I'm sure like many of you, one of my favorite Halloween traditions was pumpkin carving. Picking out the perfect pumpkin was quite the ordeal. Every year my elementary school would have some sort of fundraiser, loading the school stage with hay bales and pumpkins. I would usually pick out the biggest pumpkin there and somehow convince my mom that I needed at least three of them. I can hear it now: Z. telling me I haven't changed at all with that exasperated sigh that I find endlessly entertaining.
Carving would wait until a Friday or Saturday night because this undertaking required an entire evening. We covered the entire table with layers of newspapers. I couldn't wait to get my little hands inside the pumpkin, scooping out slimy, stringy seeds. When that task was done, I would draw a face on the pumpkin that I would then carve. I had no creativity when it came to drawing nor the skills required so I usually ended up with lot of geometric shapes: triangle eyes and a big smiling mouth with triangle-shaped teeth.
I couldn't wait to turn the lights off and see my pumpkin glowing for the first time. I always made a concerted effort to place the tea light in just the right spot where you could not see it when looking directly at the pumpkin. Then, my pumpkins would be placed on the front stoop, decorating our concrete steps until a few days after Halloween. I was always a little sad to see those soft, now off-colored squashes be thrown away.
This year, instead of making a jack-o-lantern, I tried roasting a pumpkin. I was home alone for an entire weekend and the pumpkin adventure helped keep me entertained. Currently, I have tried four new pumpkin recipes, five if you include roasting the thing.
I love the homemade pumpkin puree I created. I think all my recipes benefited from having the freshest pumpkin possible and the roasting brought out the pumpkin's sweetness and depth. I definitely would not recommend this to someone who is not comfortable in the kitchen or does not want to dedicate an entire afternoon to a pumpkin. If it tells you anything about how delicious the pumpkin was, I'm roasting another pumpkin or two before they disappear for the season.
To begin, I removed the seeds. My pumpkin was too large just to cut in half so I ended up slicing it in thirds. The difficulty in cutting the pumpkin would be my biggest reason for not recommending this recipe to those not as experienced in the kitchen. I took my time, getting a cut started, then after making sure all fingers were accounted for and out of the way, I kind of wedged the knife and split a section of the pumpkin open.
After I had my wedges of pumpkin, I scooped out the seeds and pulp. I never liked our homemade roasted pumpkin seeds with the outside white shell. I do love pepitas so I tried hulling the pumpkin seeds myself. FAILURE ALERT. I looked up many different tips and suggestions on how to hull pumpkin seeds. The directions were all very similar. So, I washed the seeds, boiled them for 30 minutes, and tried to open the shells (a few folks that I came across suggested waiting for the clean seeds to dry then gently crushing the shells). The hull was very soft but unless there was a tear, the inner seed or pepita did not want to come out. It was infuriating work so I gave up.
The rest of the roasting process was simple. I sprayed the cut sides of the pumpkin with nonstick cooking spray, placed the pumpkin chunks cut-side down on a baking sheet, and placed in a oven that had been preheated to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. To get really soft pumpkin, I'm talking I started creating pumpkin mash just by pressing the pumpkin with a finger, I let it roast for about 1 hour. I removed the baking sheet from the oven and let the pumpkin cool until I could touch the flesh. I then removed the skin.
|Here's another tip: Let the pumpkin cool and the skin comes off very easily.|
I had removed about half of the pumpkin from the oven after about 45 minutes. My intention was that half the pumpkin would be puree and the other half would be more firm and diced. Well, that plan did not work so well. The pumpkin was very soft and then didn't have much texture when I tried cooking with it. I only made one recipe with diced pumpkin. I'm not giving up! I'll just have to cook it even less next time.
In batches, I pureed the pumpkin in my food processor/blender until very smooth. The pumpkin was so soft and tender that this took hardly any time but I did have to frequently scrape down the sides to make sure the whole batch was processed. As this was a smaller pumpkin and I had lots of recipes to make, I stored the fresh pumpkin puree in the refrigerator. If I was planning on keeping the puree longer, I would suggest freezing the puree in freezer bags and laying them flat. If I am freezing something with a more liquid texture, I can pretty easily break off the amount of food I'd like to use when frozen in a freezer bag. This is what I did with my pumpkin puree for my pumpkin smoothie.