Getting into the spirit of autumn foods with the great pumpkin

By Dana Zia, The Golightly Gourmet

“Tonight the Great Pumpkin will rise out of the pumpkin patch.” Linus from Charlie Brown

Pumpkin pumpkin pumpkin. Everything has been turning up pumpkin lately. It all started innocently enough. I received a juicy pie pumpkin in my CSA that inspired me to action. After roasting it up, I then pureed it and had this luminous large batch of pumpkin puree inviting me to create. All that lovely puree sparked my imagination like a tornado in a trailer park.

I decided not to go to the easiest route and bake a bunch of nummy pumpkin flans. No, I made a deal with myself it had to be recipes that I had never tried before. I started with pumpkin chili. It was wonderful! Rich, thick and multi layered with flavors and spices, it is a delightful soup brimming with fall flavors. We all know that chili needs cornbread so I whipped out some pumpkin cornbread to go with it. Okay, now the cornbread was completely AMAZING! I just had to make another batch of that it was so good.

Next came the pumpkin bars, sweet and moist, bursting with juicy raisins and autumnal spices. Then there was the delicious pumpkin thyme bisque. I squeaked out a batch of pumpkin spaghetti sauce with the last cup of puree. That was served on spaghetti squash noodles. Our house was fragrant with the smells of a warm fire and spices. Fall has officially begun in our house.

Those of you that have been reading me for years know I have a thing for pumpkins and all winter squash for that matter; after all they are the royalty of the nutrition world. They take the throne in their lively color which is the herald of their strong content of beta carotene. Beta carotene… pause for applause….is one of the most amazing nutrients we can consume for overall health. It is an antioxidant that destroys free radicals in our systems, supports eye health, reduces the aging process and is linked to prevention of cancer and heart disease. (It is important to note that beta carotene needs to be ingested naturally, through foods. Artificial beta carotene is under scrutiny for accelerating cancer.)
The crowning glory of pumpkins is that there are only 83 calories and a mega 7 grams of fiber in a cup of cooked pumpkin! They are also a good source of Vitamins C, K, and E, and lots of minerals, including magnesium, potassium, and iron. Pumpkins were aptly represented as the gilded vehicle in Cinderella.
It is easy to make your own pumpkin puree to stimulate your fall cooking. The first step is to find a nice fat sugar or pie pumpkin, like “sugar baby” or “Cinderella.” (Cinderella pumpkins look like they are out of a fairy tale. Flat and vibrant orange with pronounced ribs, they are delicious! I saw some at Safeway this year.) Pie pumpkins are very different than the glowing Jack o lantern pumpkins. Jack o lanterns are not a good cooking pumpkin. They are grown to carve, not to be eaten. Pie pumpkins are usually smaller and have a thick, short fiber flesh that is sweet.

Simply cut the pie pumpkin in half, scrape out the guts and seeds, then bake at 350 degrees, cut side down in a baking dish with about 2 inches of water in it. Bake until a fork pierces the skin easily, about 1 hour or so. After the pumpkin has cooled, scoop out the flesh, (an ice cream scoop works great) and puree in a food processor or blender. And voila! You have the makings of many a fine meal. The puree freezes well so that you don’t have to get crazy and make everything with it. (Like me) Add a cup of it to your favorite chili recipe or my pumpkin chili recipe we shared here on the Pioneer, or go to my web blog at http://danazia.wordpress.com/ for more of my pumpkin recipes. Make this delicious corn bread to go with it and get into the autumn spirit of cooking.

Pumpkin Cornbread
Adapted from the New York Times

1 cup of pumpkin puree
3/4 cup of milk (whatever fat percent you like)
1/4 cup of olive oil
1/4 cup of honey
2 farm fresh eggs
1 1/2 cups of stone ground yellow cornmeal
1/2 cup of whole wheat pastry flour
1 tablespoon of baking powder
1/2 teaspoon of soda
3/4 teaspoon of salt
1 tablespoon of unsalted butter

Heat up the oven to 400 degrees. In a medium bowl or your mixer bowl, cream together the pumpkin puree, milk, oil and honey. When everything is well mixed and creamy add the eggs one at a time mixing as you go. Let that rest while you whisk together the dry ingredients till fluffy, in a separate mixing bowl,

Put the pat of butter into a 9 or 10 inch cast iron skillet and tuck in the oven to melt. (I suppose an 11 inch one would be fine too. I don’t think those cast iron skillets follow the measurement rules like baking dishes! If you do not have a skillet use a 2 quart baking dish.) While your skillet is warming up, mix the dry ingredients into the wet till just barely mixed. Don’t overwork it here.

Take the skillet or baking dish out of the oven and swirl the melted butter around till everything is buttery. Add the batter then return it to the oven to bake for 25- 35 minutes depending on what size your skillet is. It will be done when the house fills with the fragrance of cornbread and a toothpick, when inserted in the middle comes out clean. Let cool for about 10 -20 minutes, if you can, before serving. Serve with butter and honey.