AUSTIN, Texas – Love it or hate it, pumpkin spice has become the dominant flavor of fall.
Amid hundreds of products and recipes using that unmistakable mix of nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger and allspice, we have forgotten what pumpkins actually taste like.
A cousin to every other winter squash out there, pumpkins have a similar earthy sweet flavor. Some can be bitter and less enjoyable to eat on their own, which is probably why we started baking them in pies and why we’ve historically seasoned them with dessert spices.
But if you’re in the mood for dishes that focus on the pumpkin and not the spice, we have two recipes to showcase autumn’s signature squash.
First, a little background on which pumpkins you should use and how to prepare them. All winter squash are edible, including carving pumpkins, but some are so difficult to cut and peel, they might be best left as decoration.
According to DeeDee Stovel, author of “The Pumpkin Cookbook, 2nd Edition: 139 Recipes Celebrating the Versatility of Pumpkin and Other Winter Squash,” pie, sugar, cheese and kabocha pumpkins are the best varieties for cooking both savory and sweet dishes because they are easy to find, easy to peel and packed with flavor.
This time of year, you can usually find them in traditional grocery stores, but the most interesting varieties are often found at the farmers market.
The sturdy outer skin is what makes pumpkins last so long, but it’s not so pleasant to eat. After cutting a pumpkin in half and scooping out the seeds, I’ve used a regular vegetable peeler to remove the skin, but you can also place the pumpkin cut-side down on a cutting board and then carefully slice away the outer layer using a sharp knife. If you prefer not to peel them at all, you can roast the pumpkin, cut-side down, and then scrape out the flesh after it has cooked.
Pumpkin, like most winter squashes, pairs well with herbs such as sage, thyme, rosemary, parsley, oregano and marjoram, according to Stovel, but to make an even bigger splash on your palate, consider your entire spice cabinet. Ginger, cumin, turmeric, chili powder and curry powders all complement pumpkin’s natural flavor.