By Gretchen McKay


Pumpkin: One of fall’s favorite flavors

Categories : Food
Pumpkin cheesecake/Gretchen McKay photo

My beloved pumpkin has been getting a bad rap lately.

More than a few of my fellow food-lovers have been calling it out on Twitter, bemoaning what they consider the over-exposure and over-commercialization of one of fall’s favorite fruits.

“You know what’s great about drinking green tea?” a friend recently tweeted. “No one has tried to make it pumpkin-flavored yet.”

So she might have a point. Pumpkin spice no longer is relegated to ales, Starbucks lattes or that (really delicious) cream cheese spread at Bruegger’s that I love to pair with a pumpkin bagel. It’s practically everywhere, even where it might not logically belong.

Pumpkin-spice Oreos are now A Thing. So is Quaker Oats Pumpkin Spice Instant Oatmeal, Chobani Pumpkin Spice Greek Yogurt and Nestle Toll House Pumpkin Spice Morsels. From Wrigley’s — a name we associate with spearmint, peppermint and Juicy Fruit — we get a seasonal pumpkin-spice variety of Extra gum.

Heck, there’s even a pumpkin-spice-flavored dog treat from Twistex.

“Pumpkins used to signal the start of fall. The harvest. Thanksgiving. Half-zip mock turtlenecks,”  Mike Foss recently lamended in USA Today. “Now pumpkins announce the arrival of corporate America over-saturating the market.”

So true. But still, as much as I agree it’s time to stop the madness, I also just can’t get enough.

While I’ll pass on a slice of pumpkin pie every time during the holidays (I can’t stand the texture), anything and everything else into which I can stir a little Libby’s pure pumpkin is a winning dish in my book. Puree adds body to sauces and gives baked goods added moistness.

“When you begin to think of pumpkin as both a flavor and a softening and moistening superstar, your baking world will open up wide,” writes Averie Sunshine in the new “Cooking with Pumpkin: Recipes That Go Beyond the Pie” (Countryman, 2014, $16.95). And she’s not just talking traditional cakes and cookies, of which she shares many recipes. The cookbook entices with pumpkin brownies, doughnuts, dinner rolls and shortbread, too.

Understanding we’re all pressed for time, she presents each recipe in a way that maximizes success with the least amount of time and energy spent as possible, and that results in modest quantities.  (Do you really want four dozen cookies tempting you after work? I know I don’t.) “I want you to make these recipes, not just talk about making them,” she writes.

Pure pumpkin, it should be noted, is pretty good for you.  Low in cholesterol, calories andsaturated fat, it’s a great source of dietary fiber, and completely knocks it out of the park when it comes to vitamin A, key for good vision and a healthy immune system — one serving provides more than 200 percent of  daily requirements.

Got a little more time for slicing and dicing? The silky, delicate flavor of fresh pumpkin is even better, if tackling its thick skin with a paring knife takes a bit of courage. Cubed pumpkin is terrific in soups and stews (I recently added it to a pot roast), and also makes a great filling forravioli and empanadas. Cut a hollow in the center, it also can be stuffed.

Perhaps you’d rather focus your culinary skills on that aromatic mixture of cinnamon, ginger,allspice, cloves, nutmeg and mace that makes the house smell so good at Thanksgiving. Holisitic nutritionist Stephanie Pedersen has come up with a collection of recipes that bring these warming spices together. The autumnal delights in the new “The Pumpkin Pie Spice Cookbook” (Sterling, Sept. 2014, $12.95) include everything from pumpkin crostini and spicy pumpkin waffles to savory dishes such as slow cooker pulled pork, pumpkin sloppy Joes and Afghani-style sweet stew.

“While wonderful on their own, it’s when you bring these spices together that true magic happens,” she writes. “Combined, these ingredients create a symphony of flavor and aroma so powerful, so deeply comforting, that the world smells like a special occasion.”

Amen, sister!

There’s nothing like the flavor of pumpkin or pumpkin spice to bring warmth to a crisp, fall day.

