Gretchen McKay

Pumpkin: One of fall’s favorite flavors

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)


Crazy about pumpkin

Spicy pumpkin seeds/Gretchen McKay

 

Is it just me, or is pumpkin taking over?

I was fine with seasonal pumpkin products such as pumpkin bread and pumpkin roll.

But these days, you can find its distinctive autumnal flavor in just about everything from drinks to granola bars to pasta to ice cream, and the orange tide keeps rising. Even Pringles has joined in the Great American Pumpkin Party, including in its new lineup of limited-edition holiday season flavors a Pumpkin Pie Spice chip.

Enough already!

Some of these pumpkin-powered supermarket foods and menu items make perfect sense, such as the seasonal pumpkin brews being poured through about Thanksgiving at local bars and restaurants. (See Bob Batz Jr.’s Beer Column.) I’m also developing a taste for the pumpkin-spiced coffees being brewed, also for a limited time, at chains such as Dunkin’ Donuts and Starbucks, especially when it’s paired with a decadent pumpkin loaf or a pumpkin and walnut biscotti from Enrico’s in the Strip District. A toasted pumpkin bagel stuffed with sweet and creamy pumpkin cream cheese (think pumpkin mousse) might sound like too much of a good thing, but trust me, it’s a customer favorite at Bruegger’s 300-plus U.S. locations for a reason — and not just for breakfast.

“If you haven’t tried it, you should,” my running buddy Andrea Facebooked after having said treat for an afternoon snack. “And if there’s any cream cheese left . . . it’s worthy of eating with your knife.”

Just thinking of it makes me hungry!

But do we really need pumpkin-flavored dog treats, or nonfat Greek pumpkin yogurt, just two of the 20-plus “Pumpkin Season specialties” advertised in Trader Joe’s Fearless Flying brochure for October?

Below, we offer a few more of the season’s best pumpkin-flavored offerings worth the calories, along with a couple that might have been better left in the pumpkin patch.

Morning carbs

Pumpkin and walnut biscotti from Enrico Biscotti in Pittsburgh’s Strip District/Gretchen McKay

Pancakes are good anytime of year, but they’re especially tasty when the batter includes pumpkin blended with cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger. DeLuca’s Diner in the Strip and Eggs N’at in Moon are just two of the many local diners and restaurants that put pumpkin hotcakes on the menu each fall, and they’re delicious, with or without maple syrup. DeLuca’s also has pumpkin pie crepes as well as a pumpkin hotcake sundae, which pairs pumpkin ice cream with a cream cheese glaze.

If you’d rather wake up to a bagel, Brueggers, Einsteins and Panera Bread all feature pumpkin varieties this time of year. So does muffin-maker Thomas’, though its Pumpkin Spice bagels and bagel thins are a far cry from the chewy-on-the-outside, fluffy-on-the-inside taste you love in a fresh bagel hot out of the oven. It also has a Pumpkin Spice English Muffin. Pepperidge Farms, meanwhile, celebrates fall with its seasonal Pumpkin Spice Swirl bread. The “swirl” being pumpkin puree, this bread is best toasted, with plenty of butter. It’d also make an awesome base for French Toast.

Not to be outdone at the breakfast table is Kelloggs, whose Frosted Pumpkin Pie Pop-Tart is sure to be a hit either with kids or adults whose taste buds never grew up. A better option is Pumpkin Spice Eggo waffles, part of its “Seasons” line of specialty waffles. A little butter and a drizzle of syrup, and you’re ready to go.

Pumpkin beverages

Probably the signature seasonal pumpkin drink is Starbucks’ Pumpkin Spice Latte, a frothy coffee drink topped with sweetened whipped cream that has so many fans, local franchises occasionally run out of the special pumpkin syrup used to make it. That’s right, there’s no actual pumpkin in the product, though there are plenty of calories — 380 in a 16-ounce “grande.” Starbucks is to introduce Pumpkin Spice Latte ice cream in stores Nov. 1. Nipping at the coffee giant’s heel is Dunkin’ Donuts, which earlier this month launched Pumpkin Mocha and Pumpkin White Chocolate coffee and lattes, in addition to its Pumpkin Spice ground coffee. Brueggers has a pumpkin brew, too.

