Heidi Billotto’s Best Pumpkin Recipes

Its the time of the year when fresh pumpkin, like all other varieties of winter squash, are abundant in this area. Blend a batch of homemade Pumpkin Spice ( recipe below) and dive into sweet pumpkin recipes for pie, custards, ice creams, breads, cookies and muffins; but don’t forget the savory possibilities. Use raw chopped or grated pumpkin in soups, salads, pastas and tempura; and, remember, it is great for juicing, too.

Homemade pumpkin puree, or roasted cubes of pumpkin, seasoned only with butter, salt and pepper makes a great side to grilled or roasted meats.

These seasonal squash are low in calories, yet abundant in vitamins, minerals and fiber. Pumpkin is a great source for vitamins A, B-complex, C, and E all are rich in anti-oxidants and anti-aging properties.

Health benefits aside,  legend and folk lore has it that this grandest of gourd’s is also an aphrodisiac…so all of a sudden, pumpkin season could take on a whole new meaning … I’ll leave it at that and let you draw your own conclusions.

Heidi Billotto

Pumpkins to Carve

For home use and display, big pumpkins ( as long as you can lift them) make for great Jack-o-lanterns to light up on the front or back porch welcoming treat or treating seasonal guests.

For one (or two) of the best pumpkin carving tips ever – check out this great video on instagram from @BrunchWithBabs – the mixer idea is pure genius, and cutting the pumpkin from the bottom, instead of the top – simply brilliant! If you don’t already follow Babs, you should – her videos are entertaining and her tips and tricks are ones that will leave you wondering, why you never thought of that!

But, when it comes to cooking, keep in mind that once “Jack” has been carved and spent several nights out of doors, all sorts of  creepy crawly things may take up residence.

For baking and eating, best to not try to reuse “Jack”, just add him to the compost bin. Instead, buy additional pumpkins for cooking, baking and preserving as a puree.

How to cook fresh local pumpkin

For eating purposes, look for medium to slightly smaller pumpkins, those with more tender and succulent flesh. Follow your favorite recipes for any winter squash or sweet potatoes, subbing in pumpkin with delicious results.

Even after Halloween, you finds lots of locally grown pumpkins and winter squash at local farmers’ markets. Buy several to enjoy from now till the end of the year and freeze to keep them even longer.

Like any other winter squash – Butternut, Acorn, Golden and Hubbard – the skin should be free from blemishes and the pumpkin or squash heavy for its size. Store whole any winter squash at room temperature for as long as a month or keep in a cooler place for as long as three months.

Because they are freshly picked, locally harvested pumpkins and squash will be easier to cut open than commercially purchased ones. While the skin of fresh picked pumpkins and squash is firm, it is thinner and more tender and therefore, easier to work with – another big benefit to buying local.

Think of carving or cutting a pumpkin like cutting up a watermelon or canteloupe. You don’t need a big knife, you just need a sharp one. Or….

Smashing Pumpkins

If you are wary of wielding a knife to cut apart your seasonal squash, take this easy (and, lets face it) fun way out: Place your pumpkin in a large heavy-duty plastic garbage bag, take it outside and drop it on some hard concrete.

The pumpkin will split open into several pieces. Back in your kitchen, remove the pieces from the bag, scoop out the stringy pulp that surrounds the seeds and then cut the firmer pulp from the outside shell.

Boil, Bake or Fry

Boil, steam, bake or fry the pieces of pulp as you would potatoes. You can clean up the pieces first trimming the skin and removing the seeds and stringing membrane. Or, oven roast by placing the broken chunks, skin and all, cut side down in a parchment paper lined large baking sheet with sides.

Bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for about an hour, or an hour and a half or so, or until the pieces are fork tender – about the same consistency as a baked potato. You can also do the same in a microwave, although I think you’ll get better caramelization in the oven..

Heidi’s Spiced Pumpkin Seeds

The pumpkin seeds, sometimes called pepitas, may be rinsed from the stringy pulp, which holds then in place inside the pumpkin and then baked.

