How to Cook a Pumpkin
I love fresh pumpkin and use it instead of canned in all my recipes. Here's a quick lesson in how I cook and freeze pumpkin puree. It takes a little more effort than buying a can, but it's well worth it!
How to Cook a Pumpkin
It FINALLY feels like fall! Nothing says fall more than changing leaves and pumpkins! As you know, in October, we'll be cooking with pumpkins! Pumpkins are a versatile squash, used in so much more than just pie. Now, I'm all about ease with my cooking, really. But what are you honestly going to do with those three pumpkins you bought this last week to make your place more festive? If you live in an apartment like I do-it's not like you can carve them and put them on your front porch...and we are a little too old to go throwing them on the sidewalk just to smash them and make a big mess. ...Right? That's not exactly the neighborly thing to do. :)
Here's the thing: canned pumpkin doesn't even come CLOSE to how amazing fresh pumpkin tastes in a recipe. Most recipes call for a can of pumpkin, but fresh pumpkin puree can easily be substituted. I only cook with fresh pumpkin, and since I love it so much I figured we'd start this month with a quick lesson on how to cook a pumpkin.
1) Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
2) Pull or cut off the stem of the pumpkin
3) Slice pumpkin in half
4) Scoop out pulp and seeds. Separate the seeds if you want to toast them and eat them.
You can use a melon baller, a really good ice cream scoop (what I used), or just a spoon. Really scrape all that pulp and all the seeds off of the pumpkin so you're left with the fleshy part and the skin.
Note: Toasted seeds taste GREAT on top of soup and salads, and also make an excellent snack!
4) Place pumpkin skin side up on a baking sheet.
Be sure this baking sheet has a deep lip on it to catch any sort of liquid that is bound to cook out of the pumpkin-you don't want it to spill on the bottom of your oven. Also be sure that you've removed any necessary racks in your oven so the top of the pumpkin doesn't touch the top of the oven. That will make it burn and your house will smell.
5) You'll want to cook it until a knife can easily be inserted through the skin side.
For a pie pumpkin (a small pumpkin yielding roughly 1 to 2 cups of pumpkin puree) it will take about 30 minutes. For a larger pumpkin (about 4-5 lbs yielding roughly 8 cups of puree) it will take roughly an hour. It really varies.
6) Remove from oven and let cool a little bit so you don't burn your hands.
Be careful-there will probably be juice cooked out of the pumpkin sloshing around on that baking sheet. Steady hands-get help if the pumpkin is heavy!
7) While pumpkin is still warm, remove the skin. This is easier to do when warm-just don't try to remove the skin while the pumpkin is hot. You'll burn yourself!
8) Puree the cooked fleshy part of the pumpkin.
This can be done in multiple ways: the easiest way is to use a blender (specifically, I used a small blender that makes dips and such). You can also use a hand blender or even a ricer (Which, my mother uses. It really takes forever and I would not recommend that, but it's tradition...and sometimes traditions don't always make things easier) :)
There are other ways to cook pumpkin: some people cube and boil their pumpkin, but I always bake. It's how I was taught by my mom when I was little. I've also heard some people strain some water out of the pumpkin puree, especially for recipes that call for a can of pumpkin-since canned pumpkin contains less water. I've never done this and have never had a problem. In that regard, I'd imagine it's all about how you cooked your pumpkin (boiled or baked) and how juicy your pumpkin is.
I separate my pumpkin puree into 1 cup increments and freeze it. This way, I only have to defrost what I need, and I'll have pumpkin ready to go for any fall recipe I might want to try. Pumpkin will stay in the freezer for months-so you can still use some for that Thanksgiving pie you said you'd bring for dessert.
It takes a little more effort to cook and puree your own pumpkin than to just buy the can. And, if you're short on time or oven space-canned pumpkin is not a bad way to go at all, but if you have a little time-fresh pumpkin is well worth it. Pumpkin is only in season for a couple of months, so enjoy this amazing squash and stock up! Because the puree freezes so well, it tastes great all winter long!
Saturday we'll be making a pumpkin soup. This is not your basic soup...it's a recipe that just came to my attention last week that I found in my cookbook calling for coconut milk and some diced jalapeno peppers. It's unique, but I bet it will be fantastic. We'll try it out together this weekend.