When I think of things that could potentially jeopardize a relationship, pumpkin is not the first thing that springs to mind. In fact, it doesn’t spring to mind at all. When I think of pumpkin, I think of a pumpkin perched decoratively on a porch along with some dried corn, maybe with a goofy face carved into it. Or I think of one being turned into a carriage for Cinderella to take to the ball. Or I think of pumpkin pie, mmmm. And that’s where the problem arose. You see, my boyfriend has many wonderful qualities but it turns out he has horribly bad taste. He doesn’t like pumpkin pie! (Feel free to gasp in horror along with me!) Not even really good ones, according to his reports! I, on the other hand, think pumpkin pie is proof that the Universe is fundamentally an okay place. Pumpkin pie is a generous gift, brought by the little angels of the-best-kind-of-pie-ever each year on Thanksgiving to make us happy.
We discovered that we were at odds regarding this jolly orange squash because I happened to have one around, sitting in the pantry, just waiting to be roasted and put to good use. Luckily for my ability to compromise, I prefer to save pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving anyway, to keep it extra special. Plus, (beware, startling admission to follow) I actually think canned pumpkin (plain with nothing added – the ingredients list should just say pumpkin) works better for pie than fresh pumpkin! All this is to say, I decided not to use my pumpkin for pie. Luckily, there are all sorts of things you can do with pumpkin. Pumpkin (and really all the rest of the winter squashes) is a nice semi-sweet, silky flavor that goes nicely in either savory or sweet dishes. Pumpkin, or pumpkin-like squash, is traditionally used in Latin American, Middle-Eastern, and Asian, (especially Thai, think pumpkin coconut curry!) cooking, so you can add any of those spice combos to it (see the spice combos on my page on basics). I’ve heard you can even stir fry pumpkin, if you peel it and chop it into chunks. On this occasion, I had winter salads on my brain, so I decided to roast the pumpkin and add chunks of it, still warm, to a salad. Thinking about how Mexican cooking uses a lot of pumpkin seeds (aka pepitas), I decided to make a Mexican-inspired vinaigrette to tie the flavors together.
Pumpkin Salad with Cilantro Dressing
- Start by cutting the pumpkin in half (you could also use butternut, acorn, or delicata squash) – you’ll need a big knife, and some chutzpa. Next, scoop out the seeds and stringy insides. Oil the cut surface of the pumpkin, then place the two halves cut side down on a baking sheet and bake at 400-425?F for 30 minutes to an hour, depending on how thick the wall is. When it’s done, it should be easy to pierce with a knife or fork.
- If you like roasted pumpkin seeds, clear the gucky stringy stuff off the seeds and give them a rinse. Toss them with a wee bit of oil, spread them on a baking sheet, sprinkle them with salt (and chili powder if desired) and toast them at 415?F for about 15 minutes, until they’re golden.
- To make the vinaigrette, I used a bunch of cilantro, because I had it around. I blended ¼ cup cilantro with ¼ cup olive oil, 1 Tbs. honey, and a couple Tablespoons each of lemon juice (lime would’ve been even better) and vinegar, plus some salt and pepper. If I hadn’t had cilantro, I would have gone for some other Mexican flavors, and made a vinaigrette with 3 Tbs. olive oil, 1 Tbs. balsamic vinegar or lemon juice, 1 tsp. mustard, 1 tsp. honey or sugar, and ¼ tsp. each of cumin, coriander, and chili powder, plus salt and pepper.
- To make the salad, slice a couple of wedges from the cooked pumpkin, pull the peel off, and chop the wedges into chunks. Put the pumpkin chunks on top of a bed of lettuce, sprinkle with roasted pumpkin seeds if desired, and drizzle with salad dressing.
- Now that I’m thinking of it, pumpkin chunks, because of their sweetness, would also be nice in a salad with goat cheese, pears/apples/raisins/ and a balsamic vinaigrette.
I had more roasted pumpkin left over after making the salad, and I certainly wasn’t going to stop with just dinner. Pumpkin calls for some dessert, and thankfully my boyfriend has good enough judgment to like pumpkin bread. Now, baking is much more of a science than is cooking. There’s a bit of room for adding and subtracting ingredients, but not so much that I feel comfortable working without a recipe. So, I followed this recipe from Epicurious. The fresh cranberries in it are fabulous! Oh, and I almost forgot! Before using roasted pumpkin in baking of any sort, make sure to blend it up to make it smooth.
- 1 cup roasted and blended (or canned) pumpkin
- 1 cup sugar
- 1/4 cup water
- 2 large eggs
- 1/4 cup vegetable oil
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1 cup picked-over fresh or frozen cranberries
- Preheat the oven to 350?F. In a large bowl, mix together the pumpkin, sugar, water, eggs, and oil with a hand mixer (or a whisk and some elbow grease). Add the flour, and the rest of the ingredients, except the cranberries, and mix until blended. Stir in the cranberries.
- Butter a loaf pan and pour in the batter. Bake for 1 hour – 1 hour 15 minutes, until a knife stuck in the loaf comes out clean. Let the bread cool in the pan for 10 minutes. Then flip it out of the pan, and allow it to cool the rest of the way on a cooling rack.