By Beverly Barbour
The squash that launched a thousand Jack-O'-Lanterns
Those fat little harvest moons are glowing all over the garden and the grocery stores, just waiting to turn into jack-o-lanterns, something good to eat, or both. No problem! Pumpkin is as versatile as any other kind of squash which means that it can substitute in recipes calling for any of its cousins in the hard squash family. Just keep in mind that pumpkin may taste a bit sweeter than other squash varieties, even if you don't sweeten it.
Extricating the pumpkin meat from the pumpkin is a little more difficult and time consuming that opening a can of pureed pumpkin. It will take about an hour in the oven to soften the pumpkin's flesh. So put it in the oven when you are making meatloaf or a roast. That way you get two for the price of one when you're paying for the kilowatts.
Baking concentrates the pumpkin's natural sugars. The Sugar Pie variety of pumpkin is best if you're using the pulp to make a dessert, but other varieties will do. The cooked cubes or pulp will freeze well.Preheat oven to 300 F. Cut pumpkin(s) in half through the stem end, and cut out the long stringy fibers. Place the halves cut sides down on a baking sheet and place in the oven. If you plan to cube and dice the pumpkins, bake them for 55 to 60 minutes, until the meat is slightly resistant when pierced with the tip of a sharp knife. If you plan to puree the pumpkin for making soup, pie, bread or cookies, bake 85 to 90 minutes, or until the flesh is very soft. Cool the halves until you can handle them, then peel. Cut into cubes or puree or mash the flesh. Cover and refrigerate or freeze the pulp.
VELVETY PUMPKIN SOUP
A good recipe for using a naturally sweet variety of pumpkin. Any kind of toasted nut would add a nice touch to this soup but nuts are not really necessary.
4 tablespoons butter
Melt butter, remove from heat and stir in flour, eliminating lumps. Reduce heat to medium and cook, stirring constantly, until the roux becomes slightly colored, about 5 minutes. Remove roux from heat. Combine water and chicken broth, add to the roux a little at a time, whisking constantly to prevent lumps. Return to heat and bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer 2 minutes. Whisk in the pumpkin puree and the salt. Simmer 2 minutes. Add half-and-half; bring to a boil, whisking occasionally, then simmer 1 minute. Strain through a fine-meshed sieve, forcing all of the pumpkin through with a spoon. Bring to a boil again. The soup should be the consistency of heavy cream. Garnish each serving with a sprinkling of hazelnuts, chives or scallion rings. Makes 4 servings.
MINIATURE PUMPKIN CUSTARDS
These are delightful individual desserts; serve each one on an autumn leaf. The small pumpkins hold orange custard so you enjoy both the baked pumpkin and the custard with each bite. 8 miniature pumpkins
1 3/4 cups half-and-half
Deeply pierce top of each pumpkin several times with a knife or a fork. Set pumpkins on a rack at least 1-inch above l l/2-inches of water (a wok or a roasting pan works well for this). Cover and bring water to a boil, keep boiling and steam pumpkins on the rack above the boiling water until tender when pierced, 15 to 20 minutes. You may need to add water during the cooking process, but you want to keep the pumpkins above the water. Let cooked pumpkins cool and then cut down and around each stem to make an opening about 2-inches wide. Lift out stem end and reserve. Scoop seeds from pumpkins without breaking through the skin; discard. In a bowl, whisk half-and-half, egg yolks, sugar, liqueur and coriander. Fill pumpkins equally. Return filled pumpkins to the racks at least l inch above l l/2-inches of water in cooking pan. Drape foil over the pumpkins to prevent condensation on the pan lid from dripping into filling. Cover pan and bring water to a boil over high heat. Keep water at a boil, and steam until filling looks set in center and jiggles only slightly all over when gently shaken, 12 to 16 minutes. Serve warm or cool. Garnish each pumpkin with shredded orange peel. They are even better topped with whipped cream sprinkled with tiny shreds of orange peel. Serve the stem rounds on the plates with the pumpkins, if you wish. Makes 8 servings.
PUMPKIN IN THE KITCHEN MEANS AUTUMN IS IN THE AIR