Herbed Pumpkin Risotto with Aged Balsamic / JillHough.com

The great pumpkin!

One of the easiest ways to make your cooking festive is to celebrate what’s in season – serve asparagus in the springtime, tomatoes in the summer, and citrus in the winter.

To me, nothing says fall like pumpkin. And it’s good so many ways, from savory to sweet. Pumpkin also comes in several different forms, giving you plenty of opportunities to include it in your autumnal cooking.

Pumpkin seeds, or pepitas, are particularly popular in Mexican cooking. With their white hull removed, the seeds have a medium-dark green color, a delicate flavor, and can be used just like other seeds or nuts.

Sprinkle pepitas onto a fall green salad, for example, with persimmon and blue cheese or green apple and shaved Parmesan. Use toasted pepitas to garnish a soup or stew – particularly one with either a Latin slant or one made with pumpkin or winter squash. Or stir them into a pumpkin bread or muffin recipe.

Pumpkin seed oil will also quickly and easily contribute seasonal flair. It has a dramatically dark green color that’s gorgeous swirled into a contrasting soup – like a carrot or butternut puree. You can use it to finish other dishes as well, like stew, pasta, or risotto, and even grilled meats, poultry, or fish.

Salad dressings, sauces and dips are also good places to enjoy pumpkin seed oil. But do so judiciously, as you would with walnut or sesame seed oil. Pumpkin seed oil can be strong stuff, so it’s often best combined with a neutral-flavored oil like sunflower or safflower.

Herbed Pumpkin Risotto with Aged Balsamic / JillHough.com

Which brings us, of course, to pumpkin itself. Compared to butternut squash, pumpkin has a less creamy texture and a sweeter taste. It’s also a tad more watery, or you could say that its flesh, when cooked, is a little looser. That said, you can use it in pretty much any recipe that calls for butternut squash.

For a look at the qualities of different types of pumpkin, check out the October issue of Sunset magazine–unfortunately, the page I’m referring to doesn’t seem to be online, but here are a few pumpkin recipes from that issue. And here’s my recipe for Herbed Pumpkin Risotto with Aged Balsamic (pictured), a fall comfort food if there ever was one.

A couple of tips for tackling a whole pumpkin:

  1. Use a sharp knife to cut it into quarters and a spoon to scrape the seeds out of each piece.
  2. If the pumpkin is proving difficult to quarter, pierce it a few times, then microwave it for a couple of minutes, which will soften it up.
  3. If it seems like the skin will be tough – like that of a butternut squash – use a vegetable peeler to remove it. If not, just cook the peel along with the flesh – it’s edible.

For more tasty ways to enjoy the great pumpkin, join me for A Harvest Celebration of Pumpkin, a hands-on cooking class at Ramekins in Sonoma, on November 16.

Herbed Pumpkin Risotto with Aged Balsamic / JillHough.com

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