Why is it that pumpkin-flavored food items are always better in theory than in practice? Each year as fall approaches, the hoi polloi wait on tenterhooks for the debut of this year’s Cucurbita latte. It always arrives a bit too soon for the weather, before the calendar officially turns, but long after young thoughts have turned to corduroy and J.Crew catalogs. We queue up for it, the first sips are taken—and then the annual disappointment sets in.
Last week I ordered a seasonal pumpkin ice cream, and threw away half my cone. Threw it away. Here’s a pumpkin-flavored thing that doesn’t disappoint: Pumpkin. A friendly reminder via your local farm stand; although we may forget that the iconic squash are good for more than Jack-o-lanterns and brownstone stoop décor, they can actually be eaten themselves. Somewhere in a processing plant in a remote region of the world, it’s even likely that a substance only thrice removed from pumpkin is making its way through along a conveyor belt, ready to be spliced and diced into ready-made latte base. You could be that conveyor belt.
The Long Pie pumpkin is an heirloom variety that, according to Slow Food Rhode Island, was originally brought to Nantucket in a whaling ship in 1832 (though pumpkins themselves are believed to have originated in the New World). It is beloved by cooks as its flesh is easy to work with, and is especially good in pie, as its name suggests. It earns the rest of its epithet from its oblong shape, in contrast to the standard pumpkin shape of, say, the Spooktacular variety.
Pumpkins are omnipresent in our local markets already, so choose any variety that is recommended for cooking (there are several heirloom pumpkin cultivars that are highly praised, but sadly the Long Island Cheese pumpkin was unavailable at my Greenmarket. The Long Pie pumpkin, or as I nicknamed it “Long Pig”, was). Long Pie pumpkins are often picked before ripe, so if cooking with your pumpkin, store it until it is fully orange. You may use a vegetable peeler to remove the outer skin, and scoop the seeds and strings before baking. For something sweeter, try a pumpkin butter.
- One 2 1/2 to 3 lb pumpkin
- One large yellow onion, diced
- One shallot, diced
- 1/4 cup + 2 teaspoons olive oil
- 1/3 cup heavy cream
For the spice mixture:
- 2 teaspoons Kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon fennel seed
- 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon dried sage
- 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Peel the pumpkin with a vegetable peeler, and scoop out the seeds and stringy pulp. Reserve the seeds. Cut the pumpkin flesh into one-inch cubes and arrange in a single layer on a foil-lined sheet pan, along with the onion and shallot. Combine the spices and sprinkle over the pumpkin and onion mixture. Add olive oil and toss to coat.
Roast the vegetables for 25 to 30 minutes or until the pumpkin is soft, stirring occasionally. While pumpkin mixture is cooking, rinse the seeds in a colander under cool water to separate them from the stringy flesh. Discard the flesh, and dry the seeds well. Scatter the seeds on a sheet pan and drizzle with ~ 2 teaspoons of olive oil. Add to the oven and bake for 8 to 10 minutes.
Remove, and sprinkle the seeds generously with salt. When the pumpkin is cooked, remove the pan and cool slightly. Place the pumpkin mixture in a blender with three cups of water (or use an immersion blender). Blend until smooth, adding additional water if needed. Add blended mixture to a heavy saucepan and cook over low heat for 10 minutes. Add cream and stir to mix. Taste and add additional salt if needed. Top with roasted pumpkin seeds and additional grated nutmeg, if desired, and serve.