Friday, November 5, 2010

What Do I Do With Those Jack-o-Lanterns Now? Making the Most of Pumpkin Dollars Spent

I love summer squash, but apparently I'm allergic to it. My allergist gave me a list of foods to avoid, and among them were squash, summer squash, butternut squash, and all my favorite kinds of squash. However Pumpkin was not included. So I decided to use some of the leftover pumpkin from Halloween in the place of butternut squash and ended up with some delicious soup that friends are raving about. I still felt it needed something, but wasn't sure what until I realized adding black beans cooked in light salt did the trick. I will share the recipe here for those who are interested in something other than pumpkin pie to do with your leftover pumpkin this season. And by the way, I find mixing in some pumpkin puree from baking pumpkins really boosts the flavor when using fresh jack-o-lantern leftovers.

Before I give you that recipe, I should share some tips and tricks I learned both from my mother, and the internet about making the most of your jack-o-lanterns. If you carve pumpkins, do so the day before, or the day of Halloween. When they are burning, keep an eye on your pumpkins making sure that they are properly ventilated and the candle isn't eating away at viable resources nor leaving a huge scorch mark on the outside of your masterpiece. Or, you can paint or draw on the skin with non toxic markers or paint. After all, you're going to cut away the skin before turning the leftovers into pumpkin puree anyway. And if you don't cut into the pumpkin for Halloween, it lasts longer. We did some of each.

Save your pumpkin seeds of course, they can be baked and saved for a healthy snack. We found soaking them in a large bowl 1/2 filled with water and a tablespoon of whatever flavoring was a great method. Thanks for the suggestion, Logan! I made 3 flavors and one plain since we had 4 jack-o-lanterns and a baking pumpkin giving up their seeds. I then baked them on a baking sheet covered in foil and sprayed with cooking oil at 325 degrees F for 10-12 minutes until golden brown. My favorite flavor is lightly salted with paprika, but sugar and cinnamon turned out good too, and we also made garlic and plain. Get creative!

When you are done showing off your gorgeous pumpkin carvings, painted pumpkins, etc. you are ready to start cooking, freezing, composting, and generally using up the leftovers. You can use a potato peeler to peel the skin off the sides. I find cutting off the top and bottom and putting them in the compost bin (or trash if you don't compost) a great way to avoid wax and candle damage. You will want to do this the day after Halloween or put the thing in the fridge to make it last a couple days longer, but the sooner you cut it up, the more usable pumpkin you will have.  Using a sharp knife and remembering our knife safety, we cut the sides of the pumpkin in strips and cut away the inside which had been exposed to the air, the heat of the candle, flies, etc. We then cut the strips into cubes about 1 by 1 by 1 inch or so. Keeping the mass of the pumpkin pieces equivalent makes for more even cooking later.

Once the pumpkin flesh is cubed, you can place it in freezer safe containers, baggies, or best yet, food saver packages so they are frozen in bags with all the air removed. This will make them last longest and avoid freezer burn. The liquid naturally found in the cells of the pumpkin will freeze breaking down the pumpkin flesh and making it turn into a smoother product when made into puree later. It also has the added advantage of intensifying the sweetness and flavor of the pumpkin.

You can do this in a slow cooker, mine is working on some right now, or on the stove. Place enough water to cover the bottom of the container, place the pumpkin in the container, turn the heat up, cover and let steam. In a slow cooker on low, it will take about 4 to 6 hours but it varies depending if the pumpkin was fresh or frozen, how thick it was, how small you cut the pieces, etc. so keep an eye on it the first time until you sort out how long you need to steam it. I did forget my pumpkin was in the slow cooker one day and left it in 3 hours longer than necessary. Not a pleasant clean up job. If doing this on the stove, it will go faster. When the pumpkin is a darker orange and easily cut with a fork, it is ready. Remove from the heat and let cool. Do not drain, those juices are useful! You can place the container into the refrigerator to speed cooling if you're impatient after smelling all that pumpkin yumness emanating from the pot. When the pumpkin is cool, pour the steamed pumpkin chunks and juices into a blender. Blend on medium speed. You may find that you need to use a spatula or other tool to pres the pumpkin on the top down towards the blades. Now you can store the pumpkin puree in an air tight container. I kept mine in the refrigerator because I was not sure about proper pumpkin puree storage when it is home made. The store bought stuff can be kept in the cupboard, but since I wasn't canning mine, I thought it better to simply toss it in the fridge. Better safe than sorry right?!

Now for the piece de resistance...

    1.5 cups fresh pumpkin 
    1 medium sweet potato 
    1.5 cups pumpkin puree 
    2 cups organic, low sodium french onion soup 
    1 cup water 
    1/2 cup red onion 
    2 cloves garlic 
    1/2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil 
    1/2 tsp sage 
    1/4 tsp cumin 
    1/4 tsp curry powder 
    1 tbsp lime juice 
    1 cup almond milk

Mince (or finely chop) 2 cloves garlic and set aside for 10 to 15 minutes in order to best release the immune boosting properties of the garlic.Chop leftover pumpkin into 1/2 inch cubes, approximately 1.5 cups worth. Chop 1 medium sweet potato into 1/2 inch cubes as well and set aside with pumpkin. Chop 1/2 a red onion into small pieces and set aside.
In a medium or large sauce pan, put 2 cups organic, low sodium french onion soup and 1 cup of water on to boil. 

Heat a non stick frying pan to medium. Add onion and 1/2 a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil. Carmelize and add 2 cloves minced garlic, 1/2 tsp sage, 1/4 tsp cumin, 1/4 tsp curry powder and cook 30 more seconds. Then add the mixture to the boiling soup and turn down to low.

Add 1.5 cups pumpkin puree, fresh pumpkin, and 1 medium chopped sweet potato to soup, stir, and cover partially. Cook for 10 more minutes, or until the pumpkin and sweet potato are soft. 

Let soup cool and add 1/2 to blender. Blend till smooth, then pour back into soup pan through a fine sieve. Stir, and pour the rest into the blender. Blend thuroughly and pour back through sieve. You will need to use a spatula to help smooth the soup through the sieve. The herbs and pieces of onion which didn't blend will be left in the sieve.

Mix 1 cup almond milk and 1 tablespoon lime juice into mixture and serve! You can serve this soup cold or hot. I found it was a perfect lunch with black beans cooked in a light amount of salt, drained, and then added in just before serving.

Makes 7 servings about 1 cup each. 

Let me know how you like it, or if you try it with any substitutions please pass them along to me, I'm always looking for new ideas.

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