For those who’d rather make and (artificially) flavor coffee at home, there’s Coffee-mate Pumpkin non-dairy creamer and International Delight’s Pumpkin Spice Coffee Creamer.

Courting tea lovers is Bigelow Tea, whose collection of seasonal holiday tea bags includes Pumpkin Spice Tea. It’s blended using black tea and natural pumpkin flavors with cinnamon, licorice root, cloves and ginger. Slightly spicy and wonderfully aromatic, it’s perfect for sipping before bed. Plus, no calories.

I wish I could say the same for another fan favorite: Dairy Queen’s Pumpkin Pie Blizzard (Blizzard of the Month for October). My daughters, who work there, say one out of every three customers orders one of these thick ice cream treats, which are made by blending vanilla soft serve, Libby’s Pumpkin Pie Mix and pie crust “chips.” Garnished with whipped cream and a sprinkle of nutmeg, it’s a button-popper in the making, with a whopping 570 calories in a small serving.

For me, the better splurge was the Pumpkin Pie Margarita at Mad Mex, which has a taste reminiscent of hard apple cider. I was skeptical anyone could combine tequila with pumpkin with good results, but the frozen concoction was surprisingly delicious.

And more pumpkin

Pumpkin also is making its way into staples such as salsa, pasta, snacks and spreads. My oldest son is a huge fan of Trader Joe’s pumpkin butter, which you can slather on cake or toast, stir into yogurt or oatmeal or spoon with peanut butter into a sandwich. Another of my running buddies loves the Spiced Pumpkin Salsa at Aldi, but I have to say, I’m suspect.

At Triple B Farms in Monongahela, you can find Pumpkin Spice Lasagna Noodles and Fettucine; Pennsylvania Macaroni has pumpkin tortellini imported from Italy. At Crested Duck in Beechview, Kevin Costa has been sneaking the veggie into sausage.

For sweeter tastes, Kraft devised Jet-Puffed Pumpkin Spice Mallows, perfect for a autumnal Rice Krispie Treat. Hershey’s wraps the flavor in chocolate, in a Pumpkin Spice Kiss.

Oh, I almost forgot: Pringles’ Pumpkin Pie Spice potato chips. The limited-edition flavor, which debuts next month at Wal-Mart, is not as weird as the White Chocolate Peppermint chip that’s arriving with it.

If you haven’t satisfied your yen for pumpkins with all those seasonal dishes, Glade now has come out with a new air freshener for fall. With the Maple Pumpkin scent, your house can smell like “maple syrup and newly harvested pumpkins.”


 

Sweet and Spicy Pumpkin Seeds

Sweetly spicy, with a lick of fire and the light crunch of toasted seeds and caramelized sugar: I’d like tons of these with a hoppy beer. Or a spoonful on my pumpkin soup, bowl of chili or roasted squash. Just remember the seeds need an hour’s drying in a low oven before combining with flavorings.

— Virginia Phillips

  • 1 medium pumpkin
  • 5 tablespoons sugar, divided
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • Pinch cayenne, or to your taste (I used a couple of large pinches)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons peanut oil (I used canola)

Preheat oven to 250 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper (I did not use).

Cut pumpkin open from top to bottom and remove seeds with a long-handled spoon. You’ll be able to scrape about a cup of seeds from a medium (5 to 7 pound) pumpkin. (Fresh seeds are not to be confused with the already hulled pumpkin seeds, which are green, smaller and sold pre-packaged in stores.) In a bowl of water, separate seeds from the squash gunk and blot on a tea towel. On a baking sheet bake the seeds until completely dry, 45 minutes to an hour. They’ll darken to a crunchy ruddy gold.

In a medium bowl combine 3 tablespoons sugar, salt, cumin, cinnamon, ginger and cayenne. Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over high heat. Add seeds and remaining 2 tablespoons sugar. Cook until sugar melts and pumpkin seeds begin to caramelize, about 45 to 60 seconds. Transfer to bowl with spices, and stir well to coat. Let cool. These may be stored in an airtight container for at least a week.

Makes about a cup.

— Adapted from 2012 Martha Stewart Living


 

Eight O’Clock’s Gr8 Pumpkin Coffee

It doesn’t get much easier than this.

