Fortunately, pumpkin is a pretty forgiving foodstuff to work with. Since it tastes good al dente or baked to a mushy consistency or pureed into a soup, pumpkin is an extremely versatile ingredient. I recently got a helpful email from Ryan Fichter, the executive chef of Thunder Burger in Washington, D.C., which offered lots of good advice and a recipe that I thought I'd share with you. Follow along and learn:
Season: Pumpkins are in their ripe season during October and November. This is the best time to get the freshest pumpkins. If you find them a couple of months past that, they may still be fresh, but they are not a product of the main peak season.
Selection: When selecting your pumpkin, opt for one that is completely orange. Avoid any that have spots that are not ripe, as they may not ripen more after purchasing. Also, avoid pumpkins that have soft spots, bruises, or little holes. Small holes can be an indicator of insects. Try to find one that looks the best, with a nice color and very few to no blemishes.
Cutting: Before cutting your pumpkin, wash it thoroughly first. Choose a nice big knife for the job, then proceed to cut the pumpkin in half, splitting it open evenly.
Preparing: Once your pumpkin is split open, remove the seeds and strings. You can cook and eat the pumpkin seeds, as well. These can be baked or roasted, and they make a tasty treat. Then, choose your favorite recipe to use the flesh of the pumpkin. However, note that some recipes call for leaving the pumpkin whole. In that case, you would cut the top off and remove the seeds and strings, rather than cutting it open.
Ask questions. If you are unsure as to which pumpkin will be best for what you are preparing, ask questions. Those selling the pumpkins can usually point you in the direction of the best pumpkins for pies, soups, etc.
“Using pumpkin in your cooking or for one of your meals is a great way to add a fall flavor for your family,” added Fichter. “Once you try cooking with pumpkin, there is a good chance you will be picking up more than one, every year after that, to cook with.”
If you need some inspiration for a first course for Thanksgiving this week, try this sweet and savory pumpkin soup recipe from Chef Fichter.
Pumpkin and Coconut Soup
2 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
2 medium-sized white onions, peeled and diced
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1 small pumpkin, about 3 pounds, seeded, rind removed and chopped into large dice
1 tsp. red chili flakes
1/2 tsp. ground allspice
Water to cover the pumpkin
1 (12-ounce) can coconut milk
Salt and pepper to taste
Toasted coconut as garnish
In a large stockpot, heat the oil over medium heat and saute the onions and garlic until translucent. Add the pumpkin, chili flakes, and allspice, and cover with enough water to completely cover the pumpkin. Add the coconut milk, reduce the heat to low, and cook until the pumpkin is tender. Using an immersion blender, puree the mixture until then with and immersion blender puree until it is smooth; adjust seasonings with salt and pepper, and garnish with toasted coconut.
Enjoy your pumpkins, Bitesters!