Pumpkin Crostini: A Seasonal Snack and Tips for Roasting Pumpkin

20121025-223048.jpgI fell in love with the pumpkin spread made by Bolani and sold at farmers’ markets throughout California. Eating pumpkin spread makes me feel like I am experiencing the Fall season. With Los Angeles having a continuous heat wave, I am looking for whatever glimpses of Fall I can find. So, I have been eating pumpkin spread on crusty baguettes by Homeboy Bakery and on spinach bolani, which is an Afghan flatbread filled with spinach. These tasty treats make a healthy after school snack, appetizer or accompaniment to soup. I decided to make my own homemade version which has more seasonal spices and no hot peppers.

Deciding to roast a fresh pumpkin:
The Bolani pumpkin spread is mostly smooth but still a little chunky. So, the mushy consistency of canned pumpkin was not going to work. It was time to get brave and roast a pumpkin myself for the first time. I mustered some confidence by reasoning that it had to be similar to roasting butternut squash, which I have done many times before. Armed with advice from this website, I was ready to get to work.

Directions and tips for roasting a pumpkin:
1. Use a sweet pie pumpkin, the kind you use for making a pumpkin pie. Do not use a regular jack o’ lantern pumpkin. Other favorable squash substitutes include Cinderella pumpkin, butternut squash or kabocha squash.

2. Cut the pumpkin in half before roasting:

20121025-224427.jpgPumpkins are thick-skinned and take a lot of strength and a sharp large knife to cut in half. Luckily, I got a helpful tip from the above website which mentions that you can use a rubber mallet to hit a large knife (as you hold the knife) to help the knife go through the pumpkin. I’m sure they don’t teach this “technique” in cooking school, but it worked. Just don’t be klutzy like me and hit your knuckle with the mallet. The advantage to cutting the pumpkin first is that the cooked pulp turns out less watery and the cut edge caramelizes. If the cutting is daunting, the pumpkin can be roasted whole and will be easy to cut when soft.

3. Scoop out the seeds and strings. Place the pumpkin cut-side down on a rimmed baking sheet lined with aluminum foil for easy clean up. Lightly oil the pumpkin with olive oil on both sides.

4. Roast the pumpkin in a preheated 400 degree F oven for 30 to 60 minutes until the flesh is soft when pierced with a fork. The cooking time varies greatly from pumpkin to pumpkin, so keep setting a timer to check for doneness.

20121025-230651.jpg5. Once cooked, the pumpkin skin peels off so easily. Then you are left with large pieces of freshly cooked pumpkin. The yield varies widely from pumpkin to pumpkin. As a guide, 1 pound of pumpkin yields about 1 cup of purée, but it could be more or less.

6. Place the roasted pumpkin chunks in a food processor and purée to desired consistency. Pumpkins tend to have strings in the pulp, and the food processor breaks those up.

20121026-204538.jpg7. Fresh pumpkin purée can be a little watery, which is fine for many uses like crostini spread, soup, and pasta sauce. If your recipe requires drier pumpkin (like for ravioli filling), then the pulp needs additional roasting. Spread the purée on a baking sheet, and continue roasting until more water evaporates.

Homemade or Canned Pumpkin Purée?

20121025-230911.jpgPros of making my own pumpkin purée:
Homemade does taste fresher and lighter. The better taste is readily apparent when you are eating the pumpkin purée directly, like with this spread, soup or pasta sauce. Also, I was able to control the consistency and texture. I am pleased I got a good yield for my effort. 2 small pumpkins yield 6-3/4 cups of pumpkin purée. I froze the extra, so I am happy to have it on hand to make other Fall pumpkin dishes.

Cons of making my own pumpkin purée:
The process turned out to be an over-ambitious cooking project, and I ran out of time. If the pumpkin is well-encorporated into a dish, like pumpkin bread, then I don’t think that homemade is necessary. Also, homemade is more watery than canned, so I think it would be difficult to judge how to compensate for the extra water when baking.

Recipe for Pumpkin Crostini
Makes about 2 dozen appetizers

For the Pumpkin spread:
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 clove roasted garlic, peeled (or fresh minced) (Can be roasted along with the pumpkin.)
1 cup of homemade pumpkin purée, see above.
1 teaspoon brown sugar
3 grates of whole nutmeg
1 pinch of ground coriander (the amount is too small to measure, but 4 pinches = 1/8 teaspoon.)
1 pinch of ground allspice
1 pinch of ground cardamom
1 pinch dried sage
1 grind of freshly ground pepper
2 grinds of sea salt

For the crostini:
1 baguette, about 24 inches in length
Couple tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

3 tablespoons of finely grated Parmesan cheese
3 tablespoons chopped pecans

To make the pumpkin spread:
1. In a food processor fitted with the chopping blade, add the olive oil, garlic, and a large spoonful of pumpkin purée. Run the food processor until the garlic is well-encorporated.
2. Add the rest of the pumpkin spread ingredients to the processor and run just long enough to combine the ingredients. The spread should be mostly smooth, but can have a little texture to it, so do not over process. Taste for seasonings and adjust if necessary. Refrigerate. The spread can be made several days ahead.

To Make the crostini:
1. Slice a baguette in 3/4 inch slices and spread out flat on a rimmed baking sheet. Lightly coat the top of each bread surface with a small amount of olive oil. I used a pastry brush.
2. Broil in a broiler for about 30 seconds or until the tops start to turn light brown around the edges. Do not walk away from the broiler, and watch carefully so the toasts do not burn.
3. The crostini can be made earlier in the day and served later.

1. Spread a generous layer of pumpkin spread on each crostini toast.
2. Sprinkle a little cheese and nut on top of each.
3. These can be assembled about an hour before serving.

I recommend doubling or quadrupling the pumpkin spread recipe because it has many uses. Thinned with some chicken stock, it makes a great light pumpkin soup, pasta sauce, or flavoring for risotto.

20121026-204831.jpgI made these pumpkin crostini for the October Food Bloggers Los Angeles pumpkin potluck and discussion group. Boy, can these people cook! So, check out the links below from other members for more pumpkin inspiration.

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