Pumpkin is one of those ingredients that you might not use for months at a time, but then when the holidays approach, recipes featuring pumpkin start to pop up everywhere. And because it's so versatile, pumpkin can be used everywhere, from breakfast to dinner to dessert. If you want to get in on the fun of cooking with fresh pumpkin, here's everything you need to know.
In most cases where you're cooking with pumpkin, like for soups, breads, pies or muffins, you're going to want to start out with cooked, puréed pumpkin.
In other cases, like for salads, sandwiches, or using pumpkin as a pizza topping, you'll want to start with cooked pumpkin, but skip the puréeing. Either way, the process is extremely simply and starts with choosing the right type of pumpkin.
Choosing a Pumpkin
The pumpkins you need are called pie pumpkins—or sugar pumpkins and eating pumpkins, depending on what region of the country you live in. There are quite a few varieties,and they don't all look alike. Some are round, some oblong, some are orange, some are beige, and some are white. You might see them marketed as Cinderella pumpkins, or Lumina pumpkins, or cheese pumpkins, or peanut pumpkins.
Despite this variety, what all these pumpkins have in common is that they are not field or decorative pumpkins, which include your standard Halloween carving pumpkins.
While some recipes may specify a particular cultivar or brand name, you might not be able to find any given one at your local market. But as long as you stick with pie pumpkins or sugar pumpkins, you'll be all right.
Tools You'll Need
You'll need a long chef's knife or serrated knife, a cutting board and a large metal cooking spoon.
In addition, depending on your cooking method, you might also need a sheet pan, a stockpot with a steamer insert, and an immersion blender or food processor.
And finally (although this is generally only the case if you're steaming the pumpkin), you may also need a large metal or glass mixing bowl along with a mesh strainer or a colander plus some cheesecloth for draining the excess liquid from your purée.
Prepping the Pumpkin
Start by giving the pumpkin a quick wash in cool water. You don't have to go overboard with scrubbing, since you're not eating the outer skin, but rinse away any dust, dirt, or debris from the outside and dry it off with paper towels. If the pumpkin has a long stem, go ahead and trim it off.
If you have a long (10- to 12-inch) chef's knife (make sure it's sharp), you can simply halve the pumpkin by aligning the blade with the center of the stem and driving it down through the pumpkin. Or if you have a serrated knife, you'll need to use a sawing motion. Either way, your goal is to cut the pumpkin into two halves from top to bottom.
Now, using your spoon, scrape out all the seeds and stringy pulp from the cavity. You'll hear a lot of enthusiasts reminding you to save the seeds for roasting, and while you can certainly roast and eat the seeds, it is by no means the culinary crime of the century to throw them away with the pulp. Separating the seeds from the pulp is a bit of a messy chore relative to the amount of snacking they yield. But it's up to you.
Cooking the Pumpkin
At this point you can either roast the pumpkin cut-side-up on a sheet pan (after brushing it with olive oil and sprinkling it with Kosher salt), or you can arrange the cut pumpkin in your steamer basket (which might require you cutting the halves in half again).
If you're roasting, roast at 400 F for 35 to 45 minutes or until the flesh is soft. If you're steaming, fill your steamer pot with a few inches of water, bring it to a boil. Insert the steamer basket with the pumpkin, cover the pot and steam for 15 to 20 minutes. Again, the cooked pumpkin flesh should be easily pierced with the tip of a sharp knife.
Once your pumpkin has cooled, scoop the flesh out of the rind and transfer it to a bowl. This cooked pumpkin is now ready to use in any recipe that calls for pieces of cooked pumpkin, like pizza, sandwiches, quesadillas, and so on.
Puréeing the Pumpkin
For this you'll use either an immersion blender or a food processor, puréeing until uniformly smooth. A food mill or potato ricer will also do the trick.
Now, here is where you might need to drain the pumpkin. Some pumpkins contain more liquid than others and, particularly if you've steamed your pumpkin, you may find that the purée is a bit watery. If so, transfer the purée to your strainer or cheesecloth-lined colander and let it drain for at least an hour. Some pumpkins will yield as much as two cups of water. You can accelerate the draining process by covering the purée with plastic wrap, then place a plate over it weighted down with some cans to press out the liquid.
- A 6- to 8-inch pumpkin should yield about 3 cups, which is roughly equivalent to two 15-ounce cans of cooked pumpkin. You can store puréed pumpkin in Ziploc bags in the freezer where it will keep for several months.
Once it's drained, this pumpkin purée is now ready to use in any recipe calling for canned pumpkin or pumpkin purée.