Pumpkin Syrup

Pumpkin syrup/Gretchen McKay

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One of fall’s quintessential drinks is a pumpkin-spice latte. But why put money in Starbucks pocket when you can flavor your coffee at home so easily? And with no artificial ingredients?

This simple, spicy pumpkin syrup comes together in minutes and keeps in the fridge for up to a month. If you don’t like floaters in your coffee, you’ll probably want to strain the syrup through a coffee filter or cheesecloth to remove the undissolved spices before transferring to a jar. But even unfiltered, it’s delicious.

They syrup also can be drizzled over ice cream, pancakes, waffles, cake … anything you’d like to punch up with a little pumpkin flavor. It also can be stirred into hot chocolate, milk or smoothies. Yum. 

1 cup granulated sugar

1 cup water

2 tablespoons pumpkin puree

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon pumpkin-pie spice

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

Combine sugar and water in a medium saucepan. Cook over medium heat, whisking constantly until sugar is dissolved. Add pumpkin and spices and whisk to incorporate.

Cook for about 10 minutes, stirring frequently so mixture does not come to a boil. Mixture will thicken and reduce in volume. Turn off heat and allow syrup to cool in the pan for about 15 minutes before transferring to a glass jar or heat-safe container with a lid.

Syrup will keep airtight in the fridge for at least 1 month.

Makes about 1½ cups.

— “Cooking with Pumpkin: Recipes That Go Beyond Pie” by Averie Sunshine (Countryman, Oct. 2014, $16.95)

Spicy Pumpkin Waffles

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1½ cups all-purpose flour

3 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

2 teaspoons pumpkin-pie spice

1 pinch salt

2 large eggs

1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar

1 cup canned pumpkin puree

1 3/4 cups dairy or coconut milk

4 tablespoons butter or coconut oil, melted and cooled

Optional toppings: Sauteed apples, cranberry sauce, jam, honey, maple syrup or powdered sugar

Mix together flour, baking powder, baking soda, pumpkin pie spice and salt in a large bowl.

In a second bowl, add eggs, sugar, pumpkin, milk and butter. Beat well.

Gently fold in the flour mixture. Cook according to your waffle iron directions.

Serve hot, with your choice of topping ingredients.

Makes about 8 waffles.

— “The Pumpkin Pie Spice Cookbook” by Stephanie Pedersen (Sterling, Sept. 2014, $12.95)

Soft Buttery Pumpkin Pretzels

Pumpkin pretzels/Gretchen McKay

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This easy-to-make yeast dough also is extremely easy to work with, so don’t go telling me you can’t replicate Aunt Annie’s pretzels at home! Canned pumpkin gives the soft knots a pale orange color. I sprinkled them with salt but cinnamon sugar would be delicious, too. If you want to get really fancy, drizzle a little icing on top. Perfect for breakfast. 

1/2 cup milk

1 teaspoon granulated sugar

1/4-ounce packet instant dry yeast (2 1/4 teaspoons)

1 egg

1/2 cup pumpkin puree

2 tablespoons canola or vegetable oil, or melted butter

1 teaspoon salt

2½ cups all-purpose flour, plus more for work surface

1/4 cup melted butter for brushing, divided

Kosher or sea salt for sprinkling

Heat milk to lukewarm. In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine warm milk and sugar and sprinkle the yeast over it. Allow it to proof, getting bubbly and foamy, about 5 minutes.

Add the egg, pumpkin, oil and salt and mix briefly with the paddle attachment on low speed to combine, about 1 minute.

Add 2 1/2 cups flour and switch to dough hook when dough comes together and can be kneaded (or knead by hand). Knead for about 5 to 7 minutes, or until smooth and elastic. This is not a sticky dough and should be smooth.

Turn dough out into a large mixing bowl coated with cooking spray, turning dough over once togrease the top.

Cover with plastic wrap and place in a warm, draft-free place to rise until doubled in bulk, about 2 1/2 to 3 hours.

Prepare 2 baking sheets by lining them with nonstick baking mats or spraying with cooking spray; set aside. Punch dough down. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface. Divide into 6 equally sized portions. (If you are making the dough ahead, wrap dough balls in plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to 48 hours.) For smaller pretzels, divide dough into 12 equally sized portions.

