Recipe: How to Cook a Pumpkin
When I lived in Italy, the most striking sight at the farmers market in town had to have been the rotund pumpkin set atop a chopping block. Market-goers would ask for a piece of a certain weight, and the vendor would deftly hack an appropriately sized wedge. I thoroughly enjoyed this ritual and always seemed to have a wedge of pumpkin in my fridge during the fall and winter months.
Pumpkins that are grown to be cooked and eaten differ greatly from those that are destined to become jack-o’-lanterns. Their flesh is moist, dense, and heavy. Cooking pumpkins hold their shape when roasted and have plenty of sweet, earthy flavor. Even though they are sometimes labeled “pie pumpkins” at the grocery story, they can be used in both desserts and savory dishes.
The familiar round, orange pumpkin is just one of numerous varieties of hard winter squash. Butternut, acorn, and kabocha squashes are all small enough to buy whole. If you are game to try something larger, look for Blue Hubbard, which is shaped like an enormous football and will keep for months in your pantry. Cinderella pumpkins (aka Rouge Vif d’Etampes) make lovely doorstep decorations, but they are also delicious cooked.
To cook a pumpkin, carefully slice it in half and use a sturdy spoon to scoop out the seeds. Place the two halves, cut sides up, on a baking sheet and roast in a 350°F oven until tender when poked with a fork. Peel away and discard the skin. Purée the pumpkin flesh using a food processor. Use this homemade pumpkin purée to make pie or muffins or a loaf of pumpkin bread. Alternatively, you can season it with salt and pepper and maybe a splash of olive oil or cream. Savory purée is wonderful spread on toast with fresh ricotta, stuffed in ravioli and served with sage brown butter sauce, and even eaten on its own by the spoonful. (Pumpkin purée also freezes well.)