Ah, it’s Autumn
It’s officially Fall! I love when the leaves begin to change colors, revealing rich shades of auburn, rust and gold. We are now beginning to experience crisp mornings and chilly evenings that beg for sweaters and jackets. I had my first craving for apple cider yesterday, as the temperatures were low, the sky was overcast, and there was a lingering mist in the air. Yet, weather like that is comforting and makes me very excited about all of the wonderful flavors associated with Autumn.
North Carolina provides us with so many seasonally appropriate culinary components, perfect for orchestrating heartwarming fall dishes. Pumpkins seem to be the conductors of the band of the harvest bounty in October, due to their prolific ability to grow throughout North Carolina, their association with the season’s colors and of course their starting role as a fiendish character in Halloween displays.
Pumpkins can be enjoyed in a variety of ways in the fall, from traditional pies, to ravioli, to lattes. Many Autumn soups can be served in pumpkins, using the pumpkin as a bowl. Cut the tops off several small sugar pumpkins or carnival squash, remove seeds, and scrape inside walls clean. Place pumpkins on a baking sheet and bake at 350°F for 20 to 30 minutes until hot. Ladle soup into the pumpkin ‘bowls’ and serve. The pulp of the pumpkin itself lends an additional flavor component to the soup you are serving.
Use pure pumpkin in cans labeled pumpkin purée as a good or better alternative to fresh. Avoid “pumpkin pie filling”, which has other ingredients added.
When making pumpkin pie, it’s helpful to partially bake the bottom crust before filling. This method called “lind baking,” helps ensure that moisture from the filling doesn’t make the crust soggy. To blind-bake a crust, lightly prick the bottom all over with a fork. Line with foil and fill with pie weights or dried beans (these will keep the dough flat during baking). Bake until pale golden, remove weights and foil, then fill and bake again, covering edges with foil to prevent over browning.
When a recipe calls for pumpkin seeds, generally they mean the hulled green variety called pepitas that are used in Hispanic cooking and available in many grocery stores. The unhulled seeds obtained when carving a jack-o’-lantern can also be eaten—they’re delicious toasted and sprinkled with salt. Simply separate from the pulp, rinse, drain, and roast.
Remember, larger pumpkins lack the flavor that sugar pumpkins possess, and should only be used for carving as jack-o’-lantern. Plus, they are more cumbersome to handle when baking.