I’ve always loved the idea of using pumpkins and squashes as tureens – they are pretty, elegant and functional and the idea has always appealed to my sense of the natural world. I’d not tried it in the past for a couple of reasons. One it seemed fussy and time consuming – not my style. And two, I was always worried about how much you cook the pumpkin or squash ahead of time or do you skip this? If you don’t cook it at all, will it ever get done if you are using it for, say, bread pudding? If you do cook it ahead, how do you know how long, it must vary so much with the size of the pumpkin? If you cook it too little, it’s crunchy; if you cook it too much it doesn’t hold it’s shape. I had visions of having what was once a perfect looking cheese pumpkin tureen (yes there really is such a thing) cradling my cream of pumpkin soup and bringing it to the table as it collapses on itself.
In the fall we got an entire bushel full of squash and pumpkins from our CSA, and so I decided to give it a try. My first experiment was baking bread pudding in a pumpkin. I didn’t bake or steam it ahead of time, but just poured the batter in and baked, hoping that a longer cooking time would infuse the pudding with a pumpkin taste. This wasn’t my favorite method. It took 2 1/2 to 3 hours, I needed to cover the top with tin foil to keep it from burning and there was little difference in the taste. The next method was steaming. I put a small amount of water in the bottom of a large pot and placed the pumpkin directly in the pot. This got me part of the way there, as it was quick, maybe 15-20 minutes depending on the size, and the pumpkin stayed moist. The problem was that the part resting directly in the water cooked faster than the part out of the water and we ended up with a hole in the bottom. (There goes my pumpkin soup everywhere!) Putting a small strainer face down in the water with the pumpkin on top solved this. We steamed them upside down with the pot lid on and it worked beautifully. Cooking times will of course vary depending on the size and thickness of each pumpkin, but the idea is that you cook the flesh of the pumpkin until tender, yet still have a firm and upright urn to place your ingredients or finished product.
Creamy Pumpkin Soup w/Toasted Pumpkin Seeds
4 sugar pumpkins, small in size, about 5” in diameter.
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup onions, diced
1/4 cup celery, diced
1 tablespoon garlic, minced
1 1/2 pounds butternut squash (or 1/2 butternut squash), cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 pear, peeled, cored and minced
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 cup sherry
4 cups chicken stock
1 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Toasted pumpkin seeds, optional garnish
Cut a whole in the top just like you would when carving a pumpkin. Scoop out the seeds and save for an optional garnish. Salt the inside of the pumpkin and steam top and bottoms in a large pot, face down with the lids off. You don’t want any part of the pumpkin to be sitting in water. You can use a strainer or a cookie rack placed in the bottom of the pot to keep them out of the water. Steam for approximately 20 minutes or until the flesh is tender, but the pumpkins are still holding their shape.
In a medium saucepan, over medium high heat, melt butter and sauté the onions, celery and garlic. When they are translucent, add the squash, pear and nutmeg. Sauté until the squash starts to stick to the bottom, stirring frequently and then add the sherry, chicken stock and cream. Bring to a simmer and cook until the squash is very tender, about 15 minutes. Transfer to a blender and puree. Ladle into the warm pumpkins, garnish with pumpkin seeds and serve.
Remove as much pulp as you can by hand and then place the seeds in a strainer. Run the seeds under water until the pulp is removed. Dry with paper towel and place on a roasting pan. Sprinkle liberally with salt and toast at 375 degrees for 20-30 minutes or until light golden brown. Set aside for garnish and snacks.
© 2008 Anne Mahle