Thursday, March 7, 2013

Pumpkin Puree

Spanish food is very bland. I love it, but there is little flavor variation as Spaniards pride themselves on using very few spices in their cooking. I don't mind the simplicity in the savory dishes, but I have to report that Spanish baked goods are boring. Spaniards eat cakes with less flavor than a store-bought Sara Lee pound cake and exclaim "¡Què rico!" In an effort to convert some Spaniards to the worshiping of desserts with flavor, I've been baking some old-fashioned favorites and taking them to school for my colleagues. I have kept the flavors simple so as not to shock their palates; coffee cake, homemade pound cake, and most recently pumpkin chocolate chip cookies. So far, my attempts of exposing the teachers at my school to flavorful desserts has been a success. In exchange, they’ve persuaded me to open my stomach to stingray, octopus tentacles, and even tripe!

To make the pumpkin cookies, I had to make my own pumpkin puree. America is the land of good and plenty of canned pumpkin. In Spain, you cannot simply go to the grocery store to buy canned pumpkin. Even in October and November, when American supermarkets are bursting with this and other flavorful squash varieties, both canned and fresh pumpkins are absent from Spanish grocery store shelves. If you ask for a pumpkin, you'll likely be pointed in the direction of a butternut squash. (Delicious, great for making soup, but not a pumpkin.) In late October, I finally found a small sugar pumpkin at a fruit stand and when I informed the shopkeeper I planned to bake it and make it into a pie rather than carve it into a jack-o-lantern, she gave me the "Oh, you're foreign," look I've become very accustomed to. I had some leftover puree that’s been patiently waiting in my freezer, until now.  

To make your own puree, plan on an hour inactive prep time while the pumpkin bakes and no more than 30 minutes of blending and straining the puree.Straining is a very important step, especially if using to make a pumpkin pie. Baked pumpkin has a stringy texture and straining ensures a smooth final product.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a baking sheet with tin foil. Cut your pumpkin in half and scrape out the pulp and the seeds. Place the two halves skin side up on the baking sheet and roast for 45 minutes to an hour until the flesh is very tender. Remove from the oven and let cool.

Scrape the cooled pumpkin flesh out of the skin. In a blender or with an immersion blender, puree the flesh until smooth. If you're not up to dirtying more kitchen equipment, mashing the pumpkin flesh with a fork will work just fine, though it will take longer. Pour the puree through a strainer to get rid of any remaining stringy pieces. 

Now it's ready to add incredible flavor to a pumpkin chorizo pizza or a batch of pumpkin chocolate chip cookies! If not using it immediately, your homemade pumpkin puree will keep for one week in the fridge or up to one year in the freezer. Freeze it in Ziploc bags for easy storage.

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