by: SUBMITTED PHOTO: CITY OF TUALATIN - Pumpkins have many uses, primarily as decoration and food. Giant pumpkins are used as boats during Tualatins  West Coast Giant Pumpkin Regatta.

Peter, Peter pumpkin eater,

Had a wife but couldn’t keep her

He put her in a pumpkin shell

And there he kept her very well.

This old nursery rhyme reveals that in days of yore pumpkins were grown for food and shelter. Well, growing them for shelter might be a stretch unless she was tiny and he used a giant pumpkin.

Those giant pumpkins are something else. Present-day folks use them as transportation, as illustrated during the West Coast Giant Pumpkin Regatta last Saturday in Tualatin. This marked the tenth year of the race in which full-sized adults, dressed in wild and weird costumes, sat inside giant pumpkins and paddled across the Lake of the Commons.

Pumpkins are most commonly used as decorations. They come in all shapes, sizes and colors and you would be hard pressed to come up with another item that represents Halloween and Thanksgiving so universally.

But back to Peter the pumpkin eater. He knew pumpkins were not only delicious but nutritious; they are loaded with vitamins A and C and fiber. Pumpkin can be used to make a wide variety of sweet and savory foods including soups, breads, pies or stuffed and baked whole.

You can buy pumpkin puree canned or frozen, but it is easy to make your own. If you can find sugar pumpkins use them, but smaller-sized (about 5 pounds) jack-o-lantern pumpkins will work just fine, too. Preheat your oven to 350°. Cut the pumpkin in half, remove the seeds (set them aside for use elsewhere) and place cut side down on a parchment lined baking sheet. Bake for about 45 minutes, until the flesh of the pumpkin is easily pierced with a fork. Remove from oven, scoop flesh out and puree in food processor or mash by hand.

Drain in a colander placed over a bowl for about 30 minutes to remove excess water. A five-pound pumpkin will yield about 2 1/2 cups of puree.

Today’s recipes use fresh pumpkin in different ways. Experiment with fresh pumpkins while they are readily available.

Bon Appetite! Eat something wonderful!

Warm Pumpkin Salad with Polenta and Candied Pumpkin Seeds

Makes 6 servings

1 1/2 cups yellow cornmeal (not coarse)

7 1/2 cups water

2 3/4 teaspoons salt

2 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 tablespoon sugar

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon paprika

1/4 teaspoon cayenne

1/2 cup raw green (hulled) pumpkin seeds (pepitas)

1 tablespoon fresh pomegranate juice (see cooks’ note, below) or cranberry juice cocktail

2 teaspoons sherry vinegar

1 tablespoon minced shallot

6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 small pumpkin or butternut squash (2 lb.), peeled, quartered lengthwise, and seeded

1 (6 ounce) piece Parmigiano-Reggiano

8 ounces arugula, trimmed

Prepare polenta: Bring cornmeal, water, and 2 1/4 teaspoons salt to a boil in a 4-quart heavy saucepan, stirring constantly. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring frequently, until polenta is creamy and tender, about 50 minutes. Remove from heat, then stir in 1 1/2 tablespoons butter and cool slightly.

Spoon polenta onto center of a lightly buttered large baking sheet, then spread evenly into a 10- by 7-inch rectangle (about 1/2 inch thick). Cover with plastic wrap, then poke several holes in wrap with a small sharp knife and chill 2 hours.

Candy pumpkin seeds: Melt remaining tablespoon butter in a heavy saucepan over moderate heat. Stir in sugar, cumin, cinnamon, paprika, cayenne, and 1/4 teaspoon salt, then cook, without stirring, until caramelized. Add pumpkin seeds and cook, stirring occasionally, until seeds are puffed and golden. Transfer to a plate to cool. When seeds have hardened, break up any clumps with your fingers.

Make vinaigrette: Whisk together pomegranate juice, vinegar, and shallot and let stand 5 minutes. Whisk in 3 tablespoons oil, remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt, and pepper to taste.

Roast pumpkin: Preheat oven to 450°F. Cut seeded pumpkin quarters crosswise into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Toss with 1 tablespoon oil and salt and pepper to taste in a shallow baking pan and arrange slices in 1 layer. Roast in middle of oven until just tender, about 20 minutes. Remove from oven, then cover with foil to keep warm.

Fry polenta while pumpkin roasts: Trim polenta into a 9- by 6-inch rectangle. Cut polenta into 6 (3-inch) squares, then halve each square diagonally. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large nonstick skillet until hot but not smoking, then cook polenta in 2 batches, turning once, until golden brown, about 8 minutes (if necessary, use remaining tablespoon oil for second batch). Transfer as cooked to a plate and keep warm, covered.

Assemble salad: Shave 12 strips from cheese with a vegetable peeler. Whisk vinaigrette, then toss arugula in a large bowl with enough vinaigrette to lightly coat. Place several pieces of pumpkin and 1 piece of polenta on each of 6 plates. Top with arugula, more pumpkin, and remaining polenta. Sprinkle with candied pumpkin seeds and top with parmesan shavings, then drizzle with remaining vinaigrette.

Cooks’ notes: Polenta, spread on baking sheet and not yet fried, can be chilled up to 1 day. Candied pumpkin seeds can be prepared 3 days ahead and kept in an airtight container at room temperature. To juice a pomegranate, firmly roll it on a work surface until it feels softer, then cut a small hole in skin and squeeze.

Gourmet, October 2001

Randall welcomes your food questions and research suggestions. She can be reached at 503-636-1281, ext. 100 or by email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Follow her on Twitter at @barbatthereview.

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