The Great Pumpkin
Nature’s timing is flawless. As if on cue, the winter squash and pumpkins appear just as the onslaught of zucchini starts to ebb. And they’re here to stay, their stout curves and painterly colors a pleasure to behold throughout the winter. Every year I stock up on the many varieties grown by Alice and Neil Fitzgerald of River Brook Farm in Cochecton, NY including international heirlooms like the brilliant orange Hubbard, the voluptuous Musque de Provence and the charmingly bumpy Marina di Chioggia. These all have a dense, creamy flesh that is equally delicious roasted, fried (pumpkin tempura!) or stewed.
Pumpkins and winter squash are domesticated species of the genus Cucurbita, and the difference among them is more culinary than botanical. Winter squash tend to have a finer texture and milder flavor, while pumpkins have a more pronounced flavor and flesh that is often orange. Though they are not completely interchangeable, for brevity’s sake I will refer to them from here on as pumpkins. They are a warm weather crop that can be stored well into the winter, provided they have been “cured”—a weeks-long drying process in a warm, dry spot (a sunny windowsill or greenhouse) during which the skin hardens and the flavors intensify. Unlike many root vegetables, pumpkins require little cosseting and can spend several months in a frost-free shed or on your kitchen counter, with nothing more than a thick layer of newspaper to keep them happy.
In addition to being delicious and hardy, pumpkins are an excellent source of nutrition, high in the vitamin C and omega-3 fatty acids that support our immunity through the cold months and rich in beta-carotene, whose powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties soothe arthritis and help prevent the build-up of bad cholesterol. The seeds contain plenty of protein, so consider roasting them for a snack rather than dumping them in the garbage (or the compost heap).