When I worked at Bouchon, autumn is when I would get the bitch work of processing hundreds of pumpkins. We would make pumpkin pies that were sold for charity, the proceeds donated to the local food bank. Awesome cause, lots of pumpkin prep work.
Cases of pumpkins would arrive at the pastry room to be roasted and then pressed, by yours truly, through a tamis with a bowl scrapper, to what felt like no end. This is why I laugh when people complain that roasting one measly pumpkin is a hassle.
While it does involved a bit of work, roasting pumpkins or squash is the best part of fall. Sprinkle with some fall spices or thyme, toss a pat of butter in the cavity and kick back while your house starts to smell like the holidays. Still a little freaked out? Let me back up and give you some pointers to get you on your way to a holiday scented house and a jar of homemade pumpkin puree.
Types of Squash: Don't buy a big jack-o'-lantern pumpkin and think you can roast it up for some tasty pie. These are typically pretty dry and lack flavor. Instead, look for red kuri squash, Cinderella, sugar pie, or even butternut. When in doubt, ask your farmer for some guidance.
Prepping Squash: Cut the squash in half carefully. Keep your fingers free of the blade. I find that cutting with a sturdy knife and cutting with certainty works well. What I mean by that is that if you are trying too hard to be careful cutting through the squash, it could result in you getting your knife stuck in the squash, which usually ends in stitches.
Some like to roast with the cavity down on the pan, and some with it up. I roast my squash with the cavity up. Sprinkle salt, fall spices, a little thyme and a pat of butter in each cavity. Place the pan in the oven, then pour water in the bottom of the pan, just enough to cover the bottom. You may need to replenish the water during baking, just keep this in mind.
Roasting: Every oven is different. My oven runs a bit on the hot side, so I roast my squash at around 350 degrees for 30 minutes. I rotate at this point, check the water level and add more if needed. Then roast for another 30 minutes.
If the squash is larger and thicker, or smaller and thinner, you times will vary. Use your best discretion. You want the meat of the squash to be fork tender.
Remove from the oven.
Puree: Allow the squash to cool a bit, but still be warm. If the squash has a thinner skin, it may just peel off when roasted, however, you may need to take a paring knife and trim the skin off of thicker-skin squash.
I like to puree my squash while it's still warm, as I get a smoother puree. If your squash is cold when you go to puree, not a problem. Add some hot water or hot cider to the food processor to loosen the puree.
You can use the puree like this or push it through a strainer to get a finer puree. If your puree is quite watery, place some cheesecloth in a strainer, over a bowl. Scoop your puree into the cheesecloth lined strainer, cover the entire thing with plastic wrap, and leave in your fridge overnight to drain off the water and create a thick pumpkin puree, more like what you find in the can at the grocery store.
Storage: Store your puree in the fridge for up to a week, or in a Ziploc in the freezer for up to a month.
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It does take a bit of work, but can you think of a better lazy Sunday activity than roasting pumpkins?
Check back in next week as we start brainstorming some uses for this homemade pumpkin puree.
Rachel Miller is a pastry chef and food writer in Phoenix, where she bakes, eats, and single-handedly keeps her local cheese shop in business. You can get more information about her pastry at www.pistolwhippedpastry.com, or on her blog at www.croissantinthecity.com.