Ask a Chef: How to Cook Pumpkin

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Tammy Ljungblad / Kansas City Star / TNS / Getty Images

Raise your hand if you weren’t quite sure if you could eat pumpkin outside of a pie or a pumpkin spice latte. If you’ve ever been to a pick-your-own-pumpkin patch, you’ve probably gotten the idea that these monstrous Cucurbitaceae are only good for jack-o-lanterns and being props in adorable photos of toddlers. But I will go down saying one of the best meals I’ve ever eaten involved a side of freshly steamed sugar pumpkin chunks, no “pumpkin spice” present.

Don’t cook a jack-o-lantern
If you want to start cooking with pumpkin, you shouldn’t be reaching for the meat that comes out of your jack-o-lantern. “The best pumpkins for cooking are sugar pumpkins,” says Chef Marjorie Druker, owner and executive chef of The New England Soup Factory. “They are smaller and sweeter than larger pumpkins.” Large pumpkins can be used for roasting as well, but you’ll likely get far more flavor out of a smaller variety. Look for sugar pumpkins that feel heavy for their size and have clean, uncracked skin. 

Pay attention or you’ll get hurt
Chef Druker says a big mistake she sees with people cooking pumpkin is “using their old pumpkin that has been sitting out all fall,” which, if you are cooking with meat left over from an old Halloween decoration, you need more help than this column. The one thing that old pumpkin can be used for is roasting its seeds. When cutting into pumpkin, however, use the sharpest knife available and make sure you have a steady surface. “Pumpkins are hard and difficult to cut, so be careful and do not get distracted.” It should be refrigerated so it doesn’t start to go soft. 

Good for more than just pie
Once you’ve got the meat out, you can do just about anything with it, from roasting it on its own, pureeing it into a soup, or substituting it for other squash and vegetables in a curry. “Coconut, ginger, nutmeg, parmesan cheese, maple syrup, cilantro, basil, and lobster stock are some of my personal favorite flavors to add to pumpkin,” says Chef Druker, adding that things like dried cranberries and roasted pumpkin seeds make great additions to a regular pumpkin soup. Oh, and “pumpkin spice”? It’s basically just cloves and allspice. You’re welcome.

 

Pumpkin, Lobster, and Ginger Soup recipe by Chef Marjorie Druker from New England Soup Factory & The Modern Rotisserie

Servings: 8 to 10

Ingredients:

  • 3 tbsp salted butter
  • 2 whole cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1 Spanish onion, peeled and diced
  • 2 carrots, peeled and sliced
  • 2 ribs celery, sliced
  • 2 tbsp grated fresh ginger
  • 2 lbs fresh pumpkin, peeled and cut into chunks
  • 2 qt lobster stock
  • 1 can (16 ounces) pumpkin puree
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 3 tbsp brown sugar
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1 cup crème fraîche
  • ¾ cup cream sherry
  • 2 cups coarsely chopped cooked lobster meat
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1/3 cup toasted pumpkin seeds, for garnish

Directions:

  1. In a stockpot, melt the butter over medium-high heat.
  2. Add the garlic, onion, carrots, celery, ginger, and fresh pumpkin. Sauté for 15 minutes.
  3. Add the stock, pumpkin puree, and wine. Bring to a boil.
  4. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer until the pumpkin is tender and soft, 25 to 30 minutes.
  5. Add the Worcestershire sauce, brown sugar, cream, crème fraîche, and sherry.
  6. Puree the soup in the pot using a hand blender or working in batches with a regular blender until smooth.
  7. Stir in the lobster meat and season with salt and pepper.
  8. Garnish each serving with toasted pumpkin seeds.

 

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