While pumpkins are most often associated with holiday pies, don’t underestimate this favorite of the squash and gourd family. Not only is the mighty pumpkin delicious, but it is also quite the multi-tasker. And while it’s readily found into late December, the commercial season for pumpkin seems to be winding down. But with a can of pumpkin puree you can extend the warmth year-round.
“Pumpkins are incredibly versatile. They can be used in virtually any application,” says chef Joseph Brown, culinary chair at the International Culinary School at the Art Institute of Raleigh-Durham, a campus of South University. From sweet to savory, desserts to dinners, Brown and chef Arthur Inzinga, culinary instructor at the International Culinary School at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, offer tips and ideas for making the most of your pumpkins.
Pumpkin can be added to a variety of dishes to provide textural elements as well as flavor. “When pumpkin is cooked down it is very similar to mashed potatoes, but more sweet and flavorful,” says Brown. “It brings a sweetness to the table, which is its most unique aspect.” He adds that anywhere a potato is being cut up and cooked, pumpkin would be a good addition and/or substitution.
In Syracuse, many shops use pumpkin puree in their baked goods. The Cookie Connection, one of the newest bakeries on the scene, recently christened a storefront at 705 Park Ave. It’s open Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Find them on the web at tccglutenfree.com or call them at 422-2253. The remainder of sisters Betty Johnson and Kathy Sniezak’s time is spent baking for clients such as Syracuse University’s dining halls, Wegmans supermarkets and Spera’s on Route 31 in Cicero.
“With the change in seasons and the changing color of the leaves, people think of cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon: Those spices remind them of fall,” says Johnson. “We do pumpkin cakes, loaves, muffins, pie.” And while the season for pumpkin tends to wind down once the New Year comes, Johnson says she and her sister will bake to order. “We like to bake things fresh,” she notes.
As a bonus, the sisters bake all their items without gluten, a protein in wheat that has been linked to gastric distress and autoimmune disorders. “My sister has autoimmune issues—Crohn’s and lupus—and the doctor suggested she try gluten-free products,” says Johnson.
Also seeing a burst of requests for anything pumpkin is national coffee chain Dunkin’ Donuts. Jeff Miller has worked at the Canton, Mass., behemoth as director of research and development for 10 years. He works with a team of 20 chefs.
“It’s exploded in the past few years,” he says of the pumpkin trend. “It’s really a classic flavor, and it’s become a well-known flavor of the season. At Dunkin’ Donuts we’ve been offering pumpkin products for almost a decade. We started with the doughnut, then the Munchkin, then a pumpkin coffee cake and muffin, and, one of our most popular items, pumpkin coffee and lattes. This year, we’ve combined the flavor of pumpkin with white chocolate and mocha.
“Pumpkin is our No. 1 request,” Miller adds. In spite of that, Dunkin’ Donuts offers pumpkin only seasonally—better move fast because it could already be gone. “There’s a great emotional connection to pumpkin, and if you put it out year-round you lose some of that and the nostalgia of the season,” he says when asked why it’s so fleeting when it’s also so popular. “When it comes back, people are excited about it again.”
In fact, Miller reports that Dunkin’ Donuts has purchased 100 million pounds of pumpkin puree in the each of the last several years.
Pumpkin is a tasty addition to savory delights as well. Pureed pumpkin can be added to a variety of sauces and soups, and, according to Inzinga, “Pumpkin is used a lot in conjunction with pasta.” Brown also notes it can be used as a filling for ravioli. See the accompanying recipe for pasta with pumpkin sauces.
Adding the flavor of pumpkin to a variety of dishes can be achieved with some simple substitutions. Create pumpkin chili by augmenting some of the stock and tomato with pureed pumpkin. “This brings a richness to the chili,” notes Brown. “The pumpkin is going to be as much a textural component as it is a flavorful item.” He also adds that pumpkin and tomato go together beautifully, in dishes such as pumpkin pizza, where the pumpkin puree becomes part of the sauce. Brown likes to top his pumpkin pizza with barbecued chicken.
Inzinga recommends juicing some of the pumpkin pulp and using it as the cooking liquid for risotto or mixing equal parts pureed pumpkin to mashed potatoes. “It can be used as an ingredient in pancakes and waffles to replace some of the liquid and add flavor,” he says.