First, rinse the seeds well, removing all of the pumpkin pulp. Then, pat the seeds dry between several layers of paper toweling. Spread the dry pumpkin seeds in a single layer on a lightly oiled or buttered baking sheet. Season them generously before baking with your favorite sweet or savory spice or spice combination.

Toast the seasoned seeds in a preheated 200 degree oven for 45 minutes to one hour, turning them over halfway during the baking time. When the seeds are dry and toasted with a crunchy consistency, remove them for the oven and allow to cool to room temperature. Store in an airtight container and enjoy over the course of the next several weeks and months.

I like savory pumpkin seeds, so I tend towards a simple mix of salt and pepper or chili powder and cumin; but if your tastebuds are craving a sweeter blend, there is no more perfect opportunity to bring out the pumpkin spice.

Heidi’s Homemade Pumpkin Spice

The success of this recipe is freshness. After six months or so, spices, particularly ground spices tend to lose their flavor. For a pumpkin spice that packs a punch of flavor – go buy new spices and keep it fresh. You can find nearly everything you need here at The Savory Spice Shop – my go to for fresh dried herbs and spices.

Buy the Turmeric Blend from my friends at The Turmeric Zone in Raleigh – you can order from them online. I met Elizabeth and Samir and all they bring to the table a couple of years ago when I wrote about their award-winning super honey.

Like the honey which debuted a year or so ago; their new Turmeric spice blend with ginger and black pepper is not only good for you, but delicious, too. I’m finding myself adding it to everything! And, bonus points… it adds a lovely golden color to whatever you use it in.

So many things to love about The Turmeric Zone, I’ll be sharing more great recipes with their products soon, but between now and then, order the Turmeric Blend, and shop for more from them here. #TellThemHeidiSentYou

This GotTobeNC turmeric spice blend is the “secret sauce” in my Pumpkin Spice.

My final twist to this spin on Pumpkin Spice is 5 spice powder in place of the cloves and nutmeg you’ll find in other recipes. You can easily double this recipe or cut it in half as needed. Use it mixed with sugar for sweet and spicy pumpkin seeds as I suggested in the previous recipe, or try it in my homemade cinnamon rolls for what is sure to become a family favorite.

Here is what you need:

4 Tbsp. Ground Saigon Cinnamon

2 Tbsp. Turmeric Zone Ground Turmeric with Ginger and Black Pepper

1/2 cup finely chopped candied ginger ( buy local baby ginger root and make your own with the recipe you’ll find here.)

1 1/2 Tbsp. Chinese Five Spice Powder

Pinch of sea salt ( add to taste – it will spark all of the other flavors in the blend)

Even though the spices in this blend are already ground, warm up their flavors by blending them together with the minced candied ginger in a spice or coffee grinder. Then, allow them to sit for an hour or so before using for the very best flavors.

Pro Tip: How to Grind Spices

You don’t need separate grinders for spices and coffee. Add dry spices (or peppercorns for fresh pepper) to your coffee grinder and grind to a coarse grind or a fine grind as you prefer. When you are done grinding the spices, transfer them to another container, Unplug the grinder and wipe out with a paper towel. Then, plug it in again and add 2-3 Tbsp. of coffee beans and grind to a fine blend.

In the process here, the coffee acts as a filter, taking away the taste of any of the spices. Stop the grinder and add that batch of coffee you your compost bin. Now, you are ready to grind coffee for your next cup-o-joe!

Heidi Billotto

Tempura Pumpkin

¾ cup all-purpose flour ( or use a cup for cup gluten free substitute)

1/4 cup cornstarch, pea or potato starch

1 large egg

1 cup cold water

Sift flour and cornstarch together to remove any clumps and to make it light and soft. Set aside.

Combine ice water and beaten egg – best to blend slightly. Do not use a whisk, mixer or food processor to blend this mix as it will blend in too much air.

Combine the flour and egg mixtures to make a batter.

Heat oil for frying. Dip sliced of fresh raw pumpkin into the batter and then drop in the oil until crispy and lightly browned. Remove to a wire rack to cook and then enjoy with any of your favorite sauces or dips.

