What's cookin'? Pumpkin
Treat the family to dinner from the jolly squash
Happy autumn!: Time to celebrate the pumpkin. Sure, you can carve, decorate it — but by all means you should cook this fiber-and-vitamin-packed squash. (Bill Hogan/Chicago Tribune)
Our family adores pumpkin in many recipes, so I stock up on small pumpkins now. Look for sugar pumpkins or pie pumpkins for their dense, sweet flesh and manageable size. Store them whole, wrapped in paper towels in the refrigerator for up to a couple of months.
I love to add a sprinkle of curry powder or a savory spice blend when serving roasted pumpkin as a vegetable side to roasted pork and poultry. Roasted pumpkin cubes can be frozen up to several months. Then you'll be ready to make soups, stews and chili at a moment's notice.
Speaking of chili, what could be better on Allhallows Eve? Two of my favorite pumpkin chili recipes follow: a speedy meatless bowl and a rustic smoky version peppered with chili powders and hominy perfect for entertaining a crowd. Both rely on solid-pack (meaning no added seasonings or spices) canned pumpkin for flavor and body. If you have a stockpile of canned tomatoes, broth and beans on hand, you can assemble either recipe in between handing out treats to the costumed crowd. Loved ones will be welcomed home from Halloween festivities by the warming goodness.
The roasted pumpkin makes a stunning addition to either chili. Skip it if you're short on time, but promise yourself to try roasted pumpkin this fall. You won't be tricked — only treated.
P.S. No need to despair if fresh pumpkins are unavailable: Butternut squash makes a fine substitute.
Prep: 20 minutes
Cook: 50 minutes
Servings: about 6 cups
Note: Look for sugar pumpkins (also known as pie pumpkins) for cooking — they have a denser, more tasty flesh than jack-o'-lantern pumpkins. You can substitute 21/2 pounds peeled, diced butternut squash.
2 small or 1 medium-size pumpkin, about 5 pounds total
¼ cup vegetable oil or olive oil
Freshly ground pepper, mild curry powder, or Moroccan or Cajun seasoning blend, optional
1. Heat oven to 375 degrees. Wash exterior of pumpkins. Using a large, sharp knife, cut off tops just below stems. Then cut in half through the stem end. Scoop out the seeds and fibrous interior. Lay the pumpkin on the cutting board with the cut side down. Carefully remove all of the peel with the knife. Cut the flesh into 1-inch pieces. You'll have about 10 cups.
2. Mix pumpkin and oil on a large baking sheet (or 2 smaller baking sheets) to coat pumpkin pieces. Arrange pieces in a single uncrowded layer. Sprinkle with salt and optional spice.
3. Roast, stirring often, until tender and golden, 40-45 minutes. Turn oven to broil. Broil pumpkin 6 inches from heat source until crisped on one side, about 3 minutes. Cool.