Pumpkin can also take center stage in dishes such as pumpkin-based bread puddings and ice creams and pumpkin butter. Inzinga says pumpkin butter is much like apple butter and can be created by adding pumpkin pie spices and cooking the pumpkin down until it is a spreadable consistency. He also recommends pumpkin/apple smoothies made with pureed pumpkin, apple juice and a bit of yogurt.
Enjoy the full flavor of the pumpkin by dicing and roasting with other root vegetables, sauteing it to bring out its natural flavors or even putting it on the grill. Brown says the slow heat of the grill brings out natural sugars, removes moisture and condenses the flavor.
Don’t forget that the flesh isn’t the only part of the pumpkin that can be used. The seeds can be roasted and used as a garnish on breads, muffins or on pumpkin soup, added to homemade granola, or pureed into sauces and pesto. According to Inzinga, the flower blossoms can be battered and fried or stuffed and baked. Both chefs even recommend using hollowed-out pumpkins as bowls and tureens for chili or soup.
Brown offers these tips for choosing the proper pumpkin depending on how you intend to use it. “It’s important for people to realize that when you see a jack-o’-lantern type pumpkin, it’s been grown for their size and shape, not necessarily flavor,” he explains. The large pumpkins are less sweet. He recommends allaboutpumpkins.com as a reference for the characteristics of different types of the popular gourd.
Pasta with Pumpkin and Sausage
This recipe by Rachael Ray is from foodnetwork.com.
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, separated
1 pound bulk sweet Italian sausage
4 cloves garlic, cracked and chopped
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 bay leaf, fresh or dried
4 to 6 sprigs sage leaves, cut into chiffonade
1 cup dry white wine
1 cup chicken stock
1 cup canned pumpkin
½ cup heavy cream
%u215B teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon nutmeg, ground or freshly grated
Coarse salt and black pepper
1 pound radiatore pasta, cooked al dente
Romano or Parmigiano cheese
Heat a large, deep nonstick skillet over medium high heat. Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil to the pan and brown the sausage in it. Transfer sausage to paper towel lined plate. Drain fat from skillet and return pan to the stove. Add the remaining tablespoon oil, and then the garlic and onion. Saute 3 to 5 minutes until the onions are tender. Add bay leaf, sage and wine to the pan. Reduce wine by half, about 2 minutes. Add stock and pumpkin and stir to combine, stirring sauce until it comes to a bubble.
Return sausage to pan, reduce heat, and stir in cream. Season the sauce with the cinnamon, nutmeg, salt and pepper, to taste. Simmer mixture 5 to 10 minutes to thicken sauce. Return drained pasta to the pot you cooked it in. Remove the bay leaf from sauce and pour the sausage pumpkin sauce over pasta. Combine sauce and pasta and toss over low heat for 1 minute. Garnish the pasta with lots of shaved cheese and sage leaves.
Pumpkin and Black Bean Soup
Another Rachael Ray recipe, courtesy of foodnetwork.com.
2 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
3 cups canned or packaged vegetable stock
1 can (14½ ounces) diced tomatoes in juice
1 can (15 ounces) black beans, drained
2 cans (15 ounces) pumpkin puree
1 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon curry powder
1½ teaspoons ground cumin
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
20 blades fresh chives, chopped or snipped, for garnish
Heat a soup pot over medium heat. Add oil. When oil is
hot, add onion. Saute onions 5 minutes. Add broth, tomatoes, black beans
and pumpkin puree. Stir to combine ingredients and bring soup to a
boil. Reduce heat to medium low and stir in cream, curry, cumin, cayenne
and salt, to taste. Simmer 5 minutes, adjust seasonings and serve
garnished with chopped chives.
This recipe is courtesy of Dave Lieberman, whose show, Food Bank Thanksgiving, has appeared on Food Network.
1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin
3 cups heavy cream
¾ cup superfine sugar
½ teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
Ginger snaps, for garnish
Combine pumpkin, 1 cup cream, sugar and spice in a medium saucepan. Simmer over medium heat for 5 minutes. Cool fully. Whip remaining heavy cream and vanilla to soft peaks and fold into cooled pumpkin mixture. Pour into a serving dish and crumble the ginger snaps over top before serving.