Squash seeds dating to 9000 B.C. have been found in caves in the Americas, and Waverly Root writes that it is possible that the squash (the Cucurbitaceae family) was the very first vegetable to be cultivated by humans in the Americas.
Squash, including the pumpkin, have been eaten in Mexico for thousands of years. In one place or another, nearly the entire plant has been used: flesh, seeds, blossoms, and even the tender shoots. The flesh is used in soups, stews, as a taco filling, and even as a dessert (Nancy Zaslavsky's A Cook's Tour of Mexico has a recipe for pumpkin stewed in syrup, a favorite in Puebla). The seeds have high nutritive value and wide range of uses including as a thickening agent for sauces, such as the complex and elegant sauce called pipian or mole verde. The blossoms are used in quesadillas and soups (see Diana Kennedy's The Cuisines of Mexico for some recipes that use pumpkin blossoms). Kennedy writes that tender squash shoots are used in soup and stews in Oaxaca.
My "go to" Mexican cookbook is Rick Bayless's Mexican Kitchen. In it I found "Pumpkin braised in tomatillo/chipotle sauce" (my version of the recipe is below). The ingredients are a blend of Old and New World ingredients: garlic and onion from the Old World; pumpkin, tomatoes, tomatillos, and chiles from the New. One could almost call it "fusion food" (something that Mexico has been doing for centuries, as explained in Raymond Sokolov's Why We Eat What We Eat).
The result was ugly but delicious. A brownish-crimson mass with strange, irregular shapes, but a wonderful combination of smoky, sweet, sour, and hot flavors. The many steps required to make the sauce paid off in complexity. It would make a good "combination plate" with rice, beans and some tortillas or quesadillas. It could also be made into a great taco or burrito filling by lightly mashing everything after baking or cutting the pumpkin into smaller pieces.
Recipe: Baked pumpkin with tomato-tomatillo-chipotle salsaAdapted from Rick Bayless's Mexican Kitchen
For the Tomatillo-chipotle salsa
3 to 6 chipotle chiles (dry or canned)
3 unpeeled garlic cloves
8 ounces tomatillos, husked and washed
3 to 5 medium tomatoes
1 medium white onion, thinly sliced
1/2 cup water
Salt to taste (about 1 teaspoon)
4 cups pumpkin or butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 3/4" cubes, and placed in a shallow baking dish (like a 9 x 13 Pyrex dish)
Make the salsa
- Turn on the broiler.
- Place unpeeled garlic cloves in a dry skillet over medium heat. Cook, turning them occasionally, until the garlic is soft, about 10-15 minutes. After they cool, peel the garlic and put in a blender jar.
- If using dried chiles, remove the stem and seeds, then soak them in hot water for about 30 minutes. Drain and put the chiles in the blender jar. Discard the soaking liquid. If using canned chiles, just put them in the blender jar. Chipotle chiles can be quite hot, so be careful if you don't like heat.
- Put tomatillos and tomatoes on different halves of a baking sheet, or on two pans (use a pan with sides since there will be juices running).
- Place under broiler, about 2 or 3 inches away from the heat. Broil until blackened on both sides (they cook at different rates, so you might need to turn them at different times, and remove some as they finish cooking). Put the tomatillos in the blender jar, and the tomatoes in a bowl.
- Blend the garlic, chiles, and tomatillos until smooth (you could also use a mocajete or mortar and pestle, and a lot of patience, to make the salsa).
Prepare the vegetables
- Preheat the oven to 350 F.
- When the tomatoes are cool, core them, peel off the skin, roughly chop, then put into the already blended salsa. Do not blend after the tomatoes are added -- you want pieces of tomato, not a puree.
- Heat some oil in a large skillet over medium or medium-high heat. When hot, add the onions and cook, stirring frequently, until they are soft and starting to turn golden.
- Pour in the salsa-tomato mixture and cook for 10 minutes, or until it has thickened slightly.
- Add the water to the pan and stir to distribute the water through the sauce.
- Salt to taste (try about 1 teaspoon to start)
- Pour the contents of the skillet over the pumpkin cubes.
- Cover the pan with foil, then bake for 30-40 minutes.
- Remove the foil, and continue baking for 10 minutes.
Prepared for Slashfood's Great Pumpkin Day and Elise's Great Pumpkin Carve Up Cook Off.
The photo below is the pumpkin with a bowl of black beans and roasted poblano chile quesadillas.