The Great Pumpkin
If the closest you’ve come to a pumpkin is carving a jack o’lantern for Halloween or spicing up a can of puree for Thanksgiving pie, you might be intimidated by the prospect of transforming a big, gnarly one into dinner. Take heart, because a world of luscious discovery awaits you, and it all starts with this humble, thick-skinned vegetable. It’s as easy as roasting a whole one in the oven. At 375 degrees, it takes an hour or two for a big pumpkin to collapse into a soft heap of tawny flesh. Some varieties exude quite a bit of water, and it’s not a bad idea to let those drain in a colander after roasting. But whipped well or sliced and caramelized under the broiler, all it needs is a slick of peppery olive or a pool of good butter and a shower of flaky sea salt to make a satisfying side dish.
To transform this into a main event, thin it with stock and perhaps a little buttermilk, add curry and a few sprigs of cilantro, and you have a very nice, warming soup. Or combine it with flour and eggs to make tender gnocchi, perfect with a wild mushroom ragout. Or stir it into risotto with sage and butter, the ultimate comfort food. Or add cream, eggs and honey, pour it into ramekins and steam it in a water bath for a very luxurious pudding. Or bake it into your favorite quick bread with plump raisins and chunks of crystallized ginger. The possibilities are myriad and mouth-watering.
A small pumpkin, such as a five-pound Winter Sweet (a grey variety of the Japanese kabocha) easily serves four people. You can choose a much larger one to feed a crowd, and the recipe included here is so easy yet makes a dramatic presentation fit for company. Choose a fairly round, symmetrical pumpkin with the kind of dry, nutty flesh that’s ideal for roasting; when in doubt, check with the farmer. Then you simply carve a lid from the top—precisely as you would when making that jack o’lantern—scoop out the seeds and pulp, and scrape out enough flesh to leave the shell about three-quarters of an inch thick. What you’re left with is a gorgeous natural vessel that you can fill to the brim with all manner of treats before roasting it to tender perfection.