The past few days have been sunny, warm, t-shirt wearing days, but all around me are signs that it is, in fact, fall. The nights are cold, the mornings brisk, and the trees are beginning to turn to lovely shades of autumn. Ah, I can almost smell it.
Each year The Boyfriend grows his own pumpkins, and makes (what I hear) are out-of-this-world, famously good, pumpkin pies. This year, however, the pumpkin plant took a turn for the worst. Perhaps it was the pumpkin-flu that's been going around. Or, maybe, it's that we didn't water it soon enough during the hottest week of the year. *Shrug* whatever the cause, we don't have fresh lovely pumpkins of our own, so I went out and bought local, organic, as-close-as-I-could-find-to-our-backyard-pumpkins.
Don't they look like the Backstreet Boys? I'm going to name that front one Howie. How you doin', Howie? I'm about to gouge out your insides.
(Note: this is not a death threat to any members of the boy band).
So - why so many pumpkins? Because, because, because - of all the wonderful things they do! The Boyfriend and I are both pumpkin lovers (it's true, we're on the registry. Keep your children away, don't move into the neighborhood). Besides the many pies that will be made in the coming months, and pumpkin pancakes and pumpkin doughnuts, I have dozens of other pumpkin recipes just waiting to be tried!
All of those recipes, though, call for pumpkin puree... and while it may be tempting to buy the canned stuff, please, resist the urge. The secret to a wonderful pumpkin pie? Turns out, it's not the recipe - it's the ingredients. In fact, that's true of most things. Use the best ingredients you can find, and the dish gets that much better.
"You want me to roast a whole pumpkin every time I need a little puree?" you ask. No, not necessarily - the wonderful thing about homemade puree is that it can be easily frozen for later use - up to 8 months later use! That means pumpkin well into next year *jumps up and down* are you as excited as I am?
The other wonderful thing about pureeing is... it's easy! So easy, in fact, that I'm going to show you in detailed step-by-step photos how to do it, because I clearly don't think you're smart enough to figure it out on your own.
There are two ways to make pumpkin puree - roasting, and steaming - I'm going to show you both, and tell you which one I prefer.
#1 - Roasting Pumpkins
Music: I've Heard The Screams of the Vegetables, by The Arrogant Worms
Mood: Happy, Goofy
Equipment: Knife, Spoon, Oven (Preheated to 350f)
Start with a small, good looking pumpkin. How you doin', beautiful? Be sure to get 'sugar' or 'pie' pumpkins - they're a different variety than those commonly used for jack-o-lanterns, and result in a better flavor.
Then lop its head off.
Waste not, here - you can cut the meat from around the stem and use that, too. I did not, because I wanted to goof around with the pumpkin cap. Sadly, I did not take photos to document what a dork I am.
...Or did I?
I'm a wizard!
Pumpkin in half.
Scrape out the guts of the pumpkin into a bowl - whatever you do, I beg of you, don't dispose of the seeds. Later we'll talk about roasting, but for now, just set them aside.
Feel free to make gruesome sound effects during this part. In fact, the more gory the pumpkin massacre, the better the puree. You heard it here first.
Sometimes it's a bit tough to scrape out all the stringy bits, but don't worry about leaving a few behind. Just scrape them mostly clean, and lay them out on a baking sheet, like so:
Bake for 45-55 minutes, or until fork tender.
Voila! Like magic!
Let them rest and cool for a bit so you can handle them - if you'd like, you can drape a towel over them while they cool and the steam might help loosen the skins some.
With the help of a knife (butter knife should work), peel the skins back away from the flesh. If you're impatient like me, and skipped the part where I say to let it sit and cool, you're probably experiencing quite a bit of burning right now.
Once all the skins are removed, cut the flesh into manageable chunks (I've always wanted to say that) and add them to your food processor.
Pulse a few times to get things going, then blend until smooth.
If your puree is too dry, you can add a few drops of water - this has never been a problem for me, but I hear it can happen. If it's too wet, you can either strain it and remove all sorts of tastiness, or you can reduce it down in a pot on the stove. Up to you.