The key ingredient in terms of equipment? A heavy duty pan for frying – I love using cast iron – and a baking sheet and a wire cake rack.

No Fear of Frying

Whenever you fry anything, the key to keeping things crispy is a wire rack. Use the rack instead of placing the cooked food on layers of paper towels to drain. Air is your friend here. Any additional fat drips from the food, through the rack on onto the baking sheet. The air surrounding the food you fried keeps the texture crispy.

Pumpkin and Carrot Soup

One or two local pumpkins – each about the size of a basketball ( use can also use butternut or hubbard squash

3-4 whole local or organic carrots, peeled and cut into chunks

2 leeks, cleaned and minced

1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

Water or chicken or veggie broth

1 cup heavy cream or half and half, more if needed

Sea salt and pepper to taste

Chopped fresh baby ginger to taste – I enjoy a couple of 1/4 inch thick slices in the mix, but you should add to taste.

Cut the pumpkins in half and place cut side down on a parchment paper lined baking sheet cut side down. Roast in a 400 degree oven for about 30 minutes or until the pumpkin begin to brown. When the pumpkin is cool enough to handle, use a spoon to scoop out the seeds. Then gently scoop the pulp Reserve the pulp; save the seeds for roasting and toss the skins in the compost bin.

In a stockpot, heat olive oil for a minute, till it becomes aromatic. Add carrots and shallots or leeks and minced ginger, Saute until these veggies just start to brown. Add the roasted pumpkin pulp, cover with water or broth and bring to a boil. Allow to boil until carrots are tender.

Use an immersion blender or a food processor to puree the pumpkin and carrots and stir into broth. Season to taste with salt, pepper and ground ginger if needed. Add the heavy cream or half and half for a creamier soup if you would like. Adjust seasonings to taste.

Serve hot, freezes well. Thin with additional broth or water if desired.

Grated Pumpkin Veggie Chili

Yes, this really is a veggie chili made entirely of ground and grated fresh veggies -no meat, no poultry

2 Tbsp. your favorites Extra virgin Olive Oil

3 cups raw coarse-grated pumpkin ( This is best done in a food processor with the steel blade)

2 cups raw coarse-grated local carrots

1 small onion and 1 red or green bell pepper, minced

1 lb. mix of Urban Gourmet Farms Trumpet Mushrooms and Shiitake Mushrooms ( these are available in Charlotte at the Matthews Community Farmers Market and the Southend market at Atherton)

2 ( 28 Oz) cans organic whole tomatoes with liquid

1 minced jalapeno – ( only add the seeds and inside membrane if you want it to be spicy!)

3 Tbsp. chili powder

2 Tbsp. ground cumin seeds ( I grind my own in my coffee or spice grinder – see my Pro Tip on Grinding spices, above)

Warm the olive oil in a large saucepan. Add the grated pumpkin, onion and bell pepper. Saute until the veggies start to get soft and slightly caramelized. Add the tomatoes and the seasonings. Cook over high heat until mix begins to bubble, then turn down and simmer for about 15 minutes.  Adjust seasonings with sea salt and coarse ground black pepper.

Serve topped with chopped avocado and grated cheese.

Or, for fun and even more deliciousness, top each bowl with a scoop of cheese grits!! I made the ones pictured here with Tidewater Grain Company Carolina Gold Rice Middlins ( or rice grits)

Tidewater Grain Company Cheesy Rice Grits            

Bring 3 cups of salted water to a boil. Add 1 cup Tidewater Grain Company Middlins aka rice grits.

Stir and reduce heat to a simmer. Allow to simmer uncovered for 12-15 mins. at which time most but probably not all of the water will be absorbed into the rice grits.                                                                                                                   Add ¾ to 1 cup of local or organic whole milk to the pan of middlins and stir to blend, Bring the pan back to a medium heat.  

Slowly add a cup or so of your favorite local shredded or softened cheese. Stir well with each addition to allow the cheese to melt into the creamy mix. Keep stirring until the cheesy middlins mix begins to get thicker. Season to taste with salt, pepper and butter if you would like it even creamier.

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