How to CookPumpkin

Make a Pumpkin Disappear—Seeds, Skin and All

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Pumpkins hold some sort of strange magic. The orange gourd belies a history of spooky transformations and mystical misuses: Cinderella’s godmother transforms one into a bespoke carriage. The headless horsemen wears one in place of his severed head. And let’s not forget the witches who have turned many an unsuspecting, and extremely unlucky, human into one.

It’s true, pumpkins are no sane squash. What other fruit would we allow children to hack into with carving knives and give weird toothless grins? The fiery cavity-ridden orbs stare us down through uneven triangle eyes.

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But for all the fear and fun they inspire, pumpkins are fleshy, fragrant, and, when handled correctly, lend themselves to a diverse spread of dishes. This week, I invited a pumpkin into my kitchen for my own brand of magic. Brandishing a knife in place of a wand and a 7.25-quart Dutch oven instead of a cauldron, I determined to make said pumpkin disappear.

Conversations of nose-to-tail cooking help me understand produce beyond its most practical and practiced uses. Besides its thick stalk and stringy inner guts, I figured I could utilize all of my pumpkin's layers: a smooth exterior protecting a soft, creamy inside, and a busy colony of hulled seeds at its center. Each element begets a bevy of uses and treatments.

I started with a vegetable peeler, running it along the plasticky skin. What I couldn’t shave off because of the pumpkin’s shape, I carved off with a knife. I softened shavings with coconut oil, sprinkled generously with sea salt, and placed in the oven on low, low heat for hours. They emerged like dried mangos but crunchier, silkier, with a heady pumpkin taste punctuated by char. I snacked on them alone, tossed them in a salad, and layered into a lunchtime sandwich.

Seeds and skins prove to be crunchy snacks or flavorful garnishes.
Seeds and skins prove to be crunchy snacks or flavorful garnishes. Photo by Valerio Farris

For the seeds, I bathed some in cinnamon, others in maple and cardamom. I dusted the rest with za’atar, cumin, or curry powder. The cumin-coated seeds worked nicely into breakfast tacos, a smoky crunch between soft scrambled eggs and fragrant chorizo. I topped my late night scoops of ice cream with the sweeter varieties. The za’atar ones I snacked on by themselves, the sesame and herbs lend the seeds a flavorful earthiness.

Last, I turned my attention to the flesh. I chopped and roasted parts of the pumpkin with a maple glaze, filled a fennel gratin with buttery pumpkin pulp, and, later, folded softened bits between tagliatelle and cream and sage for a silky weeknight pasta. That last dish sent me to bed warm and heavy.

Some early iterations of pumpkin-fueled dinners.
Some early iterations of pumpkin-fueled dinners. Photo by Valerio Farris

I still have half my pumpkin’s flesh sitting in my fridge. I’m keeping my options open, some I will puree to fill a pie or bake and render as a butter. Maybe I’ll fry some and garnish with salted eggs or set my sight on this towering kale pumpkin and potato pie. Regardless of what form my last bit of pumpkin takes, what I can promise is that it will be gone. And save for the stalk, which now sits withering on my kitchen counter, it seems my magic worked.

What's your favorite pumpkin pursuit? Let us know your tricks in the comments.

Tags: Halloween