Don’t throw out the pumpkins…or the seeds!

One of my favorite things about Halloween is seeing all the pumpkins, carved and whole, adorning porches, windows, and doorsteps.  And one of my other favorite things is spending an entire season consuming the delicious foods derived from pumpkins and other squashes — seeds, breads, soups, pies, casseroles, and more.  Despite the fact that a shortage of pumpkins — caused by unusual weather circumstances — has pervaded many communities in the U.S. this year, many shoppers heading out on November 1st will find stores offering great deals on the leftovers of these orange orbs.  Below are a few ideas on how to take advantage of this autumn favorite.

Toasted pumpkin seeds

Pre-heat the oven to 300ºF. Scoop out the seeds from your carved pumpkins or squash into a large bowl. Fill the bowl with water and separate the seeds from the pulp by hand, discarding the stringy orange part. Don’t worry about getting them perfectly clean. Rinse and drain the seeds and shake off any excess water. Place the seeds on a rimmed baking sheet. Season them with your choice of flavoring. My favorite is simply adding a sprinkling of sea salt, but you could add garlic or onion powder, chili powder, cinnamon and sugar, or even a little maple syrup. Let your taste buds guide you! Sprinkle (or drizzle) your flavoring over the wet seeds and toss to evenly coat them. Spread the seeds out on the pan in one even layer and bake in the oven for about 30 minutes, until they are dry and crisp, but not brown and burnt. Toss the seeds every 10 minutes or so while toasting so that they dry out evenly. The cooled seeds can be kept fresh in an airtight container for several days. Enjoy!

Use the pumpkin as a baking dish!

A hollowed-out pumpkin makes a wonderful and festive container for baking anything from pasta and bread casseroles to potatoes, soup, and meat dishes. Small pumpkins can be used for individual servings, and large ones can contain a centerpiece dish for your next dinner party. Your imagination is the limit!

Pureed Pumpkin

Sugar pumpkins (or pie pumpkins) can be found at rock-bottom prices, and the puree made from this variety can be used in a ton of recipes. Cooking it is quite simple.

Cut the pumpkin in half and remove the seeds. Place the cut side down on a rimmed baking sheet with about 1/4 inch of water, and bake at 350º for about an hour, until a fork can be inserted easily. Add more water while cooking, if needed. Scoop the meat away from the skin and puree it in a food processor until smooth.

This method can be used for used for other types of squash, such as acorn, butternut, and (my favorite) delicata.  The pumpkin or squash puree can be used right away or frozen.  During the fall, while this produce is abundant, I like to make a lot of it and freeze it in 1-cup portions that can be pulled out at a moment’s notice for a quick soup or casserole dinner.

Pumpkin bread

This is a delicious recipe that came from my sister, and it can be made into loaves, cupcakes, or mini-muffins.  For my last batch, I made all three!  Spread some soft cream cheese or top it with cream cheese frosting to make it extra special.

Ingredients:

  • 3 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 2 tsp. baking soda
  • 2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. allspice (or 1/4 tsp. nutmeg)
  • 2 1/2 cup sugar
  • 4 eggs (room temperature)
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 cups puréed pumpkin (or one 15-oz. can)
  • 2/3 cup water
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

Pre-heat the oven to 350º. Sift together all the dry ingredients (except the sugar) into a large bowl. Cream together the sugar, eggs, and oil in a separate mixing bowl. Add the puréed pumpkin. Add the dry ingredients alternately with the water to the egg mixture, one-third at a time.  Stir in the nuts.

Bake as follows:

  • Bread: pour batter into 3 greased and floured loaf pans and bake for about one hour, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.  If baking with dark pans, reduce the oven temperature to 325º.
  • Cupcake / mini-muffins: makes three dozen standard cupcakes or nine dozen mini-muffins.  Fill cups or liners 3/4 full.  Bake standard size for 20-25 minutes and the mini size for 12-15, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Hint: to satisfy both those who do and don’t like walnuts, instead of mixing the nuts into the batter, sprinkle them along the top before baking so that they can be easily removed later on. Just watch them to be sure that they don’t burn.

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