AS A NOVICE KID CHEF, I once used the flesh from a Halloween pumpkin to make a pie. Blech! It’s a culinary lesson that many cooks discover only later in life.
Aficionados know that jack-o’-lantern pumpkins are good for carving and illuminating, but their stringy flesh isn’t fit for a creamy pie filling or any other recipe calling for pumpkin meat. Instead, look for varieties called pie or sugar pumpkins. The pumpkins in this category—and there are many types, with different names—are typically smaller, with meatier flesh and less moisture.
Native to the Americas (we exported them to France in colonial times), culinary pumpkins have populated autumn menus and graced holiday tables throughout North America going back to the late 1700s. (After the Civil War, Southerners associated the popular pie with the culture of “Northern aggressors” and swapped sweet potatoes for the offending squash.)
Since pumpkins belong to the squash family, they play a role in Native dishes as an element of the celebrated Three Sisters: corn, beans, and squash. Each can thrive in the same patch of soil, creating a harmony that became the backbone of Indigenous cuisine. Long before European settlers arrived, Native people had learned to enjoy every part of the pumpkin, from its blossom (added to stews) to its seeds (everyone loves a good snack).
Pumpkin delivered a nutritional punch then and now: It’s high in vitamin A, beta-carotene, fiber, vitamin C, and potassium, and low in fat and carbohydrates.
Among the New Mexico varieties ripe for cooking, I recommend Small Sugar, Baby Pam, Baby Bear, Winter Luxury, Jack Be Little, Wee-B-Little, Summer Ball, and Orange Smoothie. While we certainly love our pie here—we even have a town named for the dish—the autumn harvest can be both sweet and savory.
But how to handle, prep, and cook them? Many recipes call for peeling, chopping, and boiling to make a puree. I prefer to roast them in halves, brushing the skin lightly with olive oil to keep it moist. I leave the seeds in—they’re easier to remove after cooking. Place the halves facedown on a cookie sheet and roast at 375° for 30 to 40 minutes or until the flesh gives way easily when punctured with a fork. Roasting promotes caramelization and evaporates some of the moisture, thus concentrating the flavor.
Allow them to cool. Then simply remove the seeds and peel away the flesh. If you are adding chunks to a stew or curry, underbake the halves slightly so the pieces don’t lose their texture while simmering in a sauce. For pureeing, well-baked, tender flesh will achieve a smooth texture in a food processor, food mill, or ricer. If you must use canned pumpkin, avoid the seasoned pie-filling version. Even I’ve been known to buy plain pumpkin puree and add my own flavorings.
The puree can be added to baked goods as a substitute for fats and eggs, and its full flavor stands up to intense spices and seasonings. Some other ideas? Baked baby pumpkins make fancy bowls for a soup. You can also try them for pickling, in curries (both Thai and Indian), added to muffins and loaf breads, and in risottos, au gratins, and egg rolls. Who doesn’t love a pumpkin mousse roulade or pumpkin cheesecake?
The seeds can easily be cleaned of the pulp, washed, dried, seasoned, and toasted. A light toss in olive oil and a sprinkling of your favorite dry rub will turn them into hard-to-stop-eating snacks.
Read more: Nationally renowned Diné chef Freddie J. Bitsoie spiffs up traditional Indigenous dishes with innovative techniques. His new cookbook is the must-buy of the season.
Add adventure to family fun by visiting a pumpkin patch. Besides letting you pick your own pumpkin, most locations have hayrides, corn mazes, petting zoos, pond fishing, and more.
Toni Balzano says the Balzano Family Vineyard and Pumpkin Patch, near Carlsbad, took form years ago after she and her then-young daughter headed to Moriarty for the theme park of them all, McCall’s Pumpkin Patch. “I just fell in love with the idea of owning a pumpkin patch,” she says. “I was fortunate that my family owns 150 acres of land between Artesia and Carlsbad, and they were willing to let me try to do it. We have steadily grown every year since, just by adding new things that we know families will enjoy—games, gel blasters, a farm obstacle course, a big slide, and new food options, too.”
Jimmy Wagner, namesake of Big Jim Farms, in Los Ranchos de Albuquerque, says the pick-it-yourself farm has four months of fun. “During July we start with harvesting sunflowers, then the green chile is ready in August, and pumpkins start at the end of September, through Halloween,” he says. “We have photo areas throughout the farm, so visitors can get some cute photos to remember the good times. And we have an area for farm animals, play areas, and live music. We only charge for what someone picks.”
