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Savory Pumpkins

Pumpkins. Photo by Rick Briggs via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Last year at this time I had a revelation. I discovered the Cinderella pumpkin, a heritage breed that boasts the highest sugar content of any pumpkin. The pumpkin itself is large, and is shaped like Cinderella’s carriage without the wheels. And Chef Jerry Pellegrino knows this variety and can confirm that it is one of the best for cooking.

Of course we also have the famous Sugar Baby variety, along with Baby Bear and Early Sweet Sugar Pie, mostly small round pumpkins. But for yield per pumpkin, it's hard to beat the Cinderella.

There are of course two schools of cooking with pumpkin: the savory and the sweet. Today we can talk about the savory.

Ordinarily, you can use the pumpkin flesh either as a purée or in small roasted pieces.

To get the pumpkin down to cubes, here's what you do. Cut the stem off, then cut the pumpkin in half top to bottom. Scoop the seeds and fibers out, then cut the halves into quarters and then again into eighths. Using a sharp thin knife, remove big slices of the pumpkin from the skin, and cut into pieces (much like you would do with a cantaloupe).

Put the pieces in a bowl, and drizzle with olive oil. Arrange them on a baking sheet and place in a preheated 400° oven and bake for 45 to 60 minutes. If they just start to brown and char, you're done. Take them out of the oven and set aside to cool. And now you can go in any number of directions.

The first dish I will offer is a roasted pumpkin salad with roasted beets. I see no reason why you couldn't roast your pumpkin and beets together and save some oven time. Let them cool down, then sprinkle them on a bed of frisée lettuce along with a scattering of cracked hazelnuts and crumbled blue cheese. Choose a light dressing with just a hint of sweetness to complete the picture. For extra fun, toss in a few shreds of fried pancetta.

Pumpkins appear in many Indian recipes, and here's an easy idea to try. It would be pumpkin, garbanzo bean and red lentil curry, slow-cooked to a simmering conclusion. Round out the ingredients with chopped onion and garlic, and season with cumin, cinnamon, cayenne pepper and salt. Cook everything in a bit of vegetable broth and let it take its time.

Going western with our recipes, let's try a pumpkin beef stew with spinach. Sear your beef quickly in a pot, then add chopped onions, a can of garbanzo beans, some minced garlic, and finally a cup of roasted pumpkin. Add enough beef broth to cover the ingredients, and then simmer over a moderate heat. Add a tablespoon of tomato paste to thicken the stew, and finally a handful or two of baby spinach leaves. Simmer until the spinach is wilted and then check the seasoning. Serve over basmati rice.

If you purée your pumpkin, then you can head off toward pumpkin soups, pumpkin ravioli, even pumpkin hummus dip. But that would be another show.

Al Spoler, well known to WYPR listeners as the wine-loving co-host of "Cellar Notes" has had a long-standing parallel interest in cooking as well. Al has said, the moment he started getting serious about Sunday night dinners was the same moment he started getting serious about wine. Over the years, he has benefited greatly from being a member of the Cork and Fork Society of Baltimore, a gentlemen's dining club that serves black tie meals cooked by the members themselves who are some of Baltimore's most accomplished amateur cooks.
Executive Chef Jerry Pellegrino of Corks restaurant is fascinated by food and wine, and the way they work in harmony on the palate. His understanding of the two goes all the way to the molecular level, drawing on his advanced education in molecular biology. His cuisine is simple and surprising, pairing unexpected ingredients together to work with Corks' extensive wine offerings.