Sunday, October 28, 2012

Pumpkinfest Begins

Ah, the signs of fall: moderate winds, rain, crsip & cool air, dropping temperatures...well at least the last couple days anyways! Hurricane Sandy seems to have sent a low pressure zone our way, and I sure am glad. I love fall! But I really missed it last year, my first fall in San Antonio. This year, fall is really starting to feel like fall. And what comes with fall? Great fall foods: sweet potatoes, white potatoes, a new variety of squashes, carrots, beets, apples, and pumpkin. And also different spices: goodbye basil and hello curry, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves. And my favorite of all these new flavors is pumpkin. Yes, pumpkin. And not just pumpkin pie, which is a holiday fave of mine, but also soups and casseroles and stir-frys and italian food and tex-mex.

Fairytale & Cinderella Pumpkins

I fell in love with fresh pumpkin in Fall of 2008. I remember it as if it were yesterday: my husband (then still my boyfriend) and I ventured into central Virginia in search of a fall festival experience. We visited Belvedere Plantation, aa farm that seemed to exist solely for the purpose of the fall festival. There cute farm animals, pig races, pies for sale, hay rides, pumpkin chunkin', the pumpkin patch, and a varied pumpkin marketplace. We chose our jack-o-lanterns from the patch (an experience I miss here in San Antonio) and headed into the marketplace. There were crazy pumpkin varieties I had never seen before, such as Red Warty Things and Cinderella pumpkins. Under each variety was a tag describeing what the pumpkins can be used for. Under both the aforementioned pumpkins, the signs said, "great for cooking." "Cook a pumpkin?" I thought. I couldn't believe that anyone did such a thing. But I was curious and picked up a red warty thing and a cinderella pumpkin. That Thanksgiving, I cooked my first pumpkin pie from scratch, and it was the best I'd ever had. From then on, I've been hooked, cooking fresh pumpkin dishes throughout the fall, starting just before Halloween until I run out. This season, I'll be sharing my pumpkin adventures.

Since this weekend has really made me feel the fall spirit, I decided to cut open my first pumpkin. The HEB at Lincoln Heights and the commissary at Ft. Sam have a good variety of pumpkins, including the varieties mentioned above, so there are plenty of kinds of pumpkins to experiment with. I'll be sharing my experiments and recipes from now until the pumpkin is all used up. First of all, let's talk about how to prepare it.

When I first made fresh pumpkin, I steamed it. It worked just fine for cooking the pumpkin, but it also made it a little watery. I much prefer to roast it.


One Pumpkin (here I used a Cinderella), cut in half
Olive Oil
Salt & Pepper to taste

Freshly cut!
Pre-heat oven to 425 degrees. Drizzle pumpkin halves with olive oil, about 1 tbs each. Dash with salt & pepper. Cook for 40 minutes or until the flesh begins to separate from the skin and you can easily stick a fork all the way in.

That's it! You're done!

Inspired by a recipe for vegetable jambalaya in Vegetarian Times, I decided to give a typical pumpkin soup a little heat.

Olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
1 1/2 garlic cloves, minced
1 medium parsnip (or more if you really like the flavor), diced
2 medium celery stalks, sliced
About 3 cups of pumpkin flesh
Cayenne Pepper
Chili Powder
2 cups vegetable broth (or as much as you need to get the consistency you like)
Salt & Pepper to taste
Heavy whipping cream

Heat 1 tbs olive oil in a large sauce pot on medium heat. Cook onions (seasoned with salt & pepper) about 8 minutes or until almost cooked. Add garlic. Cook 1 minute. Add parsnip and celery. Season with salt, pepper, a dash of cayenne, and a dash of chili powder. Cook until soft. Add pumpkin (I mentioned 3 cups above, but I don't really measure when I cook. Just make sure that there is much more pumpkin than the other vegetables. I may have put in four cups or so.). Season with a large dash of cinnamon, salt, pepper, a dash of cayenne, and a dash of chili powder. The pumpkin is already cooked, so just cook long enough to heat through. Remove from heat. Use an immersion blender to roughly blend the vegetables. Add broth and blend until smooth. Put back on heat to heat through. Serve with a dash of heavy whipping cream.

Make sure you go easy on the cayenne. I accidently made this soup burn-my face-off-hot. Of course, my husband thought it only had a hint of heat. So I just added a little more cream to take the edge off.

Next up: Pumpkin Mac 'n' Cheese (or pumpkin & apple cookies, depending on how I feel)

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