I butchered my crop of seven pumpkins a few days ago. \”Butcher\” is the proper term for something that requires a strong stomach as well as strong muscles.
Mind you, my pumpkins are the medium-sized ones intended for eating rather than carving. But cutting them open, even with my razor-sharp Chinese chopper, is by far the most strenuous thing I do in the kitchen. It\’s kind of like sawing a tree: the minute I get the chopper blade a couple of inches into the pumpkin, it gets stuck in the crack. The only way to resolve this is to lift the chopper with the attached pumpkin as high as I can, and then crash it down onto the counter. Eventually I win, and the pumpkin splits raggedly in two.
Then comes the gross part. With my bare hands, I scoop out the innards–the slimy, sticky filaments, the flat, slippery seeds. The only way to get it all is to scrape the inner walls with my fingernails. Ugh.
I didn\’t have enough space in the oven to bake the fourteen pumpkin halves at once, so I had to make two batches. While the first batch was baking, I took the pumpkin guts out to the hens. I know, I know, I should have scrubbed those 1200 seeds clean, seasoned, and roasted them. But I had, as the French say, other cats to whip that day.
When the pumpkins were done, I scooped out their flesh and rushed the still-warm rinds to the chickens, who loved them at first but soon turned up their noses at them. I don\’t blame them: fourteen pumpkin rinds for eleven hens is a lot.
When the baking was over, I had several impressive mountains of orange pumpkin meat, which I divided into portions and froze. Then I had to figure out a way to use it. Sure, I could make pies, and if we ate a couple of pies a week we might empty our pumpkin stores by spring…by which time we\’d be too obese to walk out the door to plant the new garden. I could make pumpkin bread, which has more redeeming nutritional value than pies, but seven pumpkins would probably yield forty-nine loaves, which we also don\’t need. I could make curried cream of pumpkin soup, which tastes great and would be good for us, but might lose its charm if we ate it every day.
Pies, bread and soup exhausted the resources of my modest cookbook library. What I needed were recipes for pumpkin main dishes–concoctions that would use a lot of pumpkin and no sugar and would even taste good. Can I sing enough praises of Google\’s recipe sites? Like a helpful grandmother, Google comes to the rescue whenever I have too much of anything from the garden.
Although 90% of the pumpkin recipes were for bread or desserts, I found quite a few for main dishes, and a lot of those seemed to be of Italian provenance. If they named green summer squashes zucchini (little pumpkins), Italians must grow a lot of zucca, and have come up with ways to use it. I found a recipe for pumpkin gnocchi; one for baked pumpkin, sausage and ziti; and one, which I decided to make right away because I had all the ingredients, for pumpkin polenta with cheese.
It met all my requirements: it used up a lot of pumpkin, was reasonably easy to make, and tasted good. I\’ll make the gnocchi next. Sure, one of these days I\’ll take out my 1977 Fannie Farmer and make a pie. But until then, thank you, Google!