For the second recipe in this week of pumpkin awesomeness (you did see yesterday’s NO-CHURN Pumpkin Ice Cream right?), I’m going to the total other end of the flavor spectrum. We’re going savory, y’all!
You might be thinking, um, savory pumpkin? no thanks, I’ll reserve my pumpkin for pies and lattes, but don’t knock it ’til you try it. The sweetness of pumpkin is such a bomb combination with the saltiness of Parmesan cheese. Especially when that sweet and salty combo comes in the form of crispy, oven-baked fries. PUMPKIN FRIES. THIS IS REAL LIFE.
Now, if you’ve ever tried to make crispy sweet potato fries in the oven before, and failed miserably, you’re probably thinking it’d be just as impossible to get pumpkin fries to crisp up without frying. But you can! There are four keys to get both pumpkin and sweet potato fries crispy:
Cut ’em thin. I like a big, fat potato wedge as much as the next gal, but when you’re working with a veggie than tends to go soggy, thin is in. The thicker the piece, the longer it takes for the middle to cook, and the more moisture is released while in the oven. Moisture ≠ crispy fries. You want those fries to be in and out of the oven in a relative flash. The less time they are in there, the less time they have to steam.
I like to keep my sweet potato and pumpkin fries under a half-inch, and probably closer to a quarter-inch in width. It takes a little bit of time to cut them (my mandolin doesn’t handle hard food like sweet potatoes and pumpkin well), but it’s worth it. Plus, they are adorable! Look at these cute little pumpkin sticks!
Soak ’em. You’ve heard me say it before, but if you’re going to make fries of any kind, you should soak your veggie beforehand. The starchiness in the typical fry veggies is what makes them go all limp on you in the oven. Soaking takes away some of the starch. You can soak ’em in beer, or, you can go the old-fashioned route and soak them in water. Chances are, if you took a peek into the kitchen of your favorite restaurant that makes the best fries in the world, they are soaking their potatoes. Soak ’em!
Soaking them overnight is wonderful, but if you can only fit in 20-30 minutes of soaking before cooking, it’ll still do wonders for your fries. Just make sure to dry them really, really well before cooking. As we’ve already established, moisture is the enemy here.
Coat ’em in cornstarch. Weird, right? But just a whisper thin coating of cornstarch on sweet potatoes and pumpkin both helps absorb some of the moisture and starch. You don’t want a lot—it’ll taste chalky—just enough to barely look like they are dusted. Arrowroot powder would also work if that’s what you have kicking around your kitchen.
The best method for getting the cornstarch well-distributed is to put just a few handfuls of the fries in a large zip-top bag, sprinkle about a teaspoon of cornstarch on top, then close the bag until there is just a little bit open. Then blow in the bag to fill it up with air, and seal. Then toss the bag in your hands to really get the fries coated well. Repeat with the remaining fries.
Give ’em room. For the love of all things holy, don’t crowd your fries on the baking sheet. If you crowd them, air can’t circulate around each fry, and instead of crisping up, the fries just steam in their own moisture. Steaming=limp, soggy fries.
Spread the fries onto two or more baking sheets if you have to. Just give them some room—the more the better. I’d recommend only putting one fry per baking sheet if it was at all reasonable (you totally have three dozen cookie sheets and ovens in your kitchen, right?).
If you follow those four “rules” (I hate that word when it comes to cooking—there are no rules in the kitchen—except to have fun!), chances are, you’ll end up with a beautiful pan of crispy, insanely delicious (and healthy!) pumpkin fries. Like so.
Pumpkin fries are amazing on their own with just a little bit of salt. They are also really good tossed with a touch of cayenne pepper and some cinnamon (uh, yum). But my favorite is with some paprika and garlic powder, and then topped with some grated Parm, flaky sea salt, and fresh chopped parsley as soon as they come out of the oven.
One of my favorite restaurants in the whole wide world serves “real” fries with a Parm topping that is out of this world, and it works incredibly well for sweet pumpkin, too. They serve their fries with a roasted red pepper aioli, which is amazing, but a bit of flavor overkill for the pumpkin. We keep it a little more simple here and serve these fries up sans dipping sauce.
I hope you guys are enjoying Pumpkin Week so far! We have lots of fun stuff to get to still. I’ve got a dessert recipe coming your way tomorrow, then I’m taking a bit of a departure from the pumpkin recipes, and we’re talking about pumpkin seeds. I’ll walk you through how to roast ’em, tell you why they are super healthy (superfood, what!), and give you six (yes, six!) different flavor combos that you can make using stuff you already have in your kitchen. You’ll definitely want to sock that one away for when you carve your pumpkin this year.