— Gretchen McKay

  • 4 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
  • 6 tablespoons Eight O’Clock Original ground coffee (enough for 1 full pot)
  • Milk or half-and-half
  • Sugar

Combine pumpkin pie spice and coffee grounds in coffee filter, brew. Add milk or half & half and sugar to taste (you control the sweetness, unlike at a coffee shop).

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

— Eight O’Clock Coffee


 

Pumpkin biscuits

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B. Smith says the secret to great biscuits is to use chilled butter or shortening. We liked these served as an accompaniment to a warm bowl of soup on a chilly fall day.

— Rebecca Sodergren

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 4 tablespoons chilled butter or shortening, cut into pieces
  • 1/2 cup canned pumpkin puree
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

In a food processor fitted with the metal blade, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add the butter or shortening and pulse briefly, just until it is the texture of coarse meal. Add the pumpkin and buttermilk to the flour mixture. Pulse just until the dough is soft and easy to handle. Do not overprocess, or biscuits will be tough.

Turn the dough onto a lightly floured work surface. Knead the dough gently until smooth. Roll it out to 1/2-inch thickness, sprinkling more flour on the work surface as necessary to prevent sticking, and cut the dough into rounds with a 2-inch biscuit cutter or the top of a 2-inch glass. Scraps can be rerolled and cut into more rounds.

Place the biscuits on a lightly greased baking sheet. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, or until lightly browned. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Makes about 1 dozen.

— “B. Smith Cooks Southern-Style” by Barbara Smith (Scribner, 2009)

 

Old-fashioned pumpkin doughnuts/Steve Mellon

They’re one of fall’s most visual offerings, foods so colorful you make them the centerpiece on your Thanksgiving table. Or maybe you like to pile these jewel-toned veggies on the stoop next to the jack-o’-lanterns come Halloween.

What you really should be doing is eating them, those brightly striped, sometimes weirdly shaped, more often than not hard-as-a-rock autumn gems known as winter squashes.

I came late to the squash party. For much of my cooking life, I relegated this quintessential fall offering to the “no way, no how” list of ingredients. I’m bad enough with a chef’s knife, let alone a cleaver (I once managed to nearly take off a fingertip while slicing cake), so trying to peel and then whack a Hubbard or acorn squash into cookable pieces seemed a guaranteed trip to the ER.

Better to limit my family’s squash-eating to the easy summer varieties such as zucchini and yellow crookneck, which are a snap to slice and dice into a stir-fry or gratin or grate into a chocolate cake.

They’re one of fall’s most visual offerings, foods so colorful you make them the centerpiece on your Thanksgiving table. Or maybe you like to pile these jewel-toned veggies on the stoop next to the jack-o’-lanterns come Halloween.

What you really should be doing is eating them, those brightly striped, sometimes weirdly shaped, more often than not hard-as-a-rock autumn gems known as winter squashes.

I came late to the squash party. For much of my cooking life, I relegated this quintessential fall offering to the “no way, no how” list of ingredients. I’m bad enough with a chef’s knife, let alone a cleaver (I once managed to nearly take off a fingertip while slicing cake), so trying to peel and then whack a Hubbard or acorn squash into cookable pieces seemed a guaranteed trip to the ER.

Better to limit my family’s squash-eating to the easy summer varieties such as zucchini and yellow crookneck, which are a snap to slice and dice into a stir-fry or gratin or grate into a chocolate cake.

My kids, I’m sad to say, didn’t put up much of an argument. While all happily gobbled (pureed) squash as babies, by the time they were in elementary school none would have touched butternut squash with a 10-foot pole, let alone a fork. Then two years ago, a copy of “Martha Stewart’s Dinner at Home” landed on my desk.

She’s a crafty one, that Martha, practically Double Dog-daring us into rethinking everything we thought about squash with one simple, delicious-sounding recipe. Today, one of my daughter Catherine’s favorite fall dishes is her “Gratineed Baked Squash Halves,” or acorn squash baked with garlic-and-sage-infused cream and then topped with melted Gruyere. She starts asking for it about the time school starts.

