Pumpkin Eater

Each year I begin eating pumpkins when the first brown leaf drops from the trees and continue right up until the first heavy snowfall blankets the ground. Like many Americans, my preferred poison has always been pumpkin pie (and lots of it), but since starting my Global Table Adventure I’ve encountered more ways to eat a pumpkin than I can eat in a single autumn.

It’s no wonder there are so many recipes – the pumpkin has been around since before Colombus landed in the Americas. For centuries, the brilliant orange flesh has graced dinner tables from America all the way down through Latin America and the Caribbean, to Brazil – and even halfway around the world to Europe, Africa and Asia. Our global neighbors celebrate pumpkin in flans, moles, candies and empanadas.

The Cuban version of Pumpkin Flan is sweet, delicate and a typical dessert of the region, where flans and custards serve as weekly, if not daily, treats. When served on a large, festive platter, our recipe makes a stunning display for any fall table and gives my old standby, pumpkin pie, a run for its money.

Pumpkin Flan

For the caramel:
1 c. sugar
1/4 c. water
Pinch of cream of tartar

For the flan:
1 1/2 c. heavy cream
1 c. whole milk
5 eggs plus 2 yolks
1 c. sugar
1 15 oz. can pumpkin puree
1/2 vanilla bean, scraped (or 1 tsp. vanilla extract)
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
Pinch of allspice

To cook the caramel, add one cup of sugar to a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Splash in a quarter cup of water and the pinch of cream of tartar. Cook until light golden brown, then pour into a bundt pan, swirling it around in the pan to coat the sides. Be careful, as the bundt pan gets hot; you may need pot holders.

To prepare the flan, begin by making a water bath by placing a large lasagna pan in the oven, half full of water. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a small saucepan over medium heat, cook the milk, cream and scrapings from a vanilla bean. Heat everything over medium until the milk is scalded, or just nearly boils. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature.

Meanwhile, crack five eggs into a large bowl as well as two egg yolks. Stir in the sugar, pumpkin puree, cinnamon, a dash of allspice and the cooled milk mixture. Whisk everything together until smooth and well combined.

Strain your gorgeous flan mixture into the pan (or, if you find it easier, strain into a bowl first). Bake in a water bath for one hour and 10 minutes, or until an inserted knife comes out clean. Let cool and refrigerate about six hours (or overnight).

To unmold, run a knife along the top of all edges to break the “seal.” Then – this is very scientific – jiggle the bundt pan from side to side, until the flan begins to wiggle free. Some caramel should ooze up and out when you tip it to the side a little. You might dip the pan into some hot water for a few seconds to help loosen the caramel at the bottom.

Carefully invert the flan onto a large platter with lip (so the caramel won’t overflow). Slice and serve cool, but not ice cold.

Pumpkin as the Star

Pumpkins are a common food source in cultures across the world. Whether it’s the starter, the main course or ending to a meal, it’s easy to make pumpkin the star by looking at uses around the globe.

In Switzerland, pumpkin is used in soups and salads, but also to make pumpkin gnocchi, thick dumplings that are cooked in boiling water.

In Australia and New Zealand, pumpkin serves as a staple in autumn cooking (when it’s spring here in the Northern Hemisphere). Often cooked alongside beef, lamb or turkey, the pumpkin is sliced and pricked with a fork, then topped with oil, salt and pepper and roasted in a hot oven.

People in southern China use pumpkin in soups, porridges and even made into flour. Pumpkin is also used for some medicinal purposes.

Sasha Martin is cooking one meal for every country in the world. Her picky husband and baby girl are along for the ride. Join the adventure for recipes, reviews and more at www.globaltableadventure.com.