How to Crack, Cut, Peel, and Prepare Fresh Pumpkin

Cookbook author DeeDee Stovel offers up strategies for breaking open thick-skinned squash, along with her favorite savory dishes to cook with fresh pumpkin.

When I have my box filled with lovely, fall-colored pumpkins, the next step is getting at the tasty flesh beneath the hard, gnarly skin without losing a finger or two trying to cut into it. Peeling fresh pumpkin is not easy. I think many people shy away from using fresh pumpkin because of the arduous task of cutting through the thick skin, but there are some alternatives. Here are my tips for easy access to the inside of a pumpkin.

With small edible sugar pie pumpkin, poke it all around with a sharp knife or fork, pop it into the microwave and cook on high for five minute intervals until it is easily pierced with a fork. Then cut it in half, remove the seeds and scoop out the flesh from the skin. Either use it in any recipe that calls for canned pumpkin, freeze it, or puree it to a velvety consistency for use in soups, puddings and pie.

With a large pumpkin that won’t fit in the microwave, the most dramatic technique must be used to reveal the flesh. Grab the pumpkin with both hands, raise it above your head, and smash in onto a cement or stone surface. A patio is perfect. The pumpkin will crack into several large pieces if not the first time, then the second. Pick up the pieces, wash them off and heat the oven to 400˚F. Scrape out all the seeds and dump them in the compost bin. I am not wild about roasted pumpkins seeds with the hard hulls on them.  Pepitas are another story. But if you feel like roasting the seeds, by all means do so.

Rub olive oil on all the pieces and roast for about 40 minutes or until they are easily pierced with a fork. You now have a nice supply of roasted pumpkin with some caramelized edges that will add a lovely flavor to whatever you make with them. I keep at least one container of roasted pumpkin all the time to make a quick pumpkin soup, or I add it to baked goods or stews. Sometimes, I just heat it up with a little butter, salt and pepper, and a bit of sage for a simple side dish. Believe me, pumpkin adds value to almost any recipe.

Photo of Kadu (Afghan Sweet Pumpkin) dish.
Photos © Clare Barboza, excerpted from The Pumpkin Cookbook, 2nd edition.

Kadu (Afghan Sweet Pumpkin)

Serves 6



  • 2½ pounds fresh pumpkin, seeds and fibers removed, cut into ½-inch-wide, long slices

Meat Sauce

  • 1½ pounds ground lamb
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon freshly ground or crushed coriander seeds
  • 2 teaspoons peeled and minced fresh ginger
  • 1½ cups plain tomato sauce
  • ¼ cup sugar

Yogurt Sauce

  • 1 cup plain Greek yogurt
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • ¼ teaspoon salt


  • Dried mint leaves


  1. Microwave the pumpkin on high for 5 minutes, or until easily pierced with a fork. Peel when cool enough to handle.
  2. To make the meat sauce, cook the meat in a large skillet over medium heat until all the red is gone, about 5 minutes. Sprinkle with the salt. Add the garlic, coriander, and ginger, and cook for another 2 minutes. Add the tomato sauce and sugar, and simmer for 5 minutes to blend the flavors. Add the prepared pumpkin and continue simmering for another 5 minutes, until the pumpkin warms in the sauce.
  3. Meanwhile, combine all the ingredients for the yogurt sauce.
  4. To serve, place several slices of pumpkin on each plate, spoon some sauce over them, and top with a dollop of the yogurt sauce. Sprinkle with the mint before serving.

Roasted Pumpkin and Barley Pilaf

Serves 6


  • 1 pound fresh pumpkin, seeds and fibers removed, cut into big chunks
  • Oil for brushing pumpkin
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • ½ cup chopped shallots
  • 1 cup pearl barley
  • ½ teaspoon crumbled dried sage, or 1 tablespoon fresh minced sage
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 cups chicken broth, homemade if possible
  • ½ cup chopped fresh parsley
  • ½ cup pine nuts, lightly toasted


  1. Heat the oven to 400°F. Brush the pumpkin chunks with oil. Bake for 45 minutes, or until the pumpkin is easily pierced with a fork.
  2. When cool enough to handle, cut the pumpkin into ¼-inch cubes and measure 1 cup. Store the rest in the refrigerator for up to a week or freeze for up to 3 months.
  3. Reduce the oven to 350°F. Grease a 2-quart casserole dish with butter.
  4. Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to medium, add the shallots, and cook for 5 minutes, until they begin to caramelize. Add the barley and continue cooking for several minutes. Season with the sage and salt and cook 1 minute longer.
  5. Add the pumpkin and a few gratings of pepper, and mix well. Transfer the mixture to the casserole dish. Warm up the broth in a saucepan, then add to the casserole, along with the parsley and pine nuts.
  6. Bake for 1 hour, stirring once, or until the barley has absorbed the broth and is tender.

Excerpted and adapted from The Pumpkin Cookbook, 2nd Edition © 2005, 2017 by Edith Stovel. Photos © Clare Barboza. All rights reserved. 

DeeDee Stovel

DeeDee Stovel

About the Author

DeeDee Stovel is the author of numerous cookbooks, including the bestseller Picnic. A caterer, longtime teacher of cooking and nutrition, and passionate advocate of fresh, homemade food, she lives in northern California.

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