Monday, October 18, 2010

How to make pumpkin puree - no cans allowed!

Have you been searching desperately for pumpkin puree on the grocery store shelves? Due to the pumpkin crop casualty of last growing season, we're still seeing the effects. Although some stores have a few cans to offer, you won't find canned pumpkin-y goodness as easily. I say quit searching, head over to a farmers market or pumpkin patch, and pick an eating pumpkin to puree yourself. It's easier than you think. Here's how it goes:

Picking a pumpkin: ask your vendor for an eating pumpkin. You can cook and eat all pumpkins, but only a "pumpkin pie" pumpkin or an eating pumpkin will taste good. Don't feel like you have to get a gargantuan gourd like I did. After eating one of these, I now prefer the little pie pumpkins. They are small, round, and vibrant orange. One small pie pumpkin will be enough for an average recipe, but if you're going through the motions to make your own puree, it's better to pick up and puree two. It's not that much more work.

Now wash your pumpkin(s), slice them open, scoop out their guts, and cut into manageable pieces. (If you have a pie pumpkin, cutting them in half will be manageable enough.)

Place them in a deep dish or oven-safe pan, cut side down. Don't over crowd your pan like I did. (It will take longer and then you'll have to cover the pile with foil.) Pour an inch of water into the pan with the pumpkins. Place in a preheated oven (350 degrees), uncovered for an hour to an hour and a half - just until the pieces are soft and the skin peels easily.

When the pieces are soft, let them come to room temperature or until they are cool enough to touch. They will look sad and wilty, but the skin will peel easily. Peel them...

...and place the pieces into a food processor, food mill, or potato ricer to achieve a nice, smooth puree. It's better to work in batches so that you don't bog down your machine.

If not using your puree immediately, I like to line a cupcake pan with a layer of thick plastic wrap (don't use the cheap stuff, it tears) and measure out 1/2 cup portions. Freeze it, pop out the portions, and transfer to a freezer zip-top bag. When you need pumpkin puree, just take out a few pumpkin-sicles and thaw in the fridge. Use them in your oatmeal, put them in cookies, make pumpkin pancakes or muffins, make a fancy risotto, put it in a soup.... It's pumpkin season! Enjoy!

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