Produce of the Week - Pumpkins
sponsored by Coleman Farms
Now that the season for their decorative use is past, it's possible to take Pumpkin seriously as food. If you thought you'd already done so, in the form of pumpkin pie, you probably hadn't: most pies called 'pumpkin' are really made from squash (banana or butternut, for example) or sweet potatoes.
Pumpkins, a type of Curcurbita, have been taken seriously for a very long time - some eight to ten thousand years according to one source (http://www.medisite.fr/Potiron.html) when their use as an important food source in Central America seems to date from. Pumpkin is worth taking seriously - it's the antithesis of junk food: all nutrition and few calories. It's got about the same calories per unit of weight as carrots, while containing a lot of potassium and significant amounts of calcium, iron and magnesium, as well as those trace elements which one could zinc about at the risk of being boron. Beta-carotene, the vitamin A precursor, is found abundantly here, together with significant amounts of vitamin C and a range of B vitamins in more modest quantities. That's just the flesh; the seeds are something else, having roughly the nutritive properties of a peanut, though probably a broader range of phytochemicals and, since you'll eat the shell, a lot of fiber.
The pumpkin we're talking about here isn't the one commonly used for death's heads, and shaped something like a Delicious apple, but the flatter more sculpted variety shaped much like a Kaki persimmon with convex fluting. This sort of pumpkin has more flesh than the former variety and flesh which, I think, is more suited to cooking and, having more flavor, to eating (though I may be mistaken, not having cooked one of the former for some years). The flesh contains a lot of water, which you want to take into consideration when cooking. Pumpkin can be used cooked al dente, reduced to a puree, or anywhere between, but the high water content causes it to make the transition from firm to dissolute rapidly, rather as Zucchini do, and quite unlike a Carrot, say. The texture of the Pumpkin I'm using is not so creamy as Butternut squash nor so firm as Carrot, while the sweetness is somewhere between Butternut and Banana squash.
Pumpkin is versatile both with regard to method of cooking and the sort of dish it ends up in. Puree, braise, steam or roast it; serve it as a sweet (pie, beignets, souffle) or savory (baked braised or steamed as a side dish, as a major ingredient in a vegetable curry, in stirr fry, in mixed vegetables). Think of a triangle with cumin, cinnamon and chile at the apices, and flavor pumpkin with anything inside the triangle, including the mints (mint, oregano, marjoram), nutmeg, ginger. Having done this, you're still largely free to serve it sweet or not. And don't forget the onions and garlic.
It's telling that 'pumpkin' in Google returns entries containing 'carve' or 'face'. More useful for us:
The last one has a recipie for pumpkin/cardamom cappucino.