At this point you can use the puree right away, or store it. I like to measure it into freezer bags, about 1 cup per bag so I know how much I'm getting when I reach for one.
Zip up the bag almost all the way, then lay it flat and press most of the air out, making an even layer of puree.
Seal the rest of the way, label, and store in the freezer for 6-8 weeks.
Aren't photos fun?
#2 - Steaming Pumpkin
Music: Smashing Pumpkins
Attire: Pajamas, and now a hat
Equipment: Knife, spoon, steamer
Begin the same as before. Pumpkin, lop off its head, quarter it, scrape out the guts...
Now wait! This is where things go differently. Chop the pumpkin into 1-2 inch chunks, and put them in a steamer basket or handy-dandy rice cooker with steamer attachment. Unlike the roasting method, we're going to leave the skin on - just be sure to cut off any questionable parts before steaming.
Steam for 20-30 minutes (depending on the size of your chunks), or until fork tender through the skin.
And, as before, blend until smooth in the food processor and seal in plastic baggies for future use. If your puree is particularly thin or wet, you can strain it or reduce it in a pot on the stove until thickened.
You can see tiny flecks of the skin in this one, but it doesn't change the texture of whatever you're making. Plus, it adds fiber, and nutrients - yay!
So, which is my favorite method?
I'm not sure if it's the skin, or the moisture, but steaming the pumpkin seemed to result in a much sweeter, more flavorful puree. It was also significantly faster - definitely a bonus!
A couple notes:
1. if you wanted, you could mash your cooked pumpkin with a potato masher, pastry cutter, fist... whatever floats your boat. Food processor or blender are just faster, easier, and less hassle.
2. be careful putting hot things in your blender or food processor - be sure to pulse things a few times first before letting it spin.
Method number one is, I think, the more common way - it's the way I've always known, and results in a perfectly decent puree. Plus, if it's a crisp fall day, having the oven running is sometimes a nice way to warm up the house.
The second is The Boyfriend's method, and... as is his way... it's faster, easier, and tastier than the first. So, why am I even bothering to show you both? Because I can, that's why! And because it's good to have options.
Now, my initial plan was to make mass amounts of puree and save it to have on hand - but, as The Boyfriend pointed out, pumpkins will last in a cool dry place for several months if left whole. So, my new plan (master plan) is to keep the pumpkins around, making the puree as fresh as possible for each recipe. Any extras will get frozen, and any pumpkins left at the end of their life span will be turned into puree and saved.
Oh, and I almost forgot - what about those seeds I had you save earlier?
Easy Roasted Pumpkin Seeds
Remove the seeds from the stringy pumpkin innards into a strainer or colander.
Rinse thoroughly under cold water, and shake off the excess water (they'll still be kind of wet and slimy, but that's okay).
Spray or grease a baking sheet, and spread the seeds in a (somewhat) even layer. Sprinkle with salt, and roast in a 350f. oven for about 10-12 minutes, stirring halfway through.
These are the simplest version, but you can flavor them however you want. Add a little spice, a little sweetness, whatever sounds good to you. A tiny bit of butter and worscestershire is nice, I hear.
When I was a kid my mother would always roast the seeds from our jack-o-lanterns, so for me they're not only delicious but nostalgic. Definitely one of the best parts of pumpkin preparation, and so much better when you didn't have to spend half an hour scraping your cold little hands around inside a giant pumpkin in 40degree weather. Was I the only child messy enough to be told to carve their pumpkin outside? It sucks when it's cold.
Fall is one of the best times for cooking - its full of chill weather, warm blankets, cozy bowls of soup, and freshly baked breads and pies. Pumpkin is just one of the things I look forward to most, and this year I'm more excited than ever to be making my own puree. In fact, I'm off to stock up on even more pumpkins, in case there's some kind of pumpkin apocalypse. Fill the bomb shelter!
Expect to see pumpkin recipes, coming soon!