Part of being environmentally responsible AND being healthy is eating seasonally. I've been trying to actually start watching the weekly sales ad from the local grocery store for produce sales. Late summer and early fall seems to be the best time for fresh local produce, so I've been trying to stock up on fresh veggies and batch cook meals for the freezer.
I've never really cooked squash before, and I experimented with it a bit to make some baby food for my son. When it went on sale for $.55 per lb, I got as many different kinds as I could. The pumpkin is what I experimented with the most. It's very important to get "pie pumpkins" or small, dense pumpkins--NOT the big carving pumpkins. Pie pumpkins are full of flavor and nutrients, whereas the carving pumpkins are not good for cooking (though you can roast the seeds--I like to toss mine in Old Bay, cuz I'm a good MD girl).
I started by breaking down the pumpkins, scooping out the pulp and seeds, and roasting them in an inch of water in my Dutch oven for about 45 minutes.
Scooping hot pumpkin flesh out of the skin is not quite something I've mastered, so I am open to suggestions. After the flesh is scooped out, I mash it with a hand mixer and then it is a ready ingredient for a number of tasty dishes. I'll talk about the top three below.
Spiced Pumpkin Butter with Pecans
Using this recipe from cooks.com, I attempted to try a butter full of autumny flavor, even though I've never cooked or eaten pumpkin butter before. It was not an awful first try, but next time around I'll follow the directions regarding the orange zest, instead of throwing all of it in.
First, I added spice, honey, and orange zest/juice to the pumpkin mash and put the whole mixture in the crockpot.
I let it cook down all day. The house smelled AMAZING--I'm telling you, even if you don't end up eating this stuff, I recommend making a batch the morning of a holiday get-together just for the awesome smell. At the end of the day, I added a bit more mash to freshen up the pumpkin flavor. Check out the color difference after a day of cooking:While the fresh mash was being integrated into the mixture, I toasted some fresh pecans. The place to get these is in the PRODUCE SECTION of the grocery store, not in dusty, old bags that they put in the baking aisle.
These got chopped and mixed into the butter (those that survived my munching--so good right out of the oven!). I think if you're going to do something with the butter right away, definitely reserve some of these as a topping.
Current wisdom says that you can not home can pumpkin because there is not enough acid to keep bacteria from growing. However, pumpkin (and pumpkin butter) can stay refrigerated for up to 6 months and frozen for up to a year (so sayeth the internet). So far my favorite use for this stuff is as a spread for fresh, warm brownies:
The chocolate compliments the pumpkiny-citrus flavor SOOOO well. Yum!
So, after eating a million pumpkin-butter-topped brownies, it may be time to cut back on some calories, right? This recipe for a pumpkin-stuffed ravioli is very healthy and is a few hundred calories less than a traditional stuffed pasta dish. Because it's made with the flavorful parmesan (albeit a relatively small amount), it takes on a cheesy flavor and the texture is similar, too.
I made a huge batch using soy wonton wrappers (found in the refrigerated section of the produce aisle). I mixed up the pumpkin mash, parmesan cheese, and a bit of black pepper. I spooned a heaping teaspoon onto each wrapper:
Then I moistened the edges:
And I folded the whole thing into these cute little envelopes, placed on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper:
Granted, there are many different ways these can be folded up, and these need to be tight or they come loose while being boiled. I was able to throw the baking sheet in the freezer and then transfer the raviolis into a freezer bag once they were hardened. I made about 100 raviolis. A moment or two in a pot of boiling water is all it takes to cook these, toss in a little herb butter, and you have a healthy, seasonal, original dinner!
Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins
Perhaps the simplest, tastiest use for the pumpkin mash has to be this awesome recipe for pumpkin chocolate chip muffins. There are 2 secret ingredients that make a huge difference. Secret flavor: cinnamon. It perfectly complements the chocolate so that you don't have to overwhelm the muffin with them. Secret texture: yogurt. It makes these muffins so smooth and velvety without the fat of oil, and adds a nice boost of calcium and protein, too.
I used half white flour and half wheat for an extra nutritional boost, and broke out my mini-muffin pan for built-in portion control. These freeze beautifully, if they last long enough to make it into the freezer. I actually handed these out on Halloween (to families we know) and they were much more popular (and healthier!) than candy.