Fall has arrived and pumpkin patches are hopping. You know what that means: Besides carving all varieties of the creepy and the ghoulish, there are lots of pumpkin recipes begging to come out of the box. Soups, sauces and pies are only a few of the delicious pumpkin recipes that top your list. Sure, it's much easier to buy cans of pumpkin for your fall cooking; all you have to do is remove the top and plop the glob of ready-made pumpkin into your recipe. But you'd be hard pressed to put your canned pumpkin puree into a competition with one you just made from scratch from a fresh pumpkin. We promise that once you try your pumpkin recipes with a fresh pumpkin puree, you'll likely never pick up a can again.
When purchasing your pumpkin, be sure to buy one that you cook with rather than one that you carve. Carving pumpkins have too much moisture to cook up a tasty puree, while cooking pumpkins have denser flesh and a sweeter taste. Plus cooking pumpkins are smaller, which makes them easier to cook with. Look for varieties that have been specifically grown for cooking, such as Baby Pam and Small Sugar.
If you've ever cooked a butternut or spaghetti squash, then you've already performed the hardest part of a pumpkin puree -- baking the flesh to soften it up. You can cut smaller pumpkins in half but might want to cut larger pumpkins into quarters. Put them on a baking sheet in the oven at 400 degrees Fahrenheit and bake for about 30 minutes, or until the flesh is tender. Scrape all of the seeds, membranes and general pumpkin goop out (it's easier to do it after the insides are softer), cut them in half again then put them face down in a roasting pan and pop them back in the oven. In about 30 minutes, put a fork in the shell of the pumpkin -- if it goes in easily, it's ready. Let the pieces cool and then scrape the flesh out and discard the shell. Pop it in the food processor until it's a thick but liquidlike consistency and then pour it through a sieve to drain excess liquid. Voila! An easy, homemade pumpkin puree.