Generally, summer squashes are picked young, when the skin is still soft and the fruit is small, while winter squashes are allowed to mature. That’s why many varieties, including acorn and buttercup, have such hard, thick skin. But not all are daunting to work with: the only thing that stands between you and the sweet orange flesh of the oblong-shaped delicata squash, for instance, is a vegetable peeler, or a half hour in a hot oven. (Roasted, the skin is quite tender.)

Small and sweet sugar (pie) pumpkins — yep, they’re actually a type of squash — also are extremely easy to prepare for cooking; just wash, cut in half, remove the stem and scrape out the seeds and fibers. Then, they can be roasted, steamed, grilled, boiled, microwaved, grated or stuffed in any way you can imagine.

What I’m learning, with the help of several new cookbooks, is that the winter squash is well worth exploring. You can’t beat its versatility. Appetizers, soups, stews, side dishes, breads and muffins, vegetarian entrees, desserts — there’s a way to sneak squash into virtually any meal. Creative types even can use the shell as a serving bowl for soups and stews. And don’t forget about the seeds, which can be toasted for a snack or garnish.

Happily, the weather’s been kind in Western Pennsylvania, so there’s a wide variety of cooking pumpkins and squashes available at your local grocery store and farmers market. Among the offerings at Janoski’s in Clinton, for example, are acorn, butternut, spaghetti and delicato squashes; Schramm Farms in Penn, Westmoreland County, has all that plus those thick and bumpy Hubbard squashes, which, once you hack your way to their dense yellow-orange flesh, prove mighty tasty. At Farmers Market Co-op of East Liberty, Brian Greenawalt of Greenawalt Farm also has green and orange kabocha (also known as Japanese pumpkin), which has an exceptionally sweet flavor.

Canned pumpkin has gotten expensive enough (a 15-ounce can costs about $2.50 at Giant Eagle) that a growing number of people are trying to make their own from scratch from sugar sweets, said Mary Pat, a part-time “vegetable pusher” at Schramm’s, which sells them for 45 cents a pound. (In general, 1 pound fresh winter squash equals 2 cups peeled and cooked pumpkin.)

She said, “So many are buying for the first time.”

Roasted Spaghetti Squash Noodles

PG tested

  • 3 cardamom pods
  • 1/2 teaspoon whole allspice berries
  • 3 star anise
  • 1 large Granny Smith apple, cored and halved
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 spaghetti squash (about 2 pounds), cut in half lengthwise, seeds and pulp removed
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 2 tablespoons packed golden brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup apple cider (optional)

Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 300 degrees.

Place cardamom, allspice and star anise in a small skillet over medium-low heat; toast spices, shaking the pan often, until fragrant, about 4 minutes. Remove from heat and grind in a spice grinder; set aside.

In a small bowl, toss apple with lemon juice and set aside.

Place squash on a rimmed baking sheet or casserole dish skin-side down; brush flesh of squash with butter and honey; evenly sprinkle ground spices, sugar, salt and pepper over the top. Place on apple half with juices into the cavity of each squash; add apple cider to inside of cavity, if desired.

Bake, basting occasionally, until squash is tender and offers no resistance when pierced with a paring knife, 11/2 to 2 hours. Remove from oven; discard apple and let cool for 10 minutes. Using a fork, scrape cooked squash into a medium bowl and toss to separate the strands. Serve warm.

Makes 4 servings.

— “Holiday Dinners with Bradley Ogden” by Bradley Ogden with Lydia Scott (Running Press, 2011, $30)

Pumpkin Old-Fashioned Doughnuts

PG tested

These were so much easier than I anticipated, and yummy! Don’t let the oil get too hot and pay attention to flip times, or you’ll end up burning the second and third batches.

— Getchen McKay

For doughnuts
  • 3 cups cake or soft wheat flour, plus more for rolling and cutting
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons shortening
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 2/3 cup sour cream
  • 1/2 cup canned pumpkin
  • Canola oil, for frying
For glaze
  • 4 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • 2 teaspoons light corn syrup
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
  • 1/4 cup canned pumpkin
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup hot water

To make doughnuts: Sift flour, baking powder, salt, nutmeg and pumpkin pie spice together into a bowl and set aside.

