It's a pity that the pumpkin is relegated to fame only as a jack-o'-lantern and the main ingredient in pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving.
It is an ingredient that is versatile, delicious and quite affordable.
The French called them pompon, but English settlers changed it, intentionally or not, to the word we use today. Pumpkins are grown all over the world, but the United States grows more than a billion pounds annually.
The pumpkin is rich in vitamins A and C and beta-carotene and is low in fat.
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Pumpkin seed oil is hearty and full bodied, and pumpkin seeds are popular around the world, but especially so in Asia.
Pumpkins can be purchased this time of the year at almost any grocery store, but they are available year around in many Asian markets.
To roast pumpkin seeds; rinse and clean them, place on an oiled sheet pan, salt if you like, and roast at 325 degrees for about 25 minutes.
There are endless possible ways to enjoy pumpkin and you will find 16 suggestions in "The Silver Spoon" cookbook, including a mozzarella and pumpkin sandwich (recipe below), Parmesan and pumpkin, and rosemary and pumpkin.
Recipes in the much vaunted French cookbook "Larousse Gastronomique" include a pumpkin gratin, soup and pumpkin au jus. Perhaps one of the most famous recipes is pumpkin filled ravioli.
The Japanese also do something wonderful in making pumpkin tempura. Some Asian markets sell them already sliced, so you don't have to purchase the entire pumpkin. There are quite a few varieties available too, from quite small to very
large. All are good and so some experimentation is in order to find your preference.
By the way the jack-o'-lantern story comes to us courtesy of an old Irish folktale. Ignis fatuus, the strange lights seen flickering over peat bogs was supposedly a fellow named Jack who had tricked the devil into climbing a tree. He then carved a cross into the base of the tree, a symbol the devil could not bear. In exchange for letting him go the devil promised not to take Jack's soul. When Jack's life came to an end the Devil delivered on his promises and Jack avoided the gates of hell, but heaven wasn't interested in him either. So the story goes that Jack carved a lantern out of a turnip, the devil gave him an ember from hell that would never burn out and poor old Jack is still wondering the world looking for a resting place. There are several other similar tails, but I like this one best.
A novel idea I got from Erin Kirk at the Pascagoula River Audubon Center in Mississippi is to half a pumpkin; make a string cradle for it so it can be hung from a tree limb and fill it with bird seed. It becomes an edible bird feeder that the birds and squirrels will love.
PUMPKIN AND WHITE BEAN STEW
2 cups cooked white beans
1 cup cubed pumpkin
1/2 cup chopped red onion
3-4 toes chopped garlic
Rosemary for garnish
Black pepper and red pepper flakes
1-2 pinches Italian seasoning
Season the pumpkin with black pepper and sauté in hot olive oil until well browned and tender, remove and set aside. Sauté the onion in olive oil for 8-10 minutes, add the garlic and cook 2 minutes more. Add the beans, taste and season as necessary. Add the pumpkin, 3/4 cup water, stir and let simmer for 5 minutes. Garnish with roseary and lots of Parmigiano Reggiano.
Options: a good quality smoked sausage can be added to this, but make sure to brown it aggressively first. Shrimp also goes very well with this stew.
Pinot noir remains one of my favorite wines and I think this lovely wine will pair very nicely with this stew. If you have not tried one of the sensational pinot noirs coming out of the Willamette Valley in Oregon then this might be your chance. These are world-class wines of which even the French are envious.
PUMPKIN AND MOZZARELLA SANDWICH
1 pound pumpkin sliced 2/3-inch thick
1 fresh thyme sprig, chopped
12-ounces mozzarella cheese sliced thin
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Roast the pumpkin wrapped in foil and seasoned with salt and thyme for 30 minutes. Remove and place the mozzarella between two slices of pumpkin (making a sandwich), sprinkle with Parmigiano Reggiano and return to the oven for 10 minutes. Serve piping hot along with a good Pinot gris.
-- From "The Silver Spoon" cookbook
ROASTED PUMPKIN POTATO SALAD
2 cups cubed pumpkin
1/2 cup chopped red onion
1/3 cup chopped celery
1/4 cup best quality mayonnaise
1 teaspoon fresh chopped rosemary
Toss the pumpkin in olive oil and fresh rosemary and roast on a sheet pan in a hot oven until just done. It is critical not to overcook the pumpkin or it will turn into mush. Remove and allow to cool. Add the red onion and celery and toss in the mayonnaise.
If you like you can skip the mayonnaise and substitute a good quality first cold press extra virgin olive oil. Make sure to taste when you are finished and re-season as necessary.