Indigenous to South America, pumpkins are widely cultivated across the world and considered an important food source for many. Pumpkin can refer to any hard-skinned winter squash and the line that separates pumpkin from squash has never been clearly defined, as the terms are frequently used interchangeably.
What is pumpkin? A member of the gourd family technically named the Cucurbita family, consisting of all summer and winter squash as well as cucumbers and melons. There are over 25 varieties of pumpkin grown in the states with the traditional American pumpkin being the Connecticut field variety. Young pumpkin leaves are valued as a cooked vegetable in many countries, especially Italy and Asia, and are a superb source of vitamin C and beta-carotene. Pumpkin blossoms stuffed, or battered and fried, are prized as a delicacy. Conflicting reports state the majority of canned pumpkin is actually Hubbard and / or butternut squash however, the Libby Corporation reports from the self-proclaimed pumpkin capital of the world, Morton, Illinois that a special thinned skin and thick-fleshed variety of pumpkins are used for canning. The latest trend in pumpkins is for the mini varieties, used for stuffing or as edible serving vessels. Pumpkin seeds are used as snacks, garnishes, sauces and produce highly aromatic oil when pressed.
Nutritional value. Very healthy, pumpkin is 90 percent water with large amounts of vitamin A and potassium as well as smaller amounts of vitamin C and fiber. One cup of diced cooked pumpkin contains approximately 50 calories where as one cup of pureed pumpkin contains approximately 80 calories.
Selecting fresh pumpkin. Eighty percent of the pumpkin supply in the United States is available in October. With any pumpkin or winter squash, choose rock-solid specimens and reject any that are soft or have bruises or blemishes. It is important to buy pumpkins with at least 1 -2 inches of stems attached as a pumpkin with the stem cut to low can decay quickly. Jack-o-lantern varieties can be cooked with great results but the best cooking pumpkins are the pie, or sweet pumpkins.
Storing fresh pumpkin. It is not necessary to refrigerate pumpkin or winter squash varieties. Purchased fresh and stored at cool room temperature with adequate ventilation, they can last for months. Higher temperature storage shortens the shelf life. Once pumpkin or squash is cut, it should be refrigerated.
General uses. Pumpkin is not suitable for eating raw but is delicious when pickled, made into compote or chutney. Pumpkin is used in savory as well as sweet preparations and can be served as appetizer, salad, side dish and dessert. Pumpkin produces a velvety and complex soup as well as puree or mash, and is delicious in casseroles, stews and braises. Baking pumpkin increases the flavor profile and has an affinity to sweet flavors such as maple syrup and brown sugar as well as spices like ginger, nutmeg and cinnamon. Pumpkin can be micro waved, steamed and simmered in salted water, as well as cubed and sautéed until tender. Pumpkin can be substituted for any winter squash recipe.
Preparation. The pumpkin can be smashed to break it open or cut with a heavy knife or cleaver. Scrape out all the seeds along with the stringy mass. The pumpkin can be cooked with the skin on and then peeled easily after cooking or alternately, peeled raw and then cooked. One-pound raw pumpkin yields about one cup puree.
Serve this soup in hollowed out baked mini pumpkins or in warmed bowls. A dollop of unsweetened whipped cream, julienne apple, toasted pumpkin seeds, snipped chives and / or a drizzle of dark pumpkin seed oil all make wonderful garnishes.
2 tbsp whole butter (1 oz)
3 medium-large cloves garlic, sliced
1 tsp grated fresh ginger
1.25 cup peeled onion, diced (6 oz)
1 cup cleaned leeks, sliced, white and tender green portion only (3 oz)
2 tbsp dry white wine
1 tbsp dry sherry
2.25 pounds peeled pumpkin, rough 1” dice (approximately 8 cups) (1 small 3.25# whole pumpkin)
5 cups natural chicken stock
1 small bay leaf
3 fresh large sage leaves
kosher salt and fresh cracked pepper to taste
½ cup heavy cream
Saute the garlic slices in the butter until lightly browned over medium heat. Add the ginger, onion and leek, turn heat to low and sweat covered until tender, about 5 minutes. Add white wine, sherry and simmer uncovered until all wine is evaporated. Add pumpkin, stock, bay leaf and sage. Bring to a simmer and cook gently until the pumpkin is very tender, about 30 minutes. Remove bay leaf and sage and puree soup until smooth in blender or food processor. Strain through medium fine strainer (china cap), season to taste, finish with heavy cream, reheat and serve.