When I was a little girl, I was awfully excited to buy a pumpkin at the grocery store. In my little world, there was Charlie Brown, and his tale of the Great Pumpkin, there was Cinderella, who rode in a pumpkin carriage, there was Peter, Peter, Pumpkin Eater, and there were Jack O'Lantern pumpkins. From the produce department. Every year we had one, and every year I asked if we'd be cooking it.
"Do you mean are we carving it?"
"No, are we cooking it?"
"Silly! You don't cook pumpkins."
"Where does pumpkin pie come from?"
"You know. The can."
Every. single. year.
My mother kept the most perfect home of all my peers', and I was dressed to the nines, all straightened and starched, for every occasion. I had pigtails that were stretched perfectly tight, and exactly symmetrical, even though my head was decidedly not. And I must say that we were always well-fed, never went hungry, enjoyed delicious holiday dinners with home-baked pies, always. But cooking fresh vegetables, unless potatoes, was very rarely part of her plan. And cooking pumpkin, well that was never part of her plan. I was never going to get to cook that pumpkin. Even though it came from the grocery store.
That is, until I bought my own pumpkin(!!!). The first time I attempted it, I tried to cook the huge pumpkin I'd selected to carve-- carve, that is, until I got the grand idea to do what I'd longed to do all those years. I stopped myself, special only-for-carving-pumpkins knife in hand, taped on some construction paper features, and waited until the day after Halloween to carry out the grand scheme. I had absolutely no idea what I was doing, but that never stopped me. And it still doesn't, though I've thankfully gotten most of my Lucy Ricardo-esque kitchen moments behind me. For a few years now, anyway.
But this was then....
Friends, I'm going to save you all the mess of the story and cut to the chase. I tried to boil every bit of that pumpkin, save for the pulp and seeds (I'd figured at least that much out on my own, never having bitten into a seed whilst pie-eating) and turn it into, what I hoped, ney expected, to be an elegant pumpkin bisque. I produced 6 gallons, and spent a whopping 50$ for extra ingredients, in the making of pumpkin bisque. And I lived alone. And 6 gallons of pumpkin bisque is not, no matter how I creme fraiched it, I'm sad to report, elegant.
I couldn't give the stuff away. No, really, I tried. But this sad girl who lived alone in a strange new city had no foodie friends, in fact not many friends at all. I loaded my parents down with a gallon, they being too kind to remind me that there, in fact, were only two of them. And I ate pumpkin bisque for a month. Breakfast. Lunch. Dinner. And I didn't eat pumpkin anything for about 8 years after that.
I've grown since then. Rather pumpkin-like, I might add. But I really mean I've grown in the kitchen. I'm like a grown-up chef, now. I can make fresh pumpkin, manageably, in about a dozen ways. I've made cassoulets, pumpkined-up bread puddings, smoothies, snacks, and, now, a way better bisque (all to be blogged, of course) than before. But, hands down, my simplest preparation is roasted pumpkin.
I start with a manageable pumpkin! Pie pumpkins are smaller, and much easier to wield a knife around. I learned my lesson. Then, it goes something like this...
Afterwards, I cut those last slices into manageable chunks. I pull out a big cast iron skillet, preheat my oven to 450 degrees, then pull out the magic.
You can go two ways with pumpkin--savory or sweet. Or the third way, because I always go the third way in a two-way game--savory and sweet.
My basic formula is pumpkin + fat + seasonings + high heat = oh-yes-that's-so-good. And so simple. And so fast. And, yes, so healthy, too.
Because it's just a little fat--say olive oil, or coconut oil, or the drippings from the 4 oz of pancetta I rendered, in this recipe. And it's just a little sweet--say raisins, or a little brown sugar, or, like this recipe, the tablespoon of pure maple syrup in which they were glazed. Added a little apple cider vinegar to pull out all the flavors, and tossed them with garam masala. You might decide apple or pumpkin pie spices, or even orange or lemon zest, if you're going sweet, or chipotle chile powder, or cayenne pepper, or even a pinch of sage, if you're going savory. Chinese Five Spice is kind of exciting here, too. But back to this particular rendition--
In preparing one-half pie pumpkin, sliced and cubed--
Brown 4-8 ounces pancetta (or proscuitto, or Virginia ham, or plain ham, or even salt pork, but just not smoked bacon, because it'll be more about the smoked bacon than the pumpkin if you do), in a large cast iron skillet. Pour off all but a scant teaspoon of drippings. Toss pumpkin in, along with garam masala spice blend, to taste. I used about 1 tablespoon, buy I'm a little heavy-handed for some people's taste, so start with, say, 1 teaspoon. You can always add more at the end, as long as it's still hot. I add a little bit of kosher salt. Salt enhances sweet, but remember that your pancetta is a touch salty, too. You can skip this step if you're watching your sodium intake. Drizzle one tablespoon pure maple syrup over pumpkin, and toss to coat all. Roast, uncovered, for 25 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add about 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar, stirring up all the pan drippings and making sure to mix them in well with the pumpkin mixture. Slide them back in the oven and roast until they are fork-tender--not too mushy.
Pumpkin has a lot of moisture in it, so they will not crisp up, say, like roasted potatoes would. What it will do, is have body, texture, and spicy, savory, sweet goodness, mix well with beans or grains, make itself into a lovely soup or stew, or simply have body, and texture, and spicy, savory, sweet goodness, and what you'll have is a spiffy new side dish for your autumn dinner plate to take the place of.....
canned vegetables. bleh.