With autumn in the air, we will inevitably see a sudden wealth of goods on store shelves and out at eateries flavored with that seminal, seasonal squash: pumpkin. And with Halloween just around the corner, you will also probably see bins full of the brightly-colored squash at your local supermarkets. First off, there’s a difference between pumpkins for carving and pumpkins for eating. Small, thin-skinned varieties are generally cultivated for consumption while the carving pumpkins are fairly bland. Then there are those monster-sized pumpkins that are bred for vegetable-growing competitions and would be kinda scary to try to work with in the kitchen. With some weighing in at some 1,500 pounds, one wrong slice and I’d fear being squashed by a squash. But though we mainly turn to pumpkins for pie-making purposes, the vegetable is much more versatile. So perhaps it’s time to think outside the pie crust and consider other ways you can put pumpkin on your table.
For most recipes, like soups and breads, a can of pumpkin puree should do you just fine and it’s a product that should be readily available at your grocery store next to the cans of pumpkin pie filling. You may have to hunt around a bit if you’re bent on using food-grade pumpkins hot off the vine, but there are a few varieties you can keep an eye out for.
Pumpkin Seeds: These are the only parts of your jack-o-lantern that you should consider eating. While you should totally toss the stringy squash intestines, the seeds are quite tasty once cleaned, dried, hulled, seasoned and toasted. These are great on their own as a snack, or you can use them to dress up salads or an autumnal trail mix.
Dips and Spreads: Looking for another pumpkin-centric snack or appetizer? Puree the meat with seeds and cashews, or pair it with cream cheese for something a little sweeter. You can also create a pumpkin-y spin on hummus, that traditional Middle Eastern chickpea spread.
Soups: Pumpkin can be used on its own to make a soup, or it can be paired with other seasonal veggies—such as potatoes and turnips—to make a hot and hearty meal on a cool evening. And what could be easier that popping prepped veggies in a pot, cooking them down and then pureeing everything? I personally have tried the combination of pumpkin and peanut butter in a recipe from the New Basics Cookbook, which was a sweet and savory soup. (Though I might try organic peanut butter, or something with reduced sugar the next time I make this.) If you’re hankering for stew, you can always throw a few cubes of pumpkin into the pot.
Stuffed: It’s true—a hollowed-out pumpkin can hold more than a candle. In French cooking, pumpkins are used more in savory dishes, such as stuffed pumpkin. Packed with bread, cheese, garlic and herbs and cooked until you can easily pierce the skin, this can make a hearty dinner. But also explore other combinations of ingredients to use, which can be completely vegetarian, use a combination of meats that will pique the appetite of the carnivores around your table or even use dried fruits if you’re in the mood for something sweeter.
Breads: Looking for a pumpkin dessert alternative that doesn’t involve a custard filling? Pumpkin can also be used in spiced breads, a slice of which can be a great finish to a meal. Or, with the aid of some cream cheese filling, enjoy a decadent sandwich to sate the sweet tooth. But you can also go the savory route and make breads to complement your dinner course. In lieu of nutmeg and cinnamon, spice up your pumpkin puree with herbs like chive, basil and coriander, try flatbreads that pair pumpkin with onion, or even go for a simple variation on potato rolls (just sub in squash for your starchy, mashed tubers).