Forget Jack-o-lanterns. I’m not a huge fan of carving pumpkins — my mind always fills uncomfortably with visions of slicing myself open rather than the pumpkin — although it should be noted that daughter Jen and her hubby Larry are pumpkin carvers extraordinaire! They produce amazing creations although I have heard rumors that sometimes power tools are involved.
But for me, it’s not the pumpkins for sale leading up to Halloween (for anywhere from about $2 to $5 or more) that interest me. It’s the pumpkins for sale the day AFTER Halloween when you can often find them for a penny apiece. Or even free, as was the case yesterday when the reality of being stuck with tons of pumpkins hit one local food purveyor and they put out the word that they were free for the taking.
And what do I do with these bargain pumpkins? Simple. Roast ’em up in the oven for the best (and cheapest) pumpkin puree. You know, rather than the stuff you buy in the cans at the supermarket.
Now, you will often read that only the small “pie” pumpkins or “sugar” pumpkins should be cooked up for cooking and I won’t dispute that they are, perhaps, more flavorful with better texture. But, frankly, all I’ve ever cooked are the regular old pumpkins sold for decoration and they turn out just fine!
That said, I’ve read that you shouldn’t actually cook your actual Jack-o-lantern for consumption (which is, perhaps, redundant since why else would you be cooking it?) since once it was carved, the flesh has now been exposed to pathogens, bugs, possibly mold, and just generally icky stuff. So it’s fine to use the Jack-o-lantern type of pumpkin, just don’t use your actual Jack-o-lantern, okay?
You’ll find lots of instructions around the internet for cooking pumpkin, but all too many of them have neglected to eliminate the slicing-yourself-open factor by having you cut the raw pumpkin up. No, no, no. There is no need at all for this! Trust me on this one.
Simply jab a nice sharp knife into the pumpkin a few times to create some places for steam to escape, put the whole dang thing into a big old pan, and stick it in the oven. (If you click on the “Ready for roasting” picture to see it full size, you can see the incisions I’ve made for the steam.)
If you’re only doing the pumpkin, the best temp seems to be around 350° for one to two hours (depending on how big your pumpkin is). But, it’s a very forgiving “recipe” so if you’re using your oven for something else at the same time — like here today when I’m also slow roasting a pan of cherry tomatoes at 250° — it should work fine. Just adjust your timing accordingly.
What you’re looking for is a nice soft pumpkin, so when it seems like it could be done, stick your nice sharp knife into it again and see what happens. If there’s very little resistance to a few pokes with your knife, you’re done. Still feeling a bit firm, just slide it back into the oven for a while.
When your pumpkin feels sufficiently pliant, just let it cool on the counter for a bit, then use a sharp chef’s knife and cut that big ol’ baby into wedges. (Careful with your first cut to see if there’s still very much steam.) When it’s cool enough to handle, just scrape the seeds out with a big spoon (a MUCH easier process now that it’s all cooked) and throw the seeds and stringy stuff away. If you’re feeling very ambitious, you can separate the seeds from the stringy stuff and dry and roast the seeds for a snack! My ambition seems to consistently fall a bit short at this juncture, so I just toss it (or compost it). The soft, cooked flesh should scoop away from the outer shell easily. If it doesn’t seem smooth enough, you can process batches of it in your blender.
Package into containers of your choice — zip-top bags, canning jars, plastic food storage tubs — and put some in the fridge for use within the next week and freeze the rest. We give our dogs pumpkin mixed with their kibble each night for dinner, so we’ll go through a tub or two of it in pretty short order. And what a good excuse to make pumpkin bread!
Have you cooked your pumpkins and what’s your favorite pumpkin recipe?