Whether grown at home or sourced from a market, choose pumpkins with good external colour, and minimal imperfections. A large pumpkin will go a long way in any culinary kitchen, here are some tips on how to prepare, store and use pumpkins in the kitchen.
Tips & Tricks for Pumpkins
Any type of pumpkin is ready for eating when the outside can be tapped with a knuckle and it sounds hollow. If there are any soft patches on the outside of the pumpkin, it will indicate internal rotting, and therefore the pumpkin won’t be any good. Any splits in the outer skin will also cause the pumpkin to decompose quicker, and also pieces cut in and left in the fridge will have a shorter shelf life than whole pumpkins which can be stored for months. If the pumpkin has a good amount of stalk on it, it will generally mean that insects can’t have found their way inside to infect the large fruit.
Not all pumpkins are created equal
- The pear-shaped, soft-orange coloured butternut pumpkins have a more dry flesh suitable for soups or purees.
- The larger grey crown pumpkins have a wetter flesh and are best peeled and sliced and baked or roasted in the oven.
- The more ornamental and variegated pumpkins may look good in a display, but the flesh can lack flavour.
- Green butternut squashes can be substituted for pumpkin in any recipe, but their size will depict the sweetness and texture of the flesh.
How to prepare pumpkin for cooking
For the age-old problem of splitting a large pumpkin, many methods have been listed. A sharp strong knife or cleaver is a good start, taking a smaller wedges out first before trying to cut the beast in half. Another is simply to drop a large pumpkin on a hard surface, like concrete. This has a dramatic effect of splitting and sometimes shattering the pumpkin, but indeed is a good way to break the outer waxy skin. For a good tip for the easy removal of the skin from a pumpkin, place the larger pieces, or the whole thing, in the microwave for about 30-60 seconds on High. This will allow the skin to soften, and peel away much easier. Alternatively, bake or roast the pieces with the skin on and remove the skin once the flesh is cooked.
How to store cut pumpkin
Store cut pumpkins wrapped in plastic wrap in the fridge, but not for too long as they dry out and microbes will rot the flesh quickly. Large un-cut pumpkins are best stored in a cool, dry place like a laundry or garden shed. Make sure they are resting on a dry surface, and somewhere insects like ants can’t build homes inside.
Pumpkins are the fruit of the cucurbit plant. Therefore we can eat them as savoury vegetables or sweetened in desserts. The flesh will absorb any flavours or spices that are cooked with it, making them the perfect chameleon of vegetables. From creamy risottos through to soft pumpkin gratin, pumpkins will sit nicely with flavours like garlic, blue cheese, toasted nuts or hearty meat juices. For sweeter options, the flesh can be pureed and mixed with cinnamon, nutmeg and caramelised sugars and turned into pies, muffins, cakes and cheesecakes. Strong flavoured Cheeses and cultured creams will give dry flesh more creaminess but the fruits are also perfect simply roasted in a little olive oil and plenty of salt and freshly ground black pepper.
4 ways with pumpkin
Pumpkin wrapped in bacon
Preheat the oven to 220°C. In a large bowl, toss 350g of peeled, seeded, large-dice pumpkin with 1 tsp sea salt, 2 teaspoons olive oil, and freshly ground black pepper to taste until evenly combined. Slice 6 pieces of streaky bacon in half lengthwise. Place the bacon strips on a flat surface and roll a piece of pumpkin in each strip until the bacon is wrapped around the pumpkin and overlapped slightly. Place each pumpkin piece, seam side down, on a baking sheet, and repeat to wrap all of the pumpkin. Roast for x minutes until the pumpkin is knife tender and the bacon is crisped, about 15 to 20 minutes. Serve Skewered with bamboo sticks or small sturdy sticks.
Chickpea and pumpkin dip
Cook 150g can chickpeas in simmering water for 25 minutes or until very tender, then drain well. Meanwhile, toss 800g peeled, seeded and chopped pumpkin in enough olive oil to coat. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Roast the pumpkin at 200°C for 25 minutes or until tender and golden. Combine chickpeas, pumpkin, ¼ cup olive oil, 1 tsp sweet paprika and a pinch of chilli flakes in a food processor or blender and process and season to taste with lemon juice. Serve dip with toasted Turkish Pide or pita bread and other crudite. Makes about 3 cups.
Roasted pumpkin seeds
Heat the oven to 200°C. Spread 2 cups seeds out on a baking tray, then dry roast in oven for 12-15 minutes until darker in colour but not too browned. Pour into a bowl, scatter over 1 tablespoon garlic flakes and a generous pinch of sea salt, mixing everything thoroughly. Cover and leave to cool – the longer the better, as this allows the garlic to permeate the seeds, overnight is ideal.
Roasted Orange and ginger pumpkin
Cut 1kg pumpkin into small pieces. Peel and remove seeds. Melt butter in a saucepan and add 3 tbsp butter, 1 tbsp honey, 1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger and the juice of 1 large orange. Mix well. Coat the pumpkin pieces with the butter mixture. Arrange pumpkin slices in a shallow greased oven dish. Pour over remaining orange and ginger mixture and coo for 45 minutes in oven for 45 minutes until tender. Baste occasionally while cooking. Garnish with finely grated orange zest. Serve immediately.