Wednesday, October 30, 2013

How to Roast and Puree a Pie Pumpkin

Halloween is one of my favorite holidays, mainly because of the excuse to pig out on candy and all things pumpkin. These days you can find a pumpkin flavored version of just about anything in the grocery store and I definitely don't hate it. Pumpkin is one of my favorite flavors to bake with especially when mixed with the right combination of spices and seasoning. My great-grandmother made homemade pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving using heavy cream and real pumpkin that she roasted and pureed herself at home. Inspired by her, I decided to forgo the usual Libby's can that I reach for this time of year and make my own pumpkin puree instead. I was so pleasantly surprised by how simple and tasty it was that I haven't used anything else since. Freshly pureed pumpkin has a sweet and mild squash flavor and a gorgeous, bright orange-yellow hue. The trick is to start with a pumpkin that is small in size and heavy in weight by comparison.

I'm lucky enough to be currently living in farm country VA, where a farmer down the road toured me around his place on his gator and helped me select this perfect pumpkin for only $2.00. But you can now buy pie pumpkins (sometimes called 'sugar' pumpkins) in most grocery stores or stands where you buy your jack-o-lanterns. For a size reference, I put mine next to a medium sized apple.

The first step is to split this baby open. I sliced the top stem off of mine and then cut it in half twice to get four, even-sized quarters.

Then I scraped the insides just as you would if you were carving a pumpkin for Halloween, and of course reserved the seeds for toasting.

Put the quarters in a baking dish, dot with butter and sprinkle with salt. Depending on what you're going to use the puree with, you can also start flavoring the pumpkin here by adding stems and leaves of your favorite fresh herbs. Rosemary and sage are my favorite herbs to use for most squashes.

Bake in a normal conventional oven at 350 degrees for about an hour, or until your pumpkin is soft all the way through and starts to look like this:

You may have to adjust the amount of butter or baste halfway through baking depending on how dry the pumpkin looks.

After roasting, peel the pumpkin "meat" away from the tough skin and puree in batches using a food processor, vitamix, or strong blender. I add a little hot water or melted butter to the mixture if it looks like it needs a little push. You should have a velvety texture and a bright orange color when all is said and done. From here you can refrigerate your puree for up to two weeks or freeze to use all season long. I add a scoop to oatmeal, pancake batter or milkshakes or use in place of Libby's for all baking purposes. Stay tuned for the not-so-average pumpkin cupcakes that resulted from this beauty!

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