In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle, mix sugar and shortening for 1 minute on low speed, until sandy. Add egg yolks, then mix for 1 more minute on medium speed, scraping the sides of bowl with a rubber spatula, until mixture is light colored and thick.

Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients in 3 separate additions, alternating with sour cream and pumpkin, mixing until just combined on low speed and scraping the sides of the bowl each time. The dough will be sticky.

Transfer dough to a clean bowl and refrigerate, covered with plastic wrap, for 45 minutes or up to 24 hours.

Meanwhile, make glaze by placing confectioners’ sugar, corn syrup, salt, pumpkin pie spice, pumpkin and vanilla in the work bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle. With machine on medium speed, add hot water in a slow, steady stream, and blend until all of the sugar has been incorporated, scraping the bowl a few times is necessary. Set aside.

Using a candy thermometer to measure, heat oil (at least 2 inches deep) in a large pot or high-sided frying pan to 325 degrees. Roll out chilled dough on a floured counter or cutting board to 1/2-inch thick, flouring the top of the dough and rolling pin as necessary to prevent sticking. Cut into as many doughnuts and holes as possible, dipping the cutter into flour before each cut. Fold and gently reroll dough to make extra holes and cut again.

Shake excess flour off doughnuts before carefully adding them to the hot oil a few at a time, taking care not to crowd them. Once doughnuts float, fry to 15 seconds, then gently flip them. Fry for 75 to 90 seconds, until golden brown and cracked, then flip and fry the first side again for 60 to 75 seconds. Transfer to a rack set over paper towels.

While doughnuts are still quite hot, dip the side with the deepest cracks on each into the warm glaze. Let dry on cooling racks, glazed side up, for about 15 minutes.

Makes 1 dozen doughnuts and holes.

— “Hand-Forged Doughnuts: Secrets and Recipes for the Home Baker” by Mark and Michael Klebeck with Jess Thomson (Chronicle, 2011, $16.95)

Pumpkin soup/Steve Mellon

Witch’s Pumpkin Brew Stew

PG tested

  • 2 medium yellow onions
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 tablespoon curry powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 3 15-ounce cans pumpkin, or 6 cups mashed cooked fresh pumpkin
  • 5 cups vegetable broth
  • 2 15-ounce cans unsweetened coconut milk
  • Up to 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • Sea salt
  • Pinch cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 cup toasted pumpkin seeds

In a large saucepan over medium heat, saute the onions and garlic in the olive oil for about 5 minutes. Add red pepper flakes, curry and coriander to pan, and saute for about 5 more minutes; be sure spices are well coated with the hot oil. Add pumpkin and vegetable broth. Stir well and bring soup to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes.

Transfer soup, in batches, to a blender or food processor and blend until smooth. Return soup to the saucepan. On low heat, add coconut milk and maple syrup. Adjust seasonings, adding salt and cayenne to taste.

Garnish each bowl of soup with a sprinkle of pumpkin seeds.

Serves a crowd.

— “Gluten-Free and Vegan Holidays” by Jennifer Katzinger (Sasquatch, Oct. 2011, $24.95)

Caramelized Pumpkin Bruschetta/Steve MellonCaramelized Pumpkin ‘Bruschetta’

PG tested

This easy appetizer was served at Pittsburgh Public Market’s Green Gathering workshop in September. Also terrific as a side dish.

  • 1/4 ounce pancetta or bacon, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 2 cups peeled and cubed pumpkin
  • 1/4 teaspoons chile pepper flakes
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons brown sugar
  • Sage leaves
  • Baguette

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Place pancetta, garlic, pumpkin, chile flakes and brown sugar in bowl, toss to coat. Place in baking dish and bake 30 to 35 minutes, or until pumpkin is browned. While the pumpkin mixture is still warm fold in sage leaves and allow to wilt. Place the lemon juice and olive oil in a bowl and whisk.

Toss pumpkin mixture with the dressing. Place a spoonful of the pumpkin on a slice of toasted baguette.

Serves 8 to 10.

