My mother is a pumpkin fiend. Many years ago, an acupuncturist uncle of mine diagnosed that her kidneys were in poor shape and recommended that she eat lots of pumpkin along with the acupuncture treatments. She usually just chops it up and boils it then eats the pumpkin and drinks the water it was boiled in. I think it’s generally pretty gross except when the pumpkin is really sweet, it tastes like sweet potato. Anyway, because of her condition, there is a whole pumpkin cohabiting with my mother, father and I at any given time.
Last week, I noticed that this particularly ginormous pumpkin had been hanging out in the corner of our kitchen for way too long. I was sure it had been at least a month. A month! Just sitting there. I asked my Mom about it and apparently, pumpkins have an extraordinary shelf life. She did seem concerned though since she will have to hack into the thing at some point and then the rest will have to be chopped up and refrigerated. This wasn’t the most ideal storage method. Freezing would be better but there’s only so much space in the freezer. She was sure she won’t be able to eat all of it in time. Did I want to make something with it?
I looked online for pumpkin recipes and settled on two that I really wanted to try.
Alton Brown has a very popular pumpkin bread recipe. I read through some of the comments and decided to leave out the pumpkin seeds because nobody seemed to have anything nice to say about them. I used a mix of pecans and walnuts instead. I made some other adjustments as well, mostly to make it a little healthier.
For the pumpkin bread, you’ll need:
2 cups whole wheat/spelt/all-purpose flour (or a mix of all 3 to make 2 cups)
2 t cinnamon
1 t baking soda
1/4 t baking powder
1/2 t salt
1 cup Muscovado sugar
3/4 cup applesauce
1 t vanilla extract
3 cups freshly shredded pumpkin
1 cup walnuts/pecans (or a mix)
1. Toast the nuts (on a dry pan or in a toaster oven) and set aside. Shred the pumpkin and set aside.
2. Put the flour, cinnamon, baking soda, baking powder and salt into a medium bowl and mix thoroughly with a fork or whisk. Sifting dry ingredients is such a draaaaag. This has the same effect as sifting. A neat trick I learned on the set of True Confections.
3. In a large bowl, whisk the eggs, sugar, applesauce and vanilla extract. Transfer the dry ingredients into this bowl and whisk some more until you don’t see flecks of flour in the mixture anymore.
4. Switch to a wooden spoon/spatula and fold in freshly shredded pumpkin.
5. Crush walnuts and pecans with your fingers straight into the bowl. Fold in with spatula/wooden spoon.
6. Pour into a greased loaf pan and bake in an oven preheated to 190 C for an hour and 15 minutes if you’re using a 9 x 5 x 3 inch pan. Mine was a smaller loaf pan (I don’t know the measurements exactly) so I baked mine for about an hour. You can test for doneness by inserting a toothpick into the loaf. If it comes out dry, it should be done. I had some of the mixture left over so I made them into muffins. Muffins will bake in 30 minutes.
The Muscovado and shredded pumpkin in this recipe make this a very moist bread, almost like a fruitcake with the cinnamon and all. I was gonna have it with some lemon cream cheese frosting I had in the freezer (What? Don’t you?) but I decided it was unnecessary. It’s sweet enough with less of the guilt.
Making this was like revisiting a painful memory. I’ve only ever made lasagna once in my life, maybe 3 years ago? There was a group of people coming over, people who worked for a magazine that wanted to feature my kitchen, and I wanted to feed them something homemade and I decided on lasagna. Why I decided on a dish I had never made in my life I don’t know. What a disaster that turned out to be! There weren’t enough noodles and what little I had of it was dried out even though there was way too much sauce, sauce that wasn’t all that good either. They were all very sweet about it but this incident has morphed into an awful memory that comes back to haunt me at the most random times like when I’m shampooing my hair.
Making this made me nervous. But the pumpkin!
There are lots of recipes online for pumpkin lasagna so I read a handful of them and put together the things I liked in each recipe to make this one. I didn’t work with a recipe and I’m not gonna try to make one up but I will try to approximate as much as I can.
1. To make the pumpkin puree, peel and slice pumpkin into strips. Toss them in olive oil and season with salt, freshly ground pepper and chili flakes (optional). Cover and bake in an oven preheated to 190 C for about 25 minutes or until they are fork-tender. While the pumpkin is roasting, you can cook your lasagna noodles. I ended up using about 8 sheets. Cook them only for half the time you’re supposed to. When done, toss them in some olive oil and set aside.
2. I was gonna blitz this in the blender but it was too dry. In the process of transferring it to a bowl, I realized that it was soft enough for me to mash it with a spatula so save yourself the hassle and just do that. I wanted my pumpkin puree to be a bit runnier than it turned out so I added a tablespoon of olive oil and about 1/4 cup of water. To complete the pumpkin sauce, add 1/4 cup of cream and 1/4 cup of milk and season with salt and pepper to taste. I also added some chopped fresh basil in the end.
3. Chop a medium onion and sautee it in some olive oil. Add 2 cloves of garlic and about 4 cups of spinach. Cook until spinach is wilted, about 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside.
4. Take the casing off of one Hungarian sausage by gently running your knife down one side of it and peeling away. Chop roughly and set aside.
5. Preheat your oven to 190 C. We can start layering now! Grease your baking dish with olive oil and start with a layer of the pumpkin sauce. Put a layer of lasagna noodles on top of that and top them with another layer of the pumpkin sauce. Add a layer of the sauteed spinach. Hungarian sausage goes on top of that and then the ricotta cheese. I could only find the spreadable kind so I just dropped dollops of the stuff. Add a layer of mozzarella and then a layer of parmesan. Repeat and finish with a layer of noodles and pumpkin sauce.
6. Cover and bake for 35 minutes. Uncover and sprinkle parmesan cheese on top. Bake some more until it melts.
This turned out so much better than I could hope for! The pumpkin sauce is subtly sweet and it’s really delicious with the spicy Hungarian sausage. The spinach was completely unnecessary – I actually almost forgot about them. Unless I’m making a pumpkin and spinach lasagna with lots more spinach, I wouldn’t bother anymore.
I’m not so afraid of lasagna anymore but I will still cringe in the shower.
Fun Food Fact: When buying pumpkins, choose ones that are heavy for their size with even yellow skin. - My mother.