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Pumpkins – they’re not just for carving

Remember back in June when we had a runaway pumpkin vine in the compost pile producing squash blossoms? We have been having an abundance of pumpkins in our garden from that one vine and instead of just decorating with them I finally decided to get serious and cook the cute little things. I still have several in an attractive arrangement on the kitchen mantel for use later this winter.

These are the little sweet pumpkins, not to be confused with the jack-o’-lanterns. They belong to the winter squash family (as do butternut and acorn) and are delicious prepared in similar ways.

Sugar pumpkins just look and taste like October. Their solid texture turns creamy with roasting, steaming, sautéing, or puréeing. Their sweet flavor works well with sweet ingredients like honey, maple, brown sugar, and molasses. They also work well with savory flavors such as crushed red pepper, salty cheeses, and wild mushrooms. Assertive herbs are also good with pumpkin, such as cilantro, rosemary, and sage.

Here are a few ways to try the sugar pumpkin. First, you need to halve, seed, and peel the pumpkin, then coat chunks with olive oil, butter, salt, pepper, and lime juice. Roast for about 45 minutes to an hour at 375°F. Sprinkle with fresh thyme when tender.

Salad: Toss chunks of roasted sugar pumpkin into a lettuce salad and toss with a balsamic vinaigrette.

Pilaf: Stir cubes of roasted pumpkin into wild rice toward the end of cooking; season with rosemary.

Soup: Simmer cubed sugar pumpkin into vegetable stock, along with sautéed onions, chopped sage, salt, and pepper. Puree.

Gratin: In a buttered baking dish, mix slices of roasted sugar pumpkin with sautéed leeks, goat cheese, and chopped toasted hazelnuts. Drizzle with cream; bake gratin until heated through.

I tried two new ways for using the sugar pumpkin, one in a risotto and another in a flan.

The risotto was wonderful and we ate it for several days. The flan was a great dessert, not too sweet with a taste of lemon in the flan and the sauce. I would highly recommend these two recipes.

These are from Patricia Wells’ book, Vegetable Harvest. She suggests that you cut off about ½ inch of the bottom half of the pumpkin so it can stand firmly and evenly on the cutting board. Then carefully cut the pumpkin in half, removing and discarding the seeds and fibrous interior. When peeling pumpkins and squash, use a vegetable peeler to remove the tough outer skin.

Pumpkin and Sage Risotto

The Pumpkin:

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1 shallot, trimmed, peeled, and minced

Fine sea salt

2 cups ½-inch cubes of peeled pumpkin

8 leaves fresh sage, cut into fine chiffonade

2 cups chicken stock

The Rice:

About 5 cups chicken stock

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1 garlic clove, peeled and halved

1 shallot, trimmed, peeled, and minced

Fine sea salt

1 ½ cups Arborio rice

½ cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

A chunk of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese for grating as garnish

Coarsely ground white pepper for garnish

In a medium saucepan, combine the oil, shallot, and salt, then sweat with the saucepan covered (soften the onion but do not brown) for three to four minutes. Add the cubed pumpkin, half the sage, and the 2 cups stock. Cover and simmer until the pumpkin is cooked but still slightly firm, about 10 minutes.

In a large saucepan, heat the 5 cups stock and keep it simmering, at barely a whisper, while you prepare the risotto.

In another saucepan, melt the unsalted butter over low heat. Add the garlic, shallot, and salt and sweat—cook covered over low heat without coloring until soft and translucent—three to four minutes. Remove and discard the garlic. Add the rice and stir until the rice is well coated with the fat. (This step is important for good risotto: the heat and fat will help separate the grains of rice, ensuring a creamy consistency in the end.)

When the rice becomes glistening and semi-translucent, add a ladleful of the stock. Cook, stirring constantly until the rice has absorbed most of the stock, one to two minutes. Add another ladleful of the simmering stock and stir regularly until the stock is absorbed. Adjust the heat as necessary to maintain a gentle simmer. The rice should cook slowly and should always be covered with a veil of stock. Continue adding ladlefuls of stock, stirring frequently and tasting regularly, until the rice is almost tender but firm to the bite, about 17 minutes total. The risotto should have a creamy, porridgelike consistency.

Remove the saucepan from the heat and stir in the cheese and the cooked, drained pumpkin. Taste for seasoning. Transfer the risotto to warmed soup bowls. Garnish with shavings of fresh Parmesan and the remaining chiffonade of sage leaves. Season with coarsely ground white pepper. Serve immediately.

Pumpkin Flan with Lemon Sauce

Needed equipment: a 9.5 inch springform pan and a food processor or blender

Butter and flour for the pan

3 cups pumpkin purée (roast the pumpkin and then purée-1 pumpkin will make 3 cups)

¾ cup 1 percent milk

1/3 cup sugar

1/3 cup unbleached all-purpose flour

Grated zest of 1 lemon, preferably organic

½ teaspoon fine sea salt

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

3 large eggs, lightly beaten

Lemon Sauce:

Grated zest of 1 lemon, preferably organic

3 tablespoons sugar

1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Butter and flour the pan and set aside.

In a food processor or a blender, combine the pumpkin purée, milk, sugar, flour, lemon zest, salt, vanilla, and eggs. Process to blend.

Pour the mixture into the prepared pan. Place the pan in the center of the oven and bake until golden and firm, and a toothpick inserted into the center of the flan comes out clean, 35-40 minutes.

Transfer to a rack to cool. After 10 minutes, run a knife around the edges of the pan. Release and remove the side of the springform pan, leaving the flan on the pan base.

While the flan cools, prepare the sauce: Combine the lemon zest, sugar, and lemon juice in a small saucepan and simmer over low heat until the sugar is dissolved, two to three minutes.

Serve the flan warm or at room temperature. Cut it into thin wedges and top with the warm lemon sauce.

This has only 69 calories per servings and 1 gram of fat. Not bad for a good dessert! This would make a nice lite Thanksgiving dessert in place of the traditional pumpkin pie.