— Kevin Costa, executive chef, Crested Duck

Chicken-Pumpkin Tacos

PG tested

I wasn’t sure there’d be enough liquid to cook the chicken in this simple taco dish, but once the pumpkin cooked down, the meat ended up deliciously tender. Use a very large pan or you may have to transfer the ingredients mid-recipe — I ended up dumping everything into a Dutch oven. The recipe says it makes 6 tacos, but we had enough filling for at least 10. I ate the warmed-up leftovers with a spoon. — Gretchen McKay

  • 1 tablespoon canola oil
  • 1 onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 red peppers, seeded and diced
  • 1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breast halves (I used strips)
  • 1 pound fresh pumpkin, seeds and fibers removed, peeled and diced (2 cups)
  • 1/4 cup canned unsweetened pumpkin
  • 1/2 cup canned tomatoes and juice
  • 2 teaspoons chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • Dash of hot sauce
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon minced cilantro
  • 6 flour tortillas, 8 inches each, or crisp corn taco shells
  • 1/2 cup plain nonfat yogurt
  • 1/4 cup sour cream
  • 1 1/2 cups grated cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese
  • 1 ripe avocado, peeled and chopped
  • 3 cups shredded lettuce
  • 1 1/2 cups salsa

Heat oil in a large skillet or saute pan over medium-high heat. Add onion and cook for 3 minutes. Add peppers and chicken and cook for another 3 minutes. Stir in fresh and canned pumpkin, tomatoes, chili powder, cumin, hot sauce and salt. Cover, reduce heat and summer until chicken is tender and no longer pink, the pumpkin is easily pierced with a fork and sauce thickens, about 10 to 15 minutes. When chicken is cool enough to handle, shred it and return to pan. Stir in lime juice and cilantro and let the mixture sit while you heat the tacos.

On a griddle or skillet, over medium heat, warm tortillas for 1 minute on each side. Place 1 on each of 6 plates and divide filling among them. Combine yogurt and sour cream in a small bowl. Top each taco with yogurt mix, cheese, avocado, lettuce and salsa. Fold in half as you eat them.

Makes 6 generous tacos.

— “Pumpkin: A Super Food for All 12 Months of the Year” by DeeDee Stovel (Storey, $12.95)

Gnudi di zucca e l’olio nuove (Butternut squash Gnudi with fresh olive oil)

PG tested

  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, preferably l’olio nuovo, divided
  • 1 pound butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into small cubes
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 pound fresh ricotta cheese
  • 1 1/4 cups freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, plus extra for sprinkling
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup flour, divided

Heat half the olive oil in a saucepan on medium heat. Add butternut squash and salt and pepper, and saute until squash is fork-tender. (If you boil the squash, it will retain too much water.) When squash is fork-tender, transfer it to a big mixing bowl. With the back of a fork, work it until it’s even mashed.

Add ricotta cheese, 1 cup of Parmigiano, egg and about 1/3 of the flour, and mix everything together. Keep adding flour, a little at a time, until everything is mixed thoroughly and forms a dough.

With your hand, scoop a bit of the mixture and roll it into a ball about the size of a golf ball. Keep going until you’ve used up all the dough.

Place gnudi balls in a pot of boiling salted water for about 1 minutes or unitl they float to the surface. Drain and plate.

Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with remaining Parmigiano.

Serves 4 to 6.

— “Made in Italy” by David Rocco (Clarkson Potter, Oct. 2011, $35)

Miguelito’s pumpkin and chicken puree

Why should grownups, or maybe just people with teeth, have all the fun when it comes to pumpkin? This Cuban baby food is perfect for children ages 6 months and older.

  • 1 pound pumpkin flesh, diced
  • 1 boneless, skinless chicken breast, steamed and cubed
  • 2 teaspoons butter or cream cheese
  • 1/2 cup vegetable or chicken broth

In a large heavy saucepan, cover pumpkin pieces with 6 cups cold water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-high, and continue cooking until pumpkin is very tender (about 20 minutes). Do not add salt or any seasonings. Drain and transfer to a food processor.

Add chicken pieces and butter, and process until very smooth. If desired and your child is old enough, add broth gradually as your process to get the right consistency.

Serve immediately, making sure it is not too hot for the baby, or freeze (in ice cube trays) for future use.

Makes 4 servings.

— “The Cuban Kitchen” by Raquel Rabade Roque” (Knopf, 2011, $20)