Ask The Forager: Is that a pumpkin or a squash?
Special to The Union
Dear Alan: I love to decorate my front porch with pumpkins for Halloween. But after the holiday, I put them in the compost.
I was wondering if could cook them and avoid that waste.
There are many varieties of pumpkins and all of them are members of the squash family.
Unfortunately, not all pumpkins, or squash, are created equal. But if you choose carefully, you can have great fall decorations and the beginnings of delicious meals with the same fruit.
Summer squash, winter squash like acorn and Delicata and pumpkins are all fruits of the species Cucurbita pepo.
Probably only a botanist would care that winter squashes like butternut, Hubbard, turban and kabocha types belong to other species.
You don’t have to look very hard to find pumpkins and squash to suit your decorating taste.
Plant breeders have been busy creating squashes in fanciful shapes that have skins ranging from smooth to ribbed to incredibly warty, and in colors of green, blue, pink, white, orange, red and more.
Fortunately, most of these have delicious flesh.
As far as pumpkins go, you can depend on good flavor and texture for cooking if you choose any pumpkin with “sugar” as part of its name.
But ask for help at the pumpkin patch or growers market in choosing other all-purpose squash and pumpkins; those with decorative skins and smooth, creamy flesh without stringiness.
Most farmers spend a lot of time in the off- season choosing just the right seeds to plant, so their advice can be very helpful.
I’m not a big fan of pumpkin pie, so I’m always looking for tasty ways to serve pumpkins.
You can substitute pumpkin in most recipes for winter squash, especially for soup.
They are a popular crop in southwest France and I recently discovered an easy and fun way to cook them, seasoned with parsley and garlic, as they do in Gascony.
Serve these tasty slices as a side dish with grilled fish, roast chicken or lamb, or by themselves as a snack.
Fried Pumpkin Slices
(Adapted from “The Cooking of South-West France” by Paula Wolfert)
Serves 4 to 6
2-pound wedge of pumpkin or red-fleshed squash like Kabocha
1 or 2 cloves peeled garlic
2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
¾ cup milk
½ cup flour seasoned with ¼ teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon pepper
2/3 cup vegetable oil or light olive oil for frying
Peel and seed the pumpkin. Scrape out the fibrous lining and discard. Cut pumpkin into 1/4-inch-thick slices, then cut slices into rough rectangles, about 1 x 1-1/2 inches.
Mince garlic just before cooking pumpkin slices. Mix with the chopped parsley and set aside.
Pour milk into a large bowl. Dip pumpkin slices into the milk and then dust with seasoned flour. Shake off excess.
Place oil in a large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Oil is ready when it shimmers, and it sizzles when a piece of pumpkin is added. Add about half of the pumpkin slices and cook on one side until crisp and golden, about 2 to 3 minutes. Do not crowd the pan. Turn and cook on the other side. Remove the cooked slices with a slotted spoon to a cookie sheet lined with paper towels. Gently blot with paper towels.
Repeat with remaining pumpkin slices. When all are done and drained of fat, arrange on a serving plate and sprinkle with the garlic and parsley mixture. Serve hot.
Chef Alan Tangren spent 22 years as a chef in the kitchens of Chez Panisse in Berkeley, eight of those years spent as the Chez Panisse forager. He teaches cooking classes and directs monthly Chef’s Tables at Tess’ Kitchen Store, 115 Mill St. in Grass Valley. Learn more at http://www.tesskitchenstore.com
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