One of my 3 year-old daughter’s books is about growing a pumpkin from seedling to harvest. It’s fun to read through the stages from a little sprout to a humongous grown up vegetable – indeed it’s a fascinating story - at least for a chef and a 3 year old! To me, it’s somewhat amazing how large a pumpkin can grow. For sure later in the season we will hear about pumpkin growing competitions where the winning vegetable will most likely weigh around 1000lbs! Hayrides are soon going to be a weekend activity and carving a scary face into a jack-o’lantern is a must just before Halloween. Yes, the colorful fall season has approached and the predominant hues of light brown and orange landscapes with deep-golden sunsets is evident.
The last few days I have been roasting, grilling, boiling, peeling, cubing, mashing and shaving pumpkins in many ways imaginable. A sizeable pumpkin of about 20 pounds invites prepping and cooking several dishes at once. In my opinion, this size has an ideal flavor with a distinctive nuttiness and it’s tender enough to eat raw in thinly shaved preparations. When pumpkins are smaller or larger they tend to be stringy, watery, and too hard or simply have no flavor. Our household counts three - between my spouse, daughter and myself, so a 20 lb pumpkin can feed us for about three days and offers a good opportunity to show off various cooking techniques and styles.
One perfectly suitable recipe is pumpkin soup since there will always be some peel, seeds or cut-off scraps which make a great soup instead of going into the garbage bin.
(recipe makes about 15 cups)
1 pumpkin about 20 pounds; use one quarter for the soup the other parts can be prepared into other pumpkin dishes
½ teaspoon of salt and more to taste
10 black pepper grindings from a mill
½ teaspoon nutmeg, freshly ground preferably
½ teaspoon cinnamon, freshly ground preferably
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons honey
1-½ cups unsweetened coconut milk or 1 can
1. Rinse pumpkin with water and wipe dry with kitchen paper towel.
2. With a chef’s knife cut pumpkin in half. With a kitchen spoon, scrape seeds out of cavity. Put seeds into a 2-gallon sized pot. Cut one half into four more wedges.
3. Two wedges are used for the soups. The two other pumpkin wedges can be spiced and cooked the same way for pumpkin puree. Season them with salt, pepper, nutmeg, cinnamon and extra virgin olive oil. Drizzle honey over the pumpkin wedges.
4. Put seasoned pumpkin wedges into the cold oven and set temperature to 350F for 45 minutes. The pumpkin should be soft-cooked. You should be able to poke a knife through the pumpkin “flesh” into the skin. In addition, it should have a brown-roasted appearance. If not, roast for 10 more minutes or until soft. Cool pumpkin for 15 minutes on the kitchen counter. With a spoon scrape the pumpkin “flesh” out of the shell.
Preparing the rest of the pumpkin: During the roasting process peel the other half of pumpkin with a chef’s knife and cut into 1-inch cubes. Roast the cubes in a skillet with vegetable oil and season with salt and pepper and sprinkle with cheddar or Parmesan.
5. Combine peel and unevenly sized pieces with the seeds into the pot. Cover pumpkin scraps with 3 quarts of water and bring to boil on high heat setting. Add roasted pumpkin peel from the roasting process. Continue to cook pumpkin broth for 30 minutes longer. Strain pumpkin broth through a colander. Throw out scraps. In a blender combine scooped-out pumpkin “flesh” with pumpkin broth. Fill blender container no more than 3/4 way - close with the blender lid. Secure blender top with a folded kitchen towel to prevent the soup from spilling over the sides. Process soup for 3 minutes. Pour soup into the pot and cook on medium heat setting. Add coconut milk and season to taste with salt and fresh pepper from the mill. Add more pumpkin broth if the soup is too thick or adjust to yourdesired consistency.
Chef’s tip: Serve the soup along with crusty French bread or drizzle your favorite bread with extra virgin olive oil and heat in a toaster or in a skillet on low heat setting.