Sunday, February 20, 2011

Pumpkin in February? Oh my!

I know, its not quite pumpkin season right now, but that doesn't mean you can't enjoy the nice sweetness of fresh pumpkin. You might be asking yourselves "where do you get a fresh pumpkin this time of year?" or "Why can't he do this in the fall!?" Well, I will tell you a little secret. In the fall, I buy a lot of interesting looking pumpkins and squash with every intention of whipping up something delicious with them throughout the long winter. One of my favorite varieties is the cheese pumpkin. Its flat, tan and oh so sweet. It also stays fresh for many many months, as you can see! 
This beauty was one of my fall house decorations, and you better believe that I am keeping those seeds for the garden this year! This gem was probably around 10 lbs.
If you too have a lot of leftover pumpkin after halloween (as long as they are intact and not jack-o-lanterned!) you can keep the pretty colors in your house until you are ready to cook it up. I start by cutting the fruit in half leaving the skin on, and then into smaller pieces. Now, this part can be a bit time consuming, but trust me, its worth it. You will need to steam the pumpkin pieces, as many as you can fit is fine, as long ad they get evenly steamed. When they are soft enough for a knife to easily go through, you can remove them from the pan and let them cool in a strainer in the sink.

Finally, when the pieces have cooled enough for you to comfortably handle, really, have patience, they get HOT, then you can start scooping the sweet orange flesh and plopping it into another bowl.
Next, you know when you open a can of pumpkin, and you have that meh brownish orange puree and is also a bit drier than fresh? Well, this next step will allow the pumpkin to drain itself of excess water. You will need cheese cloth and a large strainer. At this point, I usually mash up any of the larger pieces with my hands allowing the water to release from the flesh. Line your strainer with cheese cloth, I would say 3-4 layers should do, and then place the sweet flesh into the cheese cloth. Bunch up all sides, spin around tightly and place back into the strainer to drain for a few hours (also works great for making yogurt cheese!). You will end with a nice firm flesh, at this point I then put it in a food processor until smooth, unless you want it lumpy for a recipe. *You may need to tighten the cloth every hour or so as the liquid drains.

I always ask friends and family what they would make if they had a...lot...of...pumpkin. I always get the same 2 answers; pie and pumpkin bread. I think with this batch I will be freezing quite a bit, but first I would like to make fudge, bread (yes I know!), ravioli, chili...oh man the possibilities are endless! Whatever I end up making I will be sure to post it here...for now let the research begin!

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