With Halloween in the rearview mirror, there’s a good chance you have some leftover pumpkins kicking around. Instead of just pitching your pumpkin, maybe this is the year to do something a bit more sustainable, far less wasteful and potentially really delicious.
Most pumpkins are suitable for eating, but some are definitely tastier than others. According to East Hampton resident and chef Kait Kelly the general rule for cooking pumpkins is the bigger and softer they are (like the ideal ones for carving), the stringier and waterier the pumpkin will be. Small and firm are best, especially for purées and baking, as they tend to have a more highly concentrated flavor and a lower water content.
Kelly says anything that falls under the category of sugar or pie pumpkins are the best to cook with. “Cinderella is a common variety but if anyone lives out here [the East End] they should use cheese pumpkin,” she says noting the cheese pumpkin “is the most similar to butternut squash and is abundant, usually not too big or seedy, and easy to work with in a home kitchen.”
Besides the obvious pies, cheesecakes and pumpkin breads she personally likes to make, Kelly has a couple unique yet totally do-able preparations even the most novice cooks can execute:
Pumpkin purée. Forget about the canned stuff! Cut your pumpkin in half, scoop out the seeds (we’ll get to what to do with those later) and the stringy guts, then season with salt and roast, cut sound down, on a baking pan until the flesh is soft and coming away from the skin. Then, add it to the food processor or mash it by hand, and voila, you’ve got puréed pumpkin.
“If you make purée and freeze it in small amounts it’s really easy to defrost and add to any basic sauce,” Kelly says. “Include some sage and some nuts and you can have something classic that tastes of fall — think pumpkin and sage alfredo or pumpkin and coconut curry.”
Pumpkin butter. Made from puréed pumpkin is cooked low and slow with butter, sugar and spices until it’s reduced and concentrated, then chilled to firm up. Kelly notes it’s perfect to add to pancake batter, to make ice cream with, or simply spread on toast. “It’s super easy,” she says.
Pumpkin brownies. For this, just add your beautiful purée to brownie mix to create a super moist version of the sweet treat. “Pumpkin and chocolate aren’t paired together a lot, but pumpkin brownies are super delicious,” Kelly says.
Pumpkin seeds. After scooping them out from inside the pumpkin, separate the seeds from the pulp (running water over them helps the process). Rinse ‘em, drain ‘em and dry ‘em the best you can. Toss the seeds in butter or oil and whatever seasoning you like (Kelly recommends maple syrup, honey and cinnamon for sweet and chili powder, garlic salt and smoked paprika for savory). Arrange the seeds on a baking sheet and cook at 300 degrees for about 45 minutes, stirring occasionally, until golden brown.
For those jack-o-lanterns shriveling up in the sun on your front porch, maybe they’re beyond salvaging for any sort of edible situation, and that’s okay. But tossing the pumpkin into the trash isn’t really a good solution. You can do better! We believe in you.
USA Today’s Emily DeLetter writes, “The U.S. produces over a billion pounds of pumpkins every year, according to the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service. Of those billions of pounds most of those pumpkins end up in a landfill, which experts say isn’t great for the environment…in a landfill, pumpkins and other organic materials are buried and rot without oxygen, which creates the potent greenhouse gas methane.”
If not already, place the pumpkin in the sun, which helps speed up the composting process. Next, start smashing the pumpkin, spread it out over your garden and cover it with a layer of leaves. They should be easy to grab since they’re probably on the ground already anyway. Don’t you just love it when things work out?