Tips for Cooking with Fresh Pumpkin

Cooking How-To, How-To
on October 1, 2007
Mark Boughton/styling: Teresa Blackburn

Gigantic pumpkins are for show. Bland-fleshed and stringy, leave them to for jack-o-lanterns and display, or use them raw (top removed, seeds and loose fiber-strings removed) as a tureen, scooping a hot, spicy soup from them.

The smaller varieties of pumpkins (“sugar pumpkins” and “New England Pie Pumpkins”) are as good to eat as look at: the bright orange flesh is sweet-to-very-sweet and cooks to velvety smoothness, perfect for purée. Use small to medium sugar pumpkins for purée (pie or soup, breads or muffins), or cook large chunks either unpeeled, as in our Maple Roasted Pumpkin or peeled (not as hard as it sounds), as in our Pumpkin Potato Gratin. These range from 2½ pounds to 6 or 7 pounds.

A 2¾-pound pie pumpkin, peeled, with seeds, stem and fiber removed, yields about 2 cups cooked and mashed puree.

The beautiful buff-colored pumpkins (“New Jersey Cheese” and “Luminas”) are orange within and very sweet. Use them as above. 8 to 15 pounds.

The extremely crimson, deeply ribbed French pumpkin called Rouge Vif D’Etampes is sometimes known in the United States as “Cinderella pumpkin,” because, yes, it looks just like the famous carriage. Running 8 to 20 pounds each, they’re beauties. Less-sweet, well-textured flesh is perfect in soups.

The itty-bitty cute pumpkins (“munchkins” or “mini-pumpkins”) are quite sweet. Depending on size, a pound of minis is usually two (they’re often sold individually, though, not by the pound) Their thinner, hence more quickly-cooked, lining of flesh, makes an great edible baking container for the stuffing of your choice: anything from a bread or cornbread stuffing, to a rice pilaf, to our Pumpkin Polenta, to your favorite stuffed pepper filling.

Cooking in a Mini Pumpkin Shell

  • Cut the lid off the pumpkin (mini-size) and reserve. Scoop out all pumpkin strings and seeds (a serated-edge grapefruit spoon is perfect for this).
  • Rub the inside, including the lid’s inside, of each hollowed-out mini with a splash of soy sauce and honey, a dash of salt, a grind of pepper, and, if desired, a touch of cayenne. If you plan to fill the pumpkin with an essentially cooked filling (like rice pilaf), preheat the oven to 350F and bake the pumpkins empty, covered by their own lids, 30 minutes. Remove from the oven, fill with prepared stuffing, top with lids, and bake another 20 minutes.
  • If the filling needs to cook (as in prepared dressing), stuff the pumpkins raw, cover with their lids and place a tight-fitting piece of aluminum foil over the baking dish. Bake about 40 minutes, remove foil, and bake an additional 15 to 20 minutes.
  • Allow one mini pumpkin per serving, and encourage each eater to scoop out a bit of the pumpkin flesh with each bite of filling.

By Crescent Dragonwagon, a food writer the Saxton’s River, Vt.