Pumpkins are good for a lot more than just jack-o'-lanterns

October 23, 2013 

The pumpkin is best used as a jack-o'-lantern, right? Nope. That's about as far off base as you can get.

The pumpkin is in fact a squash. It also is sweet, delicious and nutritious.

For a moment, however, let's get back to that jack-o'-lantern. It also was known as a will-o-the-wisp or ignis fatuus in Medieval Latin, and means foolish fire, which referred to a flickering light seen over a bog or swamp and when approached it retreated, leading those foolish enough to follow to an untimely end.

Many people think the legend is Irish in origin. The Irish carved scary faces on turnips or potatoes, hollowed them out, and put them at their door or window to scare away those with evil intentions. We can blame the Irish for bringing the tradition to America. Once here we discovered that native pumpkin made a much scarier face than a potato, so the tradition continues.

Aside from its once a year role as a scary face, the pumpkin can be made into a great variety of delicious dishes to eat. Who doesn't love pumpkin pie, bread or other sweet things that are popular choices for pumpkin?

Did you know, thought that pumpkin can be made into anything that a squash or zucchini is used for. Try it as a filling for ravioli or other stuffed pasta, deep fry it crispy, or dice it and toss it with pasta and brown butter sauce and sage. One of its best and most delicious uses is to serve it in a stew with smoked sausage and cannellini beans.

Note: slices of pumpkin can usually be purchased at your local Asian market, saving you the trouble, and waste, of buying a whole one and discarding what you can't use.

PUMPKIN GNOCCHI

2 pounds pumpkin

1 tablespoon salt

1- 1/2 cups flour

1 large egg

5 tablespoons butter

3 leaves of sage

Cut the pumpkin into large cubes and boil in salted water until it is done. Mix the flour and salt in a large bowl. Add the egg and half of the flour to the cooled pumpkin. Knead it until well incorporated and then slowly add more flour as you continue to knead. When ready the mixture should be smooth and a little sticky. Roll the dough into a one inch diameter tube and cut into 3/4 inch pieces. If you are an experienced gnocchi maker you will know the technique using a fork to make the proper shape, if not, the learning curve is steep, just cook the sections you have cut from the tube. Heat about five quarts of water to a boil and

drop the gnocchi in the water in small batches. They will be done in about 20 seconds, remove and drain. Make a simple brown butter sauce by heating the butter until it starts to brown and then add the sage leaves and toss with the gnocchi.

PUMPKIN AND BEAN STEW

1 cup cubed pumpkin, about an inch square.

2-3 cups cooked cannellini beans or great northern

1 cup sliced smoked sausage

1 chopped red onion

1/4 cup chopped bell pepper

4-6 chopped cloves of garlic

1 cup good red wine

2 cups chicken stock (homemade is best)

Red pepper flakes

Freshly ground black pepper

Olive oil

Sauté the sausage in a little oil until it is browned and crispy, remove, drain and set aside. In the same hot pan add the onion and bell pepper, add a little more oil if necessary, season aggressively with the red pepper and black pepper and cook for 6 minutes. Add the pumpkin and cook for 3 minutes, remove the pumpkin and set aside, then add the garlic and cook for 1 minute more. Add the chicken stock, wine and the sausage, bring to a slow simmer, taste and re-season as necessary. Simmer for about 20 minutes, this slow simmering will intensify flavors and encourage them to hold hands. Add the beans, return to a simmer. If you have an immersion blender (some people call them boat motors), puree the beans for just a few seconds, this will make your stew a bit thicker. Now add the pumpkin and simmer again until the pumpkin is tender, but not falling apart. Serve with crusty French bread and a good Italian red wine, such as Col Di Sasso, a Cabernet, Sauvignon and Sangiovese blend, a go-to red table wine, that is good and not expensive.

SIMPLE PASTA AND PUMPKIN

This recipe is so simple and so good, it just might become a family favorite.

1 pound of fettuccini or linguini

2 cups cubed pumpkin

4 slices thick cut smoked bacon

4-6 cloves chopped garlic

Red pepper flakes

Olive oil

Parmigiano-Reggiano

Cook the pasta according to the package directions, but remember to set aside a cup of the cooking water. Chop the bacon into big bite sizes, sauté in a little olive oil and, when almost done, add the garlic and cook until the garlic is soft. With a slotted spoon remove the bacon and garlic to a bowl and set aside. Add the pumpkin to the same hot pan, season with red pepper flakes and cook over a high flame until the pumpkin has taken on color and is tender, but not over cooked. Add the bacon and garlic and the pasta, toss well. If it is too dry add a little pasta water, but not much. Dress with best quality olive oil, smother in finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and serve immediately.

PUMPKIN CUSTARD

7 ounces cubed pumpkin

7 ounces milk

2 ounces heavy cream

1 teaspoon sugar

2 eggs

Small shot rum

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Maple syrup

Simmer the pumpkin in water until done, drain. Place in a blender while still warm, add the milk, cream, sugar, eggs, rum and vanilla extract and blend in short bursts (do not foam). Pour through a sieve, place in small ramekins, then in a pan with 1 inch of water, cover lightly with foil, place the lid on, slightly ajar, and steam for about 20 minutes. Turn the heat off and allow to sit for 10 more minutes. Add the maple syrup to each and serve cool.

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