Seasons by the Sea: Step Away From the Pumpkin Latte
The weather may still be disconcertingly balmy, but the farm stands and supermarkets and nurseries are all letting us know it’s fall! Hank’s Pumpkintown is up and running and busy as ever. The folks at John’s Drive-In in Montauk are cranking out their delicious pumpkin ice cream. There are pumpkin lattes, pumpkin doughnuts, pumpkin ales. There are caramel apple kits at King Kullen and corn mazes everywhere. I kid you not, I spied Pepperidge Farm Pumpkin Swirl bread (limited time only!) at the Sag Harbor I.G.A. The Pepperidge Farm website exhorts you to “Wake up to swirls and swirls of yummy morning magic!” Goodness gracious, almost gave me flashbacks to 1969.
At the Montauk Fall Festival last weekend I bought some pumpkin raviolis. I chatted with the amiable fellow selling them. “What do you suggest, browned butter with fresh sage to top the raviolis?” “I’ll let you in on a little secret,” he confided. “Try them with cinnamon and whipped cream for dessert. I’m telling you, you can’t go wrong.” With this information weighing heavily upon me, I went in search of another Montauk Brewing Company Pumptauk pumpkin-yam beer.
If you’re going to cook with pumpkin, you should know that our very own Long Island cheese pumpkin is the best. These are the pale, creamy-orange colored, somewhat squat pumpkins you’ll see everywhere. But what about all the other winter squashes, pumpkins, and gourds you see in abundance at farm stands? There are over 100 “genera” in the cucurbiteae family, and more than 700 species.
Acorn squash is a variety you will see all year round. They are relatively small (12 ounces to two pounds) and dark green with deep ribs and blond-orange speckles and stripes. They are thick-skinned with somewhat stringy flesh and are good for roasting, baking (stuffed or not), steaming, mashing, and sautéing.
The blue Hokkaido pumpkin is a beauty, with gray-blue skin and bright orange flesh. This is a tasty one, sweet and nutty, good for baking and stuffing or just on its own, roasted with butter, salt, and pepper.
Butternut squash is the sweetest of winter squashes and has passed the acorn in popularity (probably because you can now get it peeled and cubed at the grocery store). The flesh is firm and holds its shape when roasted. Try it with grated fresh ginger, rosemary, and maple syrup.
It is also worth noting that many of these squashes and pumpkins can be eaten with the skin on. Just make sure to give them a good scrub before cooking.
Delicata squash are small and oblong, striped with yellow, green, and orange. This one is a bit drier than others. I like it cut into thin wedges and roasted with assertive Middle Eastern spices and topped with a dollop of yogurt.
Hubbard squash are those big fellows you often see sold in halves and quarters, they’re so huge. They are roundish, teardrop-shaped with dark green to pale blue-grey-colored skin and a bit more warty surface than Hokkaido. Their thick skin makes them one of the best for long-term storage (up to five months), and their flesh becomes sweeter as they age. They are very sweet and “pumpkin-y,” making them ideal for baking into cakes and muffins.
Kabocha is another squash you will see everywhere. This one is squat, round, and green with orange splotches. The flesh is sweet and tender and nutty and also keeps its shape when cooked, making it a good choice in soups and stews.
The red Kuri, also called Hokkaido, just to confuse you, is a small bright-red-orange squash similar in shape to a pumpkin but without the ridges. Its size makes it good for stuffing and roasting.
Since we covered the Long Island cheese pumpkin at length last fall, suffice it to say that this is one of the best and most versatile for baking and stuffing. Look up Dorie Greenspan’s recipe for “Pumpkin Stuffed With Everything Good.” It is one of the best recipes I have ever tried, cheesy, rich, and creamy, and quite the showpiece when brought to the table whole.
If you are going to use pumpkin or squash in a pie, I would strongly urge you to roast it first. Boiling just makes it watery, roasting brings out the natural sugars and concentrates the flavor. Ever tasted the difference between boiled beets and roasted beets? Same thing.
So, when you’ve had enough pumpkin lattes and cider donuts and Kabocha kimchi bubblegum, visit your favorite farm stand and try one of the more unusual offerings of the cucurbiteae family. They are inexpensive, healthy, and versatile.