We all have out own reasons for liking pumpkins. For children, pumpkins are jack-o-lanterns, symbols of costume parties and trick-or-treating. For the farmer, pumpkins mark the beginning of the fall harvest. And for most adults, pumpkins mean pumpkin pie and the coming of Thanksgiving.
But there is no reason to limit our culinary use of pumpkins to pie alone. Pumpkin can be made into other exciting dishes. It can be peeled and saute'ed like any other squash, it can be cut into chunks and pickled, it can be made into breads and cakes, and it can even be frozen into a great autumn ice cream.
Following are four excellent but little-known uses for this season's most well known and little-eaten vegetable. All call for pumpkin pure'e. Canned pumpkin pure'e (not pumpkin pie filling, which is sweetened and sometimes spiced as well) can be used, or you can prepare your own.
To make two cups of pumpkin pure'e, you'll need a piece of pumpkin that weighs about 1 1/2 pounds. If using a whole pumpkin, cut it in half and scoop out the seeds and connective fibers. (Wash the seeds and dry them in a slow oven, if you wish.) Cut the pumpkin into pieces that can be handled easily and peel with a sharp paring knife. Cut into equal-sized cubes of about 1 inch. Place about 1 1/2 inches of hot water in the bottom of a steamer and bring to a boil. Set the rack in place, add 2 1/2 cups of cubed fresh pumpkin and steam until tender, about 6 minutes. Pure'e in a food processor.
The pure'e then can be frozen for as long as three months, refrigerated for three or four days, or used immediately in these recipes: PUMPKIN SOUP (8 servings)
This pale orange cream of pumpkin soup has a delicate flavor that is sharply contrasted by its garnish of very finely shredded Virginia ham and chopped chives 6 tablespoons unsalted butter 1 medium carrot, finely chopped 1 small onion, finely chopped 3 tablespoons flour 2 1/4 cups chicken stock 2 1/4 cups light cream 2 cups pumpkin pure'e Salt Freshly ground black pepper About 1/2 cup cooked Virginia ham, cut in very fine julinne 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh chives
Melt the butter in a large saucepan and add the carrot and onion. Cook slowly until tender, about 6 minutes. Stir in the flour and cook for 1 minute longer.
With a wire whisk, beat the stock, cream and pumpkin pure'e into the vegetables and bring to a boil over medium low heat, stirring occassionally. Reduce heat slightly and simmer for 10 minutes. In batches, pure'e soup in a blender or food processor. Taste, then season with salt and pepper.
Bring back to a boil before serving. Garnish each bowl of soup with some of the ham and a scant teaspoon of the chives. TIMBALES OF PUMPKIN (8 servings)
Delicately flavored, finely textured vegetable custards, known as timbales, can add a note of elegance to the simplest of dinners. Serve these with a roast chicken or poached fish. 4 cups pumpkin pure'e 2 cups milk 6 eggs 2 tablespoons light brown sugar 2 pieces (each about 1/2-inch long) preserved ginger or 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger Salt Freshly ground black pepper Butter for molds
In batches, combine the pumpkin, milk, eggs, sugar and ginger in a blender or food processor and pure'e until smooth, about 3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Pour into buttered ovenproof timbale molds or 6-to 8-ounce custard cups. Fill only three-quarters full.
Cover the timbales loosely with foil, arrange in a shallow roasting pan and add enough hot tap water to come two-thirds of the way up the sides of the molds. Bake in a 375-degree oven in the lower third of the oven until a toothpick inserted into the center of one of the timbales comes out clean, about 45 minutes.
Cool in the water bath for 15 minutes, then uncover, run the blade of a thin knife around the inside of the mold and invert onto a serving plate. Serve while still warm. PUMPKIN ICE CREAM (8 servings)
This lightly spiced pumpkin ice cream is gently enriched with eggs. Serve it anytime in autumn, or for an interesting alternative to pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving. 1 1/2 cups pumpkin pure'e 3/4 cup sugar 2 1/2 cups half-and-half 1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger 3/4 teaspoon cinnamon 3 eggs
In batches, combine all the ingredients in a blender or food processor and blend until smooth. Freeze in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's directions. GRAND PUMPKIN MOUSSE CAKE (12 servings)
This large, tall cake is made from layers of genoise, a delicate French butter spongecake, filled with a pumpkin mousse and frosted with sweetened whipped cream flavored with Grand Marnier. FOR THE GENOISE: 6 eggs 1 cup sugar 1 cup sifted flour 1/2 cup melted unsalted butter, cooled to room temperature 1 teaspoon vanilla extract FOR THE MOUSSE: 3/4 cup pumpkin pure'e 1/4 cup light brown sugar 1 teaspoon vanilla extract 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves 1/2 cup whipping cream FOR THE FROSTING: 2 1/2 cups whipping cream 5 tablespoons sugar 1/3 cup Grand Marnier
To prepare the genoise, combine eggs and sugar in a large mixing bowl and place it over a large saucepan filled with 2 inches of boiling water (as in a double boiler). Stir over simmering water until eggs feel lukewarm to touch, about 6 minutes. Remove bowl from saucepan and beat with an electric mixer until eggs have tripled in volume.
Carefully and gently fold the flour and butter, which has first been mixed with vanilla, into beaten eggs, adding only a quarter of flour or butter at a time. Do not overfold. Pour into 2 9-inch layer cake pans which have been lined with parchment. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes in a 350-degree oven or until lightly colored and pulling away from the sides of the pans.
Cool for 5 minutes in the pans, then turn out and complete the cooling on a rack. Leave the parchment in place until just before constructing the cake.
To prepare the mousse, combine the pumpkin, brown sugar, vanilla and spices in a large mixing bowl and mix well. Be certain there are no lumps of sugar in the mixture. Beat the cream until stiff, then fold into the pumpkin mixture. Refrigerate until ready to construct the cake.
To make the frosting, beat the cream until it reaches soft peaks, then gradually add the sugar, a tablespoon at a time, and continue beating until just stiff. Add the Grand Marnier, about 2 tablespoons at a time, and beat until well combined. Refrigerate until very cold.
To construct the cake: Remove the parchment and place one of the layers on a large serving plate. Spread a thick, even layer of the pumpkin mousse on top of the cake. Set the second layer of the cake in place over the pumpkin mousse and press gently together.
Spread the entire outside of the cake with a thick layer of the whipped cream, swirling a knife or spatula across the top surface to make a decorative pattern.