On some weekends, Big Jim Farms even sets up pumpkin-carving stations because, yeah, you still need a jack-o’-lantern—even if you can’t cook with it.
Christine Hickman, who wrote the definitive gnocchi cookbook, Gnocchi, Solo Gnocchi, and regularly teaches Italian-themed cooking classes in Santa Fe, offers this delicious recipe celebrating the humble pumpkin. She often uses the widely available kabocha squash, also known as Japanese pumpkin, because of its sweet, dry, and dense flesh, but agrees any variety of local pie pumpkin will work.
2 pounds pie pumpkin, peeled, seeded, and cubed (kabocha, butternut, or other fine-grained winter squash are good substitutes)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
1 egg, lightly beaten
¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
Zest of 1 lemon, finely grated
1½–2 cups unbleached flour, plus more for dusting
¾ cup unsalted butter
¾ cup hazelnuts
22–25 fresh sage leaves, finely slivered
Pinch of cinnamon
Grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, for garnish
1. Preheat oven to 400°. Toss pumpkin pieces with olive oil in a large bowl and season with 1 teaspoon each of salt and pepper. Arrange on a baking sheet and roast until tender and lightly browned, 20 to 30 minutes.
2. In a small bowl, combine egg with nutmeg and lemon zest. Set aside.
3. When cool enough to handle but still warm, pass the pumpkin through a ricer into a medium mixing bowl. With a rubber spatula or a flexible bowl-scraper, lightly mix the egg mixture into the pumpkin using a cutting-and-folding motion, as if mixing a cake. Sprinkle with 1½ cups of the flour and mix lightly. Do not overmix or gnocchi will be tough. Gather the dough into a ball and place on a lightly floured surface.
4. Take a walnut-size portion of dough and roll lightly into an oblong shape. Test-cook this “practice piece” in simmering water until it rises to the surface; check its texture. Add more flour if necessary, 2 tablespoons at a time, until the desired consistency is reached. The gnocchi should hold together without being gummy.
5. Divide the dough into 4 to 6 pieces and roll into finger-thick ropes. Cut each rope into ¾-inch pieces and place them on a lightly floured tray. You can roll each piece on a gnocchi board or create the ridges with the tines of a fork.
6. Place butter in a small, light-colored saucepan and heat over medium. Cook 5 to 10 minutes or until butter is golden brown. (Watch carefully so it doesn’t burn; using a light-colored saucepan will allow you to see the true color of the butter.)
7. Add the hazelnuts and allow to cook for 2 minutes, then add slivered sage leaves, cinnamon, and salt and pepper to taste. Remove from heat and set aside; keep warm.
8. Bring at least 1 gallon of water to simmer in a large pot. Add 1 tablespoon salt, then drop in the gnocchi, cooking no more than half the batch at a time. As the gnocchi rise to the surface, remove with a slotted spoon and place in a large bowl.
9. When ready to serve, toss the sauce with the cooked gnocchi and divide among serving bowls. Serve grated cheese on the side.
Note: Gnocchi can be frozen after forming for up to two weeks. Hickman’s cookbook has recipes for additional sauce options and is sold at Las Cosas Kitchen Shop, in Santa Fe, and other local bookstores.
An autumn drive to Taos will more than reward you with the vibrant foliage of cottonwoods along the Río Grande and aspens in the high country. Add to the delights a meal at Medley, where chef and owner Wilks Medley lets local purveyors inspire menus that feature a “modern spin on nostalgic classics.” Uninterrupted mountain views from the restaurant patio complete the dream. He shares this pancake dish for a decadent breakfast or brunch filled with fall flavors.
2 cups all-purpose flour
½ cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
¼ teaspoon ground allspice
¼ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 cup heavy cream
15 ounces pumpkin puree
1 cup grated Honeycrisp apple
3 tablespoon melted butter, plus
more for cooking
SPICED APPLE AND GOLDEN RAISIN CHUTNEY
2 tablespoons butter
2 cups peeled and diced Honeycrisp apples
1 cup golden raisins
1 cup diced red bell pepper
½ cup brown sugar
1 cup dry white wine
2 tablespoons whole-grain mustard
½ teaspoon prepared horseradish
¼ teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
CARAWAY CRÈME FRAÎCHE
½ teaspoon caraway seeds
1 cup crème fraîche
Pinch of kosher salt
1. In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and spices until well combined.
2. In another medium mixing bowl, combine the eggs, cream, pumpkin puree, and grated apple.
3. Slowly add the dry ingredients to the wet ones, whisking continuously until batter is smooth. Stir in the melted butter and mix well.
