OK, technically it's a fruit—either way, it makes for one of the season's most versatile savory side dishes. 

Kat Kinsman
October 27, 2017

If you're not eating pumpkins by the patch-load right now, you're missing out on some of the season's greatest produce. And we're not just talking pies, pancakes, and pastries, either. Pumpkin mash—or puree if you feel like getting fancy—is a wonderfully versatile side dish that skews savory, spicy, sweet, smoky, cheesy, or even a combo of those. While it might take a little bit of effort to get the whole fruit peeled, gutted, and cut, the process can be surprisingly meditative, and a subsequent cycle through the Instant Pot makes the rest of the cooking a breeze. If that weren't sufficiently enticing, consider that pumpkins are packed with health benefits like a bounty of low-calorie fiber to keep you fuller longer, and plenty of vitamins A and C, as well as potassium. 

Start with a pumpkin that's meant to be eaten rather than decked out for Halloween. Those are technically edible, but bred more for looks than for flavor. Look for words like "sugar," "pie," and "cheese" in their names, and go for pumpkins that don't have any rotten spots (flip it over and look at the bottom), and are on the smaller side, but heavy. 

Scrub off any dirt, and gripping the stem as a handle, use a vegetable peeler to remove as much skin as you possibly can. This is laborious, and oddly satisfying work, and you can toss or compost the scraps. Then cut the pumpkin in half horizontally, cut out the stem and rough bottom end, and scrape the guts out. (Don't even think of tossing the seeds—roast them or turn them into pumpkin seed milk.) Slice the halves into quarters (it's just easier to handle this way), and then chop those into rough chunks.

If you have an Instant Pot steamer basket, put that in place, but it's not necessary. Place the pumpkin chunks (so fun to say!) directly in the inner pot or the basket, pour in ⅓-½ cup water (more if the pumpkin is drier, less if it is especially watery), and seal. From here, you could get all fussy with the settings, but the "poultry" button works just fine. When the cycle is complete, do a manual pressure release and strain out the pumpkin. It should be soft, but not falling apart. From there, you have plenty of options.

Mash the pumpkin with a fork, or let it cool a little and buzz it with an immersion blender or in a food processor until the consistency is to your liking. This mash isn't hugely flavorful on its own, but it's a perfect blank canvas for whatever tastes you’re craving.

Consider using a distinctly flavored fat to really make this sing. Butter is a classic, but olive, coconut, and sesame oils bring their own pleasures to the mix. The real gamechangers: almond butter and tahini, which bring heft and creaminess along with nutty notes.

Watch: 5 Things You Should Not Do with Your Instant Pot

 

Choose your own spice adventure. Salt is a must, but a blend of sauteed herbs (think Thanksgiving-y blends like sage, rosemary, and thyme), tart and spicy sumac with Aleppo pepper, or a warm, earthy mix of smoked paprika, cumin, and nutmeg plays well with pumpkin, too. A handful of grated, aged Pecorino or Gouda melds in nicely, but consider a sprinkle of nutritional yeast if you're trying to keep things dairy-free.

When your eyes see pumpkin, your brain might crave sweetness (conditioning is a heck of a thing), but pumpkin doesn't naturally pack a lot of sugar. Scratch that itch with a just a little bit of brown or cane sugar, honey, or sorghum, and add a splash of lemon juice or apple cider vinegar to balance it out.

The extra-great thing about pumpkins is that they're larger than the average fruit, so there is plenty of room to play. Save a base batch of the plain puree in a container in the refrigerator for a week or the freezer for two or three months, and season each serving as you please. One day you might be in an herby mood, and a bit nutty and smoky the next. 

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