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How To Roast A Pumpkin … And Other Winter Squashes
First I want to tell you about pumpkins.
Years ago, I used to make anything “pumpkin” with pumpkin, which is winter squash. And then one day I was watching a cooking show on television and it was suggested that one make pumpkin pie with kabocha squash instead because they had more flavor than pumpkin squash. So I immediately went and bought a kabocha squash and made a pumpkin pie, and was very disappointed. I didn’t like the flavor at all [and now in 2020 I made a kabocha squash and LOVED it. So try it. You might like it.]
But that got me thinking. Maybe there was a winter squash that was better than pumpkin for pumpkin recipes, and after trying many I found one: carnival squash. It’s denser than pumpkin, creamier in texture, and sweeter.
You can learn more about winter squash at About.com Local Foods: Winter Squash & Pumpkins. They have a whole list of winter squashes with links to individual pages for each one. No carnival squash, alas, but I have it at my local natural food store.
Carnival squash is now my winter squash of choice for all those pumpkin recipes.
If you want to use pumpkin, choose a smaller “pie” pumpkin rather than a large pumpkin like you would carve for a jack-lantern. The smaller pumpkins have better texture and flavor.
Now, if you are going to make a pumpkin recipe, you’ll need to roast the pumpkin and process the meat, in order to get a pumpkin puree that is like what you would get out of a can. Please don’t buy a canned pumpkin! Roasting your own is so easy and tastes so much better and there’s no BPA from the can lining, which can disrupt your whole endocrine system.
How To Roast a Pumpkin or Other Winter Squash
First, you need to cut the pumpkin open.
For that, you need tools. Ideally a good cleaver and a rubber mallet. If you don’t have a rubber mallet in your kitchen, go down to your local home improvement store and buy one, because you can use it for all kinds of things around the kitchen. They are about $5.00. If you don’t have a cleaver, this might be a good time to buy one of those too, as you will use it often.
If you have these tools the job is easy. Just sit the squash on its bottom so it’s stable, position the sharp edge of the knife on the top point, and whack the knife with the mallet. The squash will crack open. You’ll probably need to continue to whack the knife on the ends as it is stuck in the squash until the squash cracks completely into two pieces. If you want quarters, do the same again.
If you don’t have a cleaver and mallet, use the biggest knife you have. Position the sharp side of the knife on the point of the squash and put a folded kitchen towel over the knife to protect your hand. Hit the knife hard with your hand or a heavy object. You’ll be able to open it, but if you want to make winter squash frequently, as I do, you’ll go buy a mallet and cleaver.
Then you want to scoop out the seeds. Again, easy.
I find roasting to be the best way to cook winter squash because it concentrates the flavor and you can easily scoop it out of the cooked shell, rather than trying to peel off the tough skin.
Once you’ve cut the squash in two, place the pieces cut-side down on a baking sheet lined with unbleached parchment paper. I always add a little water to make steam in the oven. Not much, maybe 1/2 a cup.
Bake the squash at 350 degrees F for an hour or more. Let it get good and soft. Don’t rush it. You’ll know it’s done when your tray looks like this:
When the pieces are cool enough to touch, scrape the squash out of the shell with a soup spoon.
Then puree the squash meat in a food processor and you are ready to make any delicious recipe that calls for pumpkin puree. I like to just keep this puree on hand during the season because there are so many sweet and savory dishes to make with it.
Eat The Whole Winter Squash…
According to Martha Stewart, you can eat every part of a winter squash, including the flesh, skin, and seeds.
“All winter squash skins are edible, full of fiber and vitamin A to boot,” says Martha, “but whether or not you should eat the skins of every type of winter squash is its own question.” Edible is one thing. Tasty is another. Martha recommends eating the skins of delicata, acorn and honeynut squash.
But you can eat the seeds of any winter squash by roasting them.