With your hands, roll each portion of dough into a long, thin rope, 24 to 28 inches long, and twist each rope into a pretzel. (Envision making a heart, with a twist in the middle,) Place 3 pretzels on each of the 2 prepared baking sheets. Cover with plastic wrap and allow pretzels to rise in a warm, draft-free place until nearly doubled, about 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Before baking pretzels, brush with melted butter; reserve remainder.

Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, or until they’re golden, puffed and done.  For firmer pretzels, allow to bake a little longer.

After baking, immediately brush pretzels with reserved melted butter and sprinkle with kosher salt. For a sweeter pretzel, dredge the buttered pretzels in a cinnamon-sugar mixture.

Serve immediately, either as is or with mustard, horseradish, cream cheese or hummus. Pretzels are best warm and fresh, but will keep airtight for up to 48 hours.

Makes 6 large or 12 small pretzels.

 — “Cooking with Pumpkin: Recipes That Go Beyond Pie” by Averie Sunshine (Countryman, Oct. 2014, $16.95)

Curried Pumpkin Pastelitos

Pumpkin pastelitos/Gretchen McKay

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You might not associate the Caribbean with pumpkin, but these Jamaican pastries — made with chunks of fresh pumpkin instead of canned puree — are so good. The butter crust, which is easy to make and forgiving under nervous fingers such as mine, practically melts in your mouth. 

The original recipe calls for calabaza, a pumpkin-like squash that’s popular in the Caribbean and South and Central America. I couldn’t find one (you may at a Latin market) so I subbed a pie pumpkin. 

For pastry

1 pound all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon sea salt

1/2 pound cold unsalted butter (2 sticks), cut into 1/2-inch pieces

1/4 cup ice-cold water

1 egg whisked with 1 tablespoon water

For filling

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1/4 cup finely chopped onions

1/4 cup finely chopped scallions

2 cloves garlic, chopped

1 teaspoon peeled, minced fresh ginger

1/2 Scotch bonnet, seeded and minced (I used a red jalapeno)

1 tablespoon curry powder or ground turmeric

2 cups cubed pumpkin, preferably calabaza

1 handful fresh cilantro leaves, chopped

1/2 cup coconut milk

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Make pastry: Stir together flour and salt into a large bowl. With your hands, gently rub butter into the flour mixture until it achieves a sandy texture. Add water all at once and mix just until flour is incorporated and dough forms a mass. Warp dough in plastic and chill in refrigerator overnight. Remove 1 hour before use to let dough come to room temperature.

Prepare filling: Warm oil in large saute pan over medium heat. Saute onions, scallion, garlic and ginger. When onions are wilted, stir in hot pepper and curry powder and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, until aromatic.

Add cubed pumpkin and cilantro. Quickly toss with onions mixture, then pour in coconut milk, and simmer for 2 to 3 minutes. (It took my pumpkin about 10 minutes to become tender enough to smash.)  Season with salt and pepper. Smash pumpkin mixture with a potato masher and let cool before filling the patties.

Make patties: Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Divide dough into 4 portions. Roll out each portion 1/8-inch thick and cut into 4-inch circles, creating as little waste as possible. Leftover dough may be tightly wrapped in plastic and frozen for up to 2 weeks.

Fill each circle of pasty with about 1 tablespoon filling, then fold pastry in half and crimp edges with a fork to seal. Score top of each pastry and brush with egg wash. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes or until tops are golden brown.

Makes 18 to 20 patties.

— “Caribbean Potluck: Modern Recipes from Our Family Kitchen ” by Suzanne and Michelle Rousseau (Kyle, June 2014, $24.95)

Pumpkin Soup with Crispy Brussels Sprout Leaves

Pumpkin Soup with Crispy Brussels Sprouts

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Vegans, unite. This soup recipe just might make believers out of us meat eaters.

Coconut milk imparts the broth with a silky smoothness while cayenne adds just the right amount of heat.  Roasted Brussels sprout leaves give my favorite soup topping — potato chips — a run for the money. Plus, they add vitamins. 

