Sunday, October 28, 2012

How to Eat a Jack O'Lantern

It’s all well and good to know that there are carving pumpkins meant for Halloween night and cooking pumpkins grown and picked especially for pumpkin pies, pancakes and muffins.  True, the smaller cooking Sugar Pumpkin can be roasted or boiled to produce a smooth and rich puree fit for the finest Thanksgiving table dessert but what to do with the big jack o'lantern?  It’s October, when families carve their large-headed masterpieces. Aside from roasting the seeds, TV chefs and gardening experts who insist the big one is not for pie miss a fun teaching moment when kids are a lot more likely to try a food made from the fruits of their hobgoblin-ish labor.

Here are a few recipes using the coarser-fleshed carving pumpkin that will carry the day into a spooky night.

The carving pumpkin, or jack o’lantern, has a more fibrous pulp and a less intense pumpkin flavor.  With the top lopped off and seeds removed, you can shred the uncooked pumpkin inside with a fork to get strands that will remind you of spaghetti squash strands (detailed instruction below).  These are bit more fragile that spaghetti squash strands but can be quickly sautéed in olive oil and a pinch of garlic and served with some grated Parmesan cheese as a quick side. 

The shredded pumpkin can also be eaten raw in a salad inspired by the flavors in a Thai Green Papaya Salad, replacing the papaya with pumpkin (recipe below).  For an even simpler salad with stateside flavors, raw shredded pumpkin can be tossed with grated apple, chopped walnuts, plain yogurt, honey and maybe some raisins or dried cranberries. 

Shredded pumpkin can be cooked down with a little water and pureed with an immersion blender or food processor. (Cool the liquid first if using a blender for this task.)  Just be sure to cook the pumpkin down enough to reduce the water content and bring up the squash’s flavor.  Stirring the mixture will help keep it from becoming a boiling and spitting cauldron.   A little salt and honey or sugar will help bring up the pumpkin’s sweetness.  Pureed pumpkin can be spooned into individual ramekins and topped with a little brown sugar for a Halloween night side or breakfast treat (try a little stirred into oatmeal).  Or it can be mixed with chicken or vegetable broth and unsweetened applesauce for a really nice, kid friendly soup.  The cooled plain puree can be used in dessert recipes.  You can even freeze it in one-cup portions for future soups and desserts. 

To concentrate the flavor of a carving pumpkin, roast it.
Rinse out and slice up your used jack o’lantern into large pieces. Brush the pumpkin with vegetable oil and roast at 425˚F in a shallow roasting pan with a bit of water.  The steam will help cook the pumpkin in about 20-25 minutes.  It’s ready when a fork goes through the flesh easily.  Take a taste.  Keep roasting the slices if the flavor is still mild. 

How to Shred an Uncooked Pumpkin
To shred pumpkin, take off the top and remove seeds.  Then use a fork or wide spoon to draw back on the inside flesh of the carving pumpkin.  Leave about 1/2- 3/4 inch of pumpkin flesh intact to carve.   A 12” diameter pumpkin should yield 3-4 cups shredded pumpkin.  Use half in this salad and cook the other half in a bit of water to make pumpkin puree for soup or a pie.

Thai Style Shredded Pumpkin Salad
Serves 3-4, may be doubled
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
juice of 1/2 lime
1-2 teaspoons honey
1/2 teaspoon hot chili paste
optional: 1 teaspoon fish sauce
2 cups raw shredded pumpkin
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1/4 cup roasted, lightly salted pumpkin seeds

  1. In a medium bowl, mix the first five ingredients, soy sauce through chili paste (plus fish sauce if you are using it).  Taste this dressing for balance—a pleasing combination of sweet, tart, spicy and salty.  You may need to add a little more lime juice.  
  2. Mix in the shredded pumpkin and cilantro.  Refrigerate at least one hour.  
  3. Serve with a garnish of pumpkin seeds.