Not-so-sweet pumpkin preparations
For most of my life, my family’s Thanksgiving menu was set in stone. With the exception of cranberries, much, if not all, of it came from our own garden/farm: potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn, lima beans, spinach and for years, even the turkey. And, let’s not forget: pumpkin for pies.
Our pumpkins, unless carved for Halloween, were always used in sweet dishes, caramelized with brown sugar, in pies and sweet breads. But in other places and countries, pumpkins (and other winter hard-shell squashes) are seen only in savory (aka not sweet) recipes. Here are two scrumptious pumpkin preparations that may expand your view of pumpkin possibilities.
This stuffed pumpkin looks as spectacular as it tastes; it is definitely an eye-catcher on any Thanksgiving table. While it’s certainly Middle Eastern in origin, this recipe – which I’ve tweaked considerably – comes from New Zealand. Roasting whole, dried spices before grinding substantially boosts their flavor. You’ll have more spice mixture than you need for this recipe; store the extra in a tight-lidded jar to use as a rub for meat and poultry, to sprinkle on sautéed vegetables or even in a salted and buttered bowl of popcorn.
Note: The amount of stuffing needed and the baking time vary considerably with your pumpkin’s size. Consider making 1 1/2 stuffing recipes for a larger pumpkin. Extra stuffing with additional lemon juice and olive oil makes a great salad tossed with baby spinach or arugula – and perhaps garnished with toasted pine or other nuts.
Pumpkin stuffed with quinoa and cranberries
- 1 pumpkin, at least 2 1/2 lbs; no larger than • 6 lbs.
- 8 T. coriander seeds
- 4 T. cumin seeds
- 4 T. fenugreek seeds
- 1 T. ground turmeric
- 1–2 tsp. hot pepper flakes, optional, or to taste
- 1 c. quinoa
- Olive oil for frying, plus additional
- 6 cloves garlic, minced, about 1 1/2 T., or more or less to taste
- 1 c. diced onion, preferably red, not super-sweet
- 1 lemon
- 1 c. dried cranberries
- Salt and pepper to taste
Heat the oven to 350 F.
Wash the outside of the pumpkin to remove any dirt. Cut off the top, making sure that there is enough of an opening to be able to fit in a serving spoon. Scrape out the seeds and strings and set aside.
Dry-roast the coriander, cumin and fenugreek seeds together in the oven for 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow for cooling, then crush in a mortar and pestle. Add the turmeric and hot pepper flakes. You will need 4 ½ tablespoons for this recipe. Store the remainder in an airtight jar.
Rinse the quinoa, if needed, to remove its soapy-tasting covering, then drain. Most quinoa sold these days is pre-rinsed, making this step unnecessary. Put the quinoa in a medium saucepan, cover with water to about 2 inches above the quinoa, stir in a teaspoon of salt and bring to a boil over medium high heat. Let boil for 7 minutes. Drain.
In a heavy-based frying pan, sauté the garlic and onion over medium heat in just enough olive oil to barely coat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are translucent.
Grate the lemon rind finely, then juice its pulp and set the juice aside. Add 4 1/2 tablespoons of the spice mixture and the lemon rind, sauté for 2-3 minutes. Remove from the heat and mix in the dried cranberries and quinoa. Season to taste with the lemon juice, salt and pepper.
Put as much of the stuffing mixture into the pumpkin as possible, packing it tightly. Drizzle the 3 tablespoons of olive oil over the stuffing and exposed cut edges of the pumpkin, making sure everything is coated.
Bake for 1 hour or more (the amount of time will depend on the size of the pumpkin) until the pumpkin is cooked through. Test by inserting a thin-bladed knife into the pumpkin. When the knife can push through the skin and flesh easily, it’s done. If the surface of the pumpkin and stuffing begins to get overbrowned during baking, tent with foil.
Cool for at least 30 minutes. Serve warm.
Thanksgiving recipes are passed down through generations, but this one has a more contemporary history: the original came to my daughter Anne from the mother of one of her friend’s ex-boyfriend’s. Surprisingly, the pumpkin isn’t a dominant flavor in the finished dish. Instead it adds a vegetal element that is rich without being heavy.
Two notes about this recipe: I’ve never before seen a recipe suggesting cooking pasta beyond the “al dente” (i.e. cooked through, but still with some firmness to it) from either professional chefs or home cooks. But the rationale behind it makes sense: By cooking the pasta a bit more thoroughly, it doesn’t absorb as much liquid; ensuring that the finished dish doesn’t become dry.
Then there’s the Velveeta. As regular readers know, I generally abhor processed products, not least stuff that can’t legally claim to be actual cheese. But Velveeta has been around since 1918 (sold to Kraft in 1972) and is purposefully designed to be a “fully integrated and clump-free liquid” that re-incorporates the whey into the cheese curds. In truth, Velveeta’s ingredient list isn’t as awful as many processed foods. Even so, Velveeta won’t appear in my regular menu planning. But I have to admit that incorporating Velveeta “cheese” with more flavorful real cheese creates a sauce that’s better than the sum of its parts.
Anne’s pumpkin macaroni and cheese
- 1 lb. macaroni or other sturdy tubular pasta, such as rigatoni
- 1/2 c. thinly sliced white and light green scallions
- 5 cloves minced garlic, about a heaping T. or more or less to taste.
- 2 T. butter
- 2 c. heavy cream, or whole milk, or Greek-style plain yogurt, or a mixture of milk and yogurt.
- 1 1/2 T. flour (2 T. if just using whole milk)
- 3/4 lb. grated cheese, preferably a sharp cheddar
- 1/2 lb. Velveeta “cheese product,” diced
- Two 15 oz. cans or one 29 oz. can puréed pumpkin
- Salt, freshly ground pepper, ground cayenne and Worcestershire sauce to taste
- 1 1/2 c. freshly grated parmesan-type cheese, or additional cheddar
- 1/2 c. thinly sliced scallion greens
Preheat the oven to 375 F.
In a large pot of salted, boiling water, cook the pasta about 2 minutes longer than the recommended labeling. Drain without rinsing and set aside.
In a large, heavy-bottomed pot, sauté the scallions and garlic in the butter over medium heat until they are softened but not browned. Sprinkle the flour over the vegetables and stir to dissolve any lumps of flour. Cook for a couple minutes longer. Reduce the heat to low.
In a separate pan on top of the stove or in a microwave, warm the cream or milk and/or yogurt. If using yogurt, be careful to not bring it to a simmer or boil, as it may curdle. Pour into the skillet in a thin stream, whisking constantly. Increase the heat slightly, especially if using yogurt, and bring to a bare simmer until the mixture has thickened.
Remove the pot from the stove and add the grated cheese in handfuls, stirring as you go. Add the Velveeta and return to the stove over low heat. Add the pumpkin purée and stir until the mixture is a smooth sauce.
Add the drained pasta, making sure that no pasta pieces stick together. Cook just long enough that everything is heated through, then season to taste with salt and pepper and a little cayenne and Worcestershire, if desired.
Spread the mixture evenly into a large baking dish, then sprinkle with the parmesan or additional cheddar.
Bake for 20-30 minutes or even longer, depending on your desired degree of browning on the top.
Garnish with the scallion greens just before serving so that they don’t wilt. Serve warm.
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