpkin in half and take out the seeds. I will then cut it into wedges. Sometimes I will roast the wedges. More often, I will use a paring knife to peel the pumpkin’s skin off. Then I will cut the wedges into cubes. I either brush the wedges with oil and place them skin side down in a baking dish, or toss the cubes in bowl with a little oil to coat. Then I season.
My usual seasoning is a little salt. Then I start playing with herbs and spices. Thyme, oregano, sage, bay, nutmeg, cardamom, coriander, rosemary, allspice, cinnamon, cloves, pepper, and red pepper all get along with pumpkin. I have used spice blends such as herbs de provence or Essence of Emeril or Old Bay Seasoning successfully.
I will roast the pumpkin in a hot oven (400-450F) until it becomes tender.
Roast pumpkin does not have to go it alone. Roast up other vegetables with it, too. Vegetables cut to about the same size as the pumpkin pieces work well. I have used baby turnips, chunks of russet potatoes, wedges of onion, whole peeled garlic cloves, pieces of yam, cleaned baby beets, etc.
When the pumpkin comes out of the oven, I will drizzle it with a little melted butter or olive oil. Do not be afraid of adding a little fat to pumpkin. Many of the vitamins it contains are better absorbed in the presence of a small amount of fat. If I am using spices like cinnamon, mace, cardamom, nutmeg, allspice or cloves, I will also toss with a couple of tablespoons of dark brown sugar. If I want to add a little crunch to the dish, I will add some roasted pumpkin seeds, which brings me to the next section.
Roasted Pumpkin Seeds (version 1)
Seeds from one pumpkin
Preheat oven to 400 F. Separate seeds from string, goo and pulp. Set seeds aside and throw gooey, pulpy stuff into compost bin. Rinse seeds.
In a small saucepan add the seeds to salted water (about 2 cups of water and 1 to 2 tablespoons of salt for every 1/2 cup of seeds). Bring to a boil. Turn down heat and let simmer for 10 minutes. Drain.
Spread a thin coating of oil on the bottom of cookie sheet or roast. Bake in the top rack of the oven for 10-20 minutes or until seeds are browned as you prefer.
Let cool completely before eating. Eat by cracking out of shell, or just eat whole. These are good whole or chopped on top of salads.
Roasted Pumpkin Seeds (version 2)
Seeds from 1 pumpkin
Toss seeds in a bowl with the melted butter, salt, and seasoning of your choice. I like a little chili powder, cumin or cayenne for heat. I also sometimes like tossing with herbs de provence.
Spread the seeds in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake about 45 minutes or until golden brown. Stir occasionally.
The internet is full of great recipes for pumpkin soup. I like using the canned pumpkin puree for soups. More about that in a moment. The canned pumpkin puree lets me make some really quick and easy soups. The recipes are inexact, but being so are a great way to use up leftovers.
Mix the pumpkin with vegetable broth, or V-8 to thin it down. Heat up.
For a richer soup, add a bit of whole milk, cream or butter.
Add spices according to your mood. Go classic with herbs d’Provence and a few seasoned croutons. Finish it off with a little plain yogurt or sour cream and some chopped chives on top.
Go southwestern by adding chili powder and cumin. Toss in a little cooked rice, crumbled corn chips or tortilla chips. For more depth of flavor, add a shot of sherry.
For something heartier, add in some chopped cooked veggies and some sage or rosemary. Sprinkle with a little Parmesan cheese. Add in a few roasted cherry tomatoes. This is good served with a grilled cheese sandwich on the side.
Add more color by making half the soup pumpkin, and half butter nut squash. Pour first one soup in the bowl then add the other in the middle. Use a knife or skewer to make pretty designs in the soup. Or pour the two soups at once so they sit side by side in the bowl.
All of these variations are good with roasted pumpkin seeds dropped on top as a garnish.
I began with pumpkin pie and it is a classic. My first advice for pumpkin pie is to use canned pumpkin. Canned pumpkin has the advantage of having a great texture and a consistent flavor. I like the Libby’s Pumpkin. Libby’s uses a variety of pumpkin called ‘Dickinson’. The use of this particular pumpkin gives Libby a distinctive, bright color and a clean and consistent taste. I also prefer the canned as it is a lot of work to prepare a pumpkin and I cannot always get good eating pumpkins when I want to. Libby’s Pumpkin sits happily on the pantry shelf waiting to be used. The prepared pumpkin is densely packed into the can.
On the back of the label for Libby’s Pumpkin puree is the recipe for “Libby’s Famous Pie Recipe.” It is the standard that most folks use. I think it’s gross. It’s too dense. It feels horrible in the mouth. It is overly sweet and not well spiced.
I prefer a pumpkin chiffon recipe which can be served out of a pie shell, or served as a mousse. I prefer to skip the pie shell altogether.
1 can Libby’s pumpkin puree (not the prepared pumpkin pie filling)
1/2 c. sugar for filling plus 1/3 c sugar for chiffon
1/2 c. milk
3 eggs, separated
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. allspice
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tbsp. Knox unflavored gelatin
1/4 c. cold water
Mix together pumpkin, sugar, milk, egg yolks, cinnamon, allspice, and salt in a medium saucepan. Cook over medium heat stirring until thick, 10-15 minutes. Soften gelatin in cold water for 5 minutes. Add to pumpkin mixture stirring to dissolve gelatin. Cool. Beat in egg whites until frothy. Add 1/3 cup sugar slowly, continuing to beat until stiff peaks form. Fold whites into pumpkin mixture.
If desired, pour mixture into a cold pre-baked pie shell and chill overnight. Otherwise, just pour into pretty serving bowl and chill. I like to serve with a little whipped cream to which I’ve added a touch of allspice and cinnamon, or a touch of lemon zest.