RED BANK: FARMERS AND CHEFS ON PUMPKINS

092015farmersmktrb2Michelle O’Connor at the Red Bank Farmers’ Market with pumpkins grown at Brookville Farms.  (Photo by Susan Ericson. Click to enlarge)

By SUSAN ERICSON

morsels mediumAutumn has arrived on the Greater Red Bank Green, and that means we’re in for a plethora of pumpkin-flavored options in coffee shops, bakeries and restaurants.

But home cooks use them too, of course. And with that in mind, PieHole popped in at the Red Bank Farmers’ Market and a couple of local eateries to get some insights on choosing and using pumpkins.

092015farmersmktrb1Nicole Wine discusses the differences in sweetness between the kuri, butternut, and sugar pumpkins. (Photo by Susan Ericson. Click to enlarge)

The first thing you need to know is that all pumpkins are squash, but not all squash are pumpkins. Among pumpkins, bigger varieties, such as the common Connecticut field pumpkin, are what you want for carving into frightful-faced Jack-o’-Lanterns, but “sugar pumpkins or squash make better pies than the bigger pumpkins,” says Nicole Wine of Certified Organic, while showing us a kuri squash at the farmers market. It’s a matter of how sweet the flesh of the pumpkin is, she says.

Nearby, Michelle O’Connor of Brookville Farms was selling small sugar pumpkins. Cheese pumpkins or sugar pumpkins “are the sweetest, and best to use for pies,” she says. “I boil mine, and then make the pie filling with a traditional recipe.”

The Long Island cheese pumpkin seems to be a favorite fall ingredient for several local chefs. A lighter, more pastel shade of orange, its squat shape makes it look like a wheel of cheese. This time of year, Anthony Ferrando, owner and chef of Dish, picks up a mix of cheese pumpkins to decorate the front window of his Red Bank restaurant, and then roasts them as needed, he says.

“I purée them and store it for soup, risotto, puddings, panna cotta, cheesecake, cakes and, of course, pie,” he says.

Lauren Phillips, chef at Via 45 on Broad Street tells us she and partner Claudette Herring use a variety of squash, including acorn, butternut and delicata in dishes such as Herring’s roasted butternut squash/apple-crisp soup.

“What we like is that it brings an earthy, nutty, sweet flavor to salads and entrees,” she says. “We also enjoy sharing roasted pepitas and sunflower seeds as well. It is the warmth and colors of autumn to bring to the table.”

Whether you roast, boil, or steam the flesh, don’t discard the seeds when carving out a pumpkin. Pull the seeds from the goopy innards, dry them and roast them on a sheet pan in the oven. Once the husk is removed, the pepitas, or seeds, can be eaten as a snack or added to soups and salads as a garnish.

Don’t forget to compost the pumpkins decorating your porch when the season is over, or put them out to feed the local wildlife. Deer and rabbits like pumpkin, too.

Are you a pumpkin enthusiast, relishing its annual return as a flavoring for everything from baked goods to beer, soup and coffee? Tell us how you like your pumpkin, Pumpkin.

SUSAN-ERICSON