PUMPKIN FOR EVERY MEAL
Pumpkin flavors everything at this time of year, from beer to coffee. So take advantage of the bounty -- and forget about pie. Pumpkin, though distinctive in flavor, is fairly neutral and can be the basis of all kinds of sweet or savory dishes, especially with the small sugar or pie pumpkins that abound at farmers markets and are increasingly available in supermarkets. It's best to avoid the large jack-o'-lantern pumpkins, because they're grainy and stringy.
Turning pumpkin into something edible usually means removing the seeds and stringy guts. Instead of throwing the seeds into the garbage or compost, roast them for a snack. Clean off the pulp, place on a cookie sheet, coat lightly with cooking spray or olive oil, sprinkle with salt, and roast at 325 degrees for about 15 minutes, or until the seeds start to brown. (Tip: Boiling the seeds first for about 10 minutes makes the shells softer.)
Related: 13 Things to Do With Pumpkin Guts After Carving
Canned pumpkin usually is on sale about now, but it's easy to make pumpkin purée at home and store it in the freezer to use in recipes all year long. To prepare pumpkin purée, cut the cleaned-out fruit (yes, pumpkin is a fruit) into wedges. Spray or drizzle with oil, place on a baking sheet, and pop into a 400-degree oven for about 40 minutes, or until a fork pierces the flesh easily. As soon as the wedges are comfortable to touch, scoop out the flesh (letting them cool completely makes it harder to separate the flesh from the shell). Put it into a food processor or blender and whir away. Freeze 1-cup portions in plastic bags (two frozen blocks are equivalent to one 15-ounce can of pumpkin). Defrost and let drain through a paper towel before using.
Thrifty cooks know there's no reason to buy pancake mix -- starting from scratch is way cheaper and takes just a couple of minutes. There are scads of pancake mix recipes in cookbooks and on the web, and Food Network personality Alton Brown's version makes a fine foundation for pumpkin pancakes. To make enough for four, gently combine 1 cup mix, 1 cup buttermilk, and an egg (lumps are okay). Separately, mix together 1 teaspoon cinnamon, 1 teaspoon ground ginger, a tiny pinch of clove and nutmeg, 1 tablespoon melted butter, and one-half cup pumpkin purée. Add the pumpkin mixture to the batter and stir lightly (again, lumpy is good). Fry up on a griddle, slather with butter and maple syrup, and enjoy.
PUMPKIN FRENCH TOAST
This is an excellent way to use stale bread. A recipe from the blog Two Peas and Their Pod uses a loaf of French bread, but most any kind of bread will do (leftover challah is ideal). The dish is prepared ahead of time -- even the night before -- and then baked. It contains a pumpkin custard spiced with cinnamon and nutmeg. The streusel topping calls for flour, sugar, more cinnamon and nutmeg, butter, and a touch of salt.
With a loaf of crusty bread on the side, soup is filling and warming on a crisp autumn day. The starring role in any pumpkin soup recipe (there are many scattered around the web) goes to homemade pumpkin purée, with tasty accents in the form of spices such as ginger, cumin, curry blends, or chipotle. Most start with a base of sautéed onion and garlic, followed by the spices, chicken or vegetable stock, the purée, and then some evaporated milk or half-and-half. (Tip: Sprinkle the soup with roasted pumpkin seeds right before serving.)
Pair morning coffee or afternoon tea with a slice of toasted pumpkin bread topped with