Written by Carrie Vasios
I’m sorry to say that the pumpkin is the underachiever of American cuisine. Though honestly, the blame needs to be put on us, the consumer, and not the unhappy pumpkin.
Spread the word; the pumpkin is underserved in its current role as pie filling or (allegedly) flavoring seasonal coffee drinks and baked goods.
For starters, the pumpkin is certainly as versatile as any other member of the squash family. While to some people the butternut squash might still be sadly limited to soup, I’ve noticed it’s been breaking serious ground as a member of the roasted vegetable club.
And of course, eating zucchini is old hat—perhaps because most people don’t even realize it’s a squash. What happened to the pumpkin?
You see, just like other squash, the pumpkin’s taste profile easily straddles the sweet-and-savory divide. Just take a look at what the rest of the world is doing with pumpkin.
In Southeast Asia, pumpkin often appears in sweet dishes. Indians, for example, make kaddu ka halwa, a dessert dish similar to a creamy pumpkin pudding.
The pumpkin also appears in savory dishes in Japan: the Japanese pumpkin, also known as the kabocha squash, is a favorite in vegetable tempura.
In my mind, however, we should all be following the Mexicans for their lead in the pumpkin culinary arts. They make smoky braised pumpkin; they put pumpkin in enchiladas.
They make candied pumpkin (calabaza en tacha) to celebrate the Day of the Dead. They use the seeds (pepitas) to garnish just about anything. And why wouldn’t you?
Pepitas are delicious, crunchy little snacks, especially when salted—in addition to being a good source of iron, protein, and over five essential minerals. Pumpkin itself is a powerhouse of vitamin A.
I think maybe people are under the false impression that the pumpkin is inaccessible. “How do I even use pumpkin?” you might ask. Well, there are two answers.
The first is to head to that very same aisle in the grocery store where you have probably only ever bought your pumpkin, easily shelved next to the pre-made graham cracker crusts and the condensed milk.
There’s no shame—just because it’s rubbing elbows with marshmallows does not make canned pumpkin unworthy. In fact, I’d like to proclaim the glories of canned pumpkin. It’s possibly one of the easiest, tastiest ingredients with which to work. And it’s cheap.
You can add canned pumpkin to just about anything. Soups, cookies, curries, bread, muffins, dips. Waffles. Think about it.
Of course, I encourage you to go whole hog and just buy a real-life pumpkin. To be clear, don’t run out and buy one of those huge ones that you’re going to carve into a jack-o-lantern.
The type of pumpkin you want to eat is smaller, and therefore sweeter, and sometimes it’s even green. A common edible pumpkin to look for is the Sweet Sugar Pumpkin.
You’ll find it next to the acorn squash and the butternut squash at any greenmarket or most supermarkets this time of year. Like its hard-skinned brethren, you can use sugar pumpkin anywhere you’d use another orange squash.
You can toss roasted pumpkin with goat cheese, thyme, and farro. You can serve pumpkin chutney with pork chops. You can make pumpkin soup with creme fraiche. And you can also use it in a pumpkin risotto.
We Italians are well versed in the joys of cooked pumpkin. My grandmother, who is from Naples, is a prime example. Seeing my mother on the way to the garbage to discard our purely ornamental gourds, she would frown and say, “Wha? You’re just gonna throw them out?”
So with my Grammy and her intrinsic faith in the value of all vegetables in mind, I made the following pumpkin risotto recipe.
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 3 cups sugar pumpkin (about 1 pound), cut into 1/4-inch dice
- 1 medium sweet onion, cut into 1/4-inch dice
- 1 1/2 cups Arborio rice
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- 6 cups chicken stock, heated
- 1 14-ounce can quartered artichoke hearts, drained and roughly chopped
- 2 tablespoons minced fresh rosemary
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, plus more for serving
- freshly ground black pepper
- In a large sauté pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat.
- Add the pumpkin and the onion, and cook until the pumpkin is softened and the onion is translucent, about 8 minutes.
- Add the rice and stir for 3-4 minutes, until toasted.
- Add the wine and stir until mostly absorbed.
- Add a ladleful of stock to the pot and stir continuously until the liquid is absorbed.
- Continue to add the stock, a ladleful at a time, while stirring the rice. Make sure that the risotto stays at a strong simmer and that the liquid is absorbed before adding more stock. It should take about 20-25 minutes for the rice to become creamy but still al dente.
- When the rice has reached this point, stir in the artichokes, rosemary, and salt. Taste and add more salt as needed.
- Take the pan off the heat and stir in the butter and 1/4 cup Parmigiano. Add pepper to taste.
- If desired, serve with extra Parmigiano and rosemary for garnish.
Nutrition Information:Yield: 6 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 778Total Fat: 21gSaturated Fat: 8gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 12gCholesterol: 31mgSodium: 643mgCarbohydrates: 137gFiber: 5gSugar: 108gProtein: 11g
The nutritional information above is computer-generated and only an estimate.
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