I kicked the soup’s flavor up a notch with double the amount of cayenne.

For soup

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 onion, roughly chopped

1 apple, unpeeled, cored and sliced

1 garlic clove, minced

2 teaspoons sea salt

1/4 teaspoon cayenne

3 cups vegetable broth

15-ounce can pumpkin puree

3/4 cup canned coconut milk

2 tablespoons brown sugar

For crispy leaves

4 ounces Brussels sprouts, trimmed and leaves separated

1 to 2 teaspoons olive oil

Sea salt

Freshly ground black pepper

For soup: In a large pot, heat oil over medium-high heat and saute onion and apple until soft, 10 to 15 minutes. Add garlic, salt and cayenne and let cook for 1 minute more, until fragrant. Add broth and pumpkin, and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and in batches, transfer soup to ablender and puree until smooth. Return to pot, stir in coconut milk and brown sugar, reheat and season to taste.

For crispy leaves: Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spread Brussels sprout leaves on a large rimmed baking sheet and toss with oil. Season with salt and pepper and bake for 10 to 12 minutes, until lightly browned and crisp.

To serve: Divide soup into bowls and top with a spoonful of crispy Brussels sprout leaves.

Serves 4.

— “Chloe’s Vegan Italian Kitchen: 150 Pizzas, Pastas, Pestos, Risottos & Lots of Creamy Italian Classics” by Chloe Coscarelli (Atria, Sept. 2014, $19.99)

Gingersnap-Pumpkin Cheesecake/Gretchen McKay

Gingersnap-Pumpkin Cheesecake

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My daughter Catherine is continually asking me to make her cheesecake. Too bad she’s now off to college, because this super-rich recipe from country star Martina McBride is a winner. I think it’s because of the 3-ingredient crust, which swaps gingersnap cookies for traditional graham crackers. The flavors of spicy ginger and pumpkin marry beautifully. 

If you don’t have all the ground spices on hand, substitute 2 1/4 teaspoons pumpkin-pie spice. I ended up eating my Heath bar long before the cheesecake finished chilling in the fridge, so sprinkled crumbled gingersnaps on top.

Perfect for National Pumpkin Cheesecake Day on Oct. 21!

For crust

2 cups crushed gingersnap cookies, plus extra for garnish

1/4 cup packed light-brown sugar

6 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted

For filling

3 8-ounce packages cream cheese, softened

1 cup granulated sugar

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground allspice

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

3 large eggs

2 tablespoons heavy cream

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

15-ounce can pure pumpkin puree (not pie filling)

1 cup heavy cream, whipped

Crushed toffee bar, such as Heath, optional

Prepare a 9-inch springform pan by tracing it onto a sheet of parchment paper. Lightly grease bottom of pan. Cut out round of parchment and place it in the greased pan and then lightly grease the paper.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place crushed gingersnaps and brown sugar in a food processor and process until finely chopped. Add melted butter and process until thoroughly combined. Press the mixture into the bottom and up sides of the springform pan. Chill for 10 to 20 minutes.

Beat the cream cheese and granulated sugar in a medium bowl with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add cinnamon, allspice, ginger and nutmeg and mix until combined. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing just until yolk disappears. Add cream, vanilla and pumpkin puree, mixing to just combine.

Remove crust from the refrigerator. Pour cheesecake batter into prepared crust. Bake 1 hour and 15 minutes, or until center is almost set. Run a sharp knife around the edge of cheesecake to help prevent it from cracking as it cools. Let cheesecake cool at least 30 minutes. Cover and chill in the refrigerator overnight.

To serve, remove cheesecake from pan and transfer it to a serving plate. Slice into 10 to 12 wedges and top each with a dollop of whipped cream and a sprinkle of crushed gingersnaps or finely crushed Heath toffee bar.

Serves 10 to 12.

— “Around the Table: Recipes and Inspiration for Gatherings Throughout the Year” by Martina McBride (William Morrow, Oct. 2014, $29.99)