Sunday, November 1, 2009

Internal Combustion Pumpkin

Autumn is upon us. It is, truly, my favorite time of year. Everything from the weather, to the leaves, to the scents and...the food! The season holds two very important holidays that both have their own special foods: Halloween and Thanksgiving.

There are a few ingredients that are key to Autumn foods: cinnamon, clove, pumpkin, apple, etc. And my favorite of all is...PUMPKIN!

We're all familiar with pumpkin pie, usually bought ready-made from a store or made from puree in a can. But fresh pumpkin pie? From fresh pumpkin? PREPOSTEROUS! In this day & age of instant food, instant wi-fi, instant instants, it's just natural to reach for the easiest way to make a food. But not me, and especially not for one of my favorite foods in the entire galaxy: pumpkin pie.

Making your own pumpkin puree from scratch is a time-consuming process, and most definitely an inexact science. You can find "recipes" in cookbooks and online, but every pumpkin behaves differently and if you're a first-timer for roasting a can go very badly, very easily.

But fear no more! I have come to the rescue, with this tutorial on roasting your own pumpkin!

What you'll need:

1 pumpkin*
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp salt
Aluminum foil
Baking sheet
Food processor

*There are a myriad of varieties of pumpkins. If you feel like doing research on them, that's totally your call. I just buy pretty orange ones that I can pick up without assistance.

Step 1: Preheat your oven to 325 degrees.
(Just in case you need help with that part...)

Step 2: Gut your pumpkin, Jack o'Lantern style. Score a hole in the top around the stem, remove that piece. Reach inside and prepare to pretend that you're stranded in the frozen wastes of Hoth. Pull out all of the stringy bits--BUT! save those seeds! They're a very nutritious and tasty treat when roasted.
(That's my trusty assistant, Husband Todd.)
(The seeds will need to be thoroughly rinsed & dried. Find a recipe online.)
Step 3: Once all of the seeds and guts are removed, flip that orange bugger over and score around the base, just like you did on the top. Cut it into even halves. Take a large metal spoon (trust me, *metal* is best) and scrape away the remaining stringy bits. Don't damage the rind, but make sure it's clean, like this:
Step 4: Mix your oil, spices and salt into a small bowl. Blend well, and apply to the pumpkin rind with a brush *evenly*. Please note that if you want to use the puree for something that doesn't have these spices in it, omit them and simply use the oil and salt. Your pumpkin should now look like this:

Step 5: Cover the tops of the pumpkin halves in foil. It isn't necessary to cover them completely (as in, you don't have to wrap them in foil.
Step 6: Put the pumpkin into the oven, as in-the-middle as you can possibly get it. Depending upon the size of your pumpkin, you may need to put them on the very bottom rack. Do what you can to ensure that they do NOT touch the heating elements.

Now, here's where this turns into that "inexact science" I mentioned earlier. Every pumpkin is different. Every oven is different. The pumpkin I used today was about 7lbs and very round. Yours may be bigger, smaller, or a strange shape. The best place to start is 325 degrees and one hour. So, set a timer for one hour.
Step 7: At the one hour mark, check on your pumpkin. The consistency that you're shooting for is for a knife to fall into the meat of the rind without much pressure. It needs to be very soft. Make sure that every time you check it you put the foil back on as tightly as possible. Sealing in the pumpkin's moisture is extremely important. Here's what your pumpkin will look like once it's done. My 7lb round pumpkin took about two hours.
(Please note that the brown areas are NOT burn marks. That's the spices soaking into the meat of the rind.)

Step 8: Look at the picture above and you'll see score marks in the rind. That's to make it a bit easier to scrape out the meat. You'll want to do that now. DO NOT score it all the way to the shell. We aren't going to use the shell and it's definitely not "good eats", to quote a famous fellow Georgian.

Scooping out the meat is the fun bit. Now please note here: scrape out the meat a few moments after it comes out of the oven. If you let the pumpkin cool, it's gonna be very difficult to get that meat out. Take your metal spoon again and begin to scrape off the meat from the shell. Some of the meat won't come off, that's normal. Just get out what you can without having to use elbow grease. If you're having to use pressure to get it out, it's not roasted and you don't want to cook with it.
This is what your de-meated pumpkin will look like--a deflated basket ball.

And here's the scooped meat. It will be somewhat stringy, and warm. (Don't burn yourself!)
Step 9: Get out that trusty food processor and chuck the scooped meat into it. If you've got a puree function, use that. If not, a "blend" or "chop" will work, too. Let it process for about a minute and a half, depending on the quality of your processor. Here's what you want it to look like:

SO! You're now a pumpkin roasting champion! I hope these instructions & pictures will help in your attempts at making fresh pumpkin puree.

What? You want my pumpkin pie recipe, too? Sorry, kids. That's a secret. :)

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