Although nowadays I do enjoy the occasional slice of pumpkin pie, I hated it as a child. In fact, I don’t believe I really started to acquire a taste for pumpkin pie until well into my twenties. I think it was partly textural and partly difficult to grasp the idea that pumpkins were food….as far as I was concerned, they were Halloween decorations, adorning the neighborhood’s doorsteps and front yards to bring on the autumn spirit. More often than not, the day after Halloween, pumpkin remnants were splattered along the street, the result of some neighborhood vandals/punks stealing one’s doorstep decorations and smashing them. Lovely. Needless to say, I think this memory further divided any sort of distinction between pumpkins and food for me.
When I grew to appreciate pumpkins, I baked a batch of pumpkin cookies completely from scratch (no powders or mixes!) for a friend’s Christmas party five years ago, though I will admit that I used canned purée. That was the first and last time that I had tried my hand at any sort of pumpkin anything until earlier this month when I prepared dinner for a friend. Over the years, I had eaten plenty of pumpkin in some shape or form and I wanted my dish to be impressive, yet simple, and of course delicious. I had tasted a few excellent pumpkin purées, sauces and soups during the weeks leading up so I thought why not just give it a shot myself? And thinking along the lines of “go big or go home,” I decided to buy an entire pumpkin to cut and gut instead of the already precut pieces.
I consulted my good friend Google for an overview on how to make pumpkin purée. Now, I was a little terrified since the sharpest knife I could find wasn’t exactly sharp enough. I sliced away rigorously as a gift-wrapped package containing a Japanese stainless steel knife taunted me from its place on a nearby table. Of course I would never dream of doing something so tacky as opening it, using it, cleaning it, re-packaging it then gifting it to my friend, but I just couldn’t help but giggle at the irony at how much easier it would have made this harrowing task. So near, but still so far away.
I made it through the painstaking pumpkin-cutting process with all ten of my fingers intact, and the rest of it was a piece of cake. I opted not to save the seeds because I didn’t have the time or the energy to think about what to do with them. Just under an hour later, I removed the pumpkin slices from the oven and the insides slid away from the skin very easily…even the dullest of knives would have sufficed for this. I placed the pumpkin chunks in a mixer, added a little olive oil, salt, and sage, then got my purée on. Once done, I put the purée in a sautee pan with some garlic and olive oil, then added the al dente (but over-salted!) orecchiette and voila…dinner! I think it turned out quite nicely if I do say so myself, and the orecchiette and sauce complemented each other perfectly, much to my delight, with the latter getting trapped inside the pockets of the former. Yum.
What would I do differently next time? I’d take more care salting the pasta water as I was a little heavy-handed this time around and I’d add some peperoncino or something to the purée just to give it a little bit of a kick. Overall, though, I’m feeling proud at my first pumpkin purée attempt! Here’s to the next time.