4. Heat a large sauté pan or griddle over medium heat and lightly butter. Ladle about ¼ cup of batter into the pan to form each cake. Cook for about 2 to 3 minutes on each side, then set aside and keep warm. Continue until all the batter has been cooked.
SPICED APPLE AND GOLDEN RAISIN CHUTNEY
1. Melt the butter in a medium-size saucepan; add the apples, raisins, and red pepper. Cook over medium heat until softened, about 5 to 7 minutes.
2. Stir in the brown sugar, wine, mustard, horseradish, paprika, and salt.
3. Bring to a simmer and cook over medium-low heat for about 20 minutes, until the liquid has cooked down and become
CARAWAY CRÈME FRAÎCHE
1. Toast caraway seeds on a cookie sheet in a 350° preheated oven for about 3 minutes, until fragrant.
2. Transfer the seeds to a spice blender and pulse until very fine.
3. In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the crème fraîche, caraway seeds, and salt. Refrigerate until serving.
1. Lay three griddle cakes on each plate, overlapping them slightly.
2. Top each cake with 1 tablespoon of chutney. (Reserve remaining chutney in refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.)
3. Finish with a liberal drizzle of the caraway crème fraîche.
This is my recipe for a rich and aromatic special-occasion chicken dish. I like to serve it with white rice. The sauce also complements shrimp, fish, and pork.
6 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves, about 6 ounces each
5 cups chicken stock, approximately
1 tablespoon cumin seeds, toasted*
2 tablespoons fresh sage leaves
4 one-by-three-inch slices orange peel, pith removed
6 medium tomatillos, shucked, rinsed, and quartered
¾ cup green pepitas**
¼ cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt, to taste
2 shallots, peeled and sliced
1 large poblano pepper, roasted, peeled, seeded, and chopped
1 large jalapeño, roasted, peeled, seeded, and chopped
¼ teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon Mexican oregano
½ cup cilantro leaves, plus 6 sprigs, divided
1½ cups chicken stock
1. Place chicken in a 4-quart pot and add stock to cover it by ½ inch. Add cumin, sage, and orange peel and bring to a gentle simmer over medium heat. Simmer until chicken is cooked through, about 15 minutes. Transfer chicken to a plate, leaving the sage and orange peel in the stock. Tent chicken loosely with foil.
2. Add the tomatillos to the stock and simmer for 5 minutes; drain and set tomatillos aside. Discard stock.
3. In a nonstick pan over medium heat,
toast the pepitas in oil until golden
brown, 3 to 4 minutes, stirring often. Remove from the pan with a slotted spoon and toss with salt. Set aside 2 tablespoons of the pepitas for a garnish. Sauté the sliced shallots in the remaining oil for 3 minutes.
5. Place the tomatillos, shallots with oil, 10 tablespoons of pepitas, peppers, cumin, Mexican oregano, ½ cup cilantro, and chicken stock in a blender. Begin blending at a medium speed and then kick it up higher until you have a smooth but still thick puree. Keep warm in a sauté pan until ready to use.
6. Warm the chicken breasts in the mole before serving. Sprinkle the reserved pumpkin seeds over the chicken and top with cilantro sprigs.
* To toast cumin seeds, heat in a small, dry sauté pan over medium heat for 2 minutes. Cool, then grind.
** Pepitas have no shell and come only from select pumpkin varieties. Find them in the bulk section of your grocery store.
PICK ME! PICK ME!
Here are a few pumpkin-picking patches to try this fall.
Artesia. Heirloom Acres includes a corn maze and s’mores around a campfire. 402-944-2585.
Rio Rancho. In the parking lot of the Rio Rancho Events Center, Galloping Goat Pumpkin Patch sets up a corn pit, tricycle track, playhouses, roping arena, pumpkin bowling, and more.
Los Ranchos de Albuquerque. Big Jim Farms is an agricultural oasis in the city, with U-pick fields, play areas, and educational programs. 505-459-0719.
Las Cruces. Mesilla Valley Maze combines hayrides, gem mining, face painting, giant slides, and—oh yeah—pumpkins. 575-526-1919.
Carlsbad. Balzano Family Vineyard and Pumpkin Patch adds wine tastings on a beautiful patio to the family fun. 575-502-3317.
Moriarty. McCall’s Pumpkin Patch offers more than 60 attractions, including pedal karts, a low-ropes course, and the spoooky Haunted Farm. 505-595-7500.