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Archive for Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Pumpkins not just for decoration

October 12, 2005

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This time of year it's almost impossible to enter a supermarket without having to navigate a pumpkin display. Pumpkins are piled high into pyramids, mounded in open bins or scattered atop bales of hay.

The reason pumpkins are an October commodity is, of course, that they can be carved up into jack-o'-lanterns. Most of us gave up long ago the idea that the pumpkin is a food source, even though it is a winter squash and kept many of our forebears nourished through harsh winters on the plain. When we need pumpkin pulp for some recipe today, we are more likely to scoop it out of a can than out of the cavity of the pumpkin itself.

While this is a decision based on convenience, it is also practical. Most recipes are developed with processed pumpkin pulp in mind. However, cookbooks that contain recipes using natural ingredients often call for cooked pumpkin, which generally refers to fresh pulp that has been baked.

In addition, the pumpkins that have been engineered for Halloween duty are not good eating pumpkins. If you are inclined to create your own pumpkin pulp, you'll need to start with a sugar pumpkin, also known as a pie pumpkin. It's a smaller squash than a jack-o'-lantern pumpkin, and the flesh is denser and more flavorful. Your grocer doesn't sell many of these, so you may have to ask someone in the produce department to point them out.

To cook fresh pulp, remove the seeds and strings from a pumpkin shell and cut it into chunks. Bake the pieces, covered with foil, on a greased cookie sheet at 425 degrees for about 45 minutes. Remove from the oven, peel off the skin and puree the pumpkin meat in a food processor. Whether this is worth an hour of your life is an intensely personal decision.

An easier way to get food value out of a pumpkin is to use the seeds, which are edible even from a jack-o'-lantern pumpkin. They will need to be separated from the stringy, slimy stuff inside the pumpkin, washed and dried.

To put them to good use, here's an interesting seasonal recipe that caught my eye a few years ago. This pesto can be used in a variety of ways, such as on pasta or bread, or even on chicken. The recipe is from Julee Rosso's "Great Good Food."

Pumpkin Seed Pesto

1 cup raw pumpkin seeds

1 cup fresh parsley

8 garlic cloves, peeled

5 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Zest of one lemon, grated

1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

6 tablespoons chicken broth

In a saute pan over low heat, dry-roast the pumpkin seeds, stirring constantly, for 5 minutes or until they finish popping. Remove the seeds from the heat and let cool.

In a blender, place the seeds, parsley, garlic, lemon juice, zest, pepper and salt. Blend to a paste. Slowly add the oil and broth and blend until smooth.

Transfer to a covered container and refrigerate until needed.

Makes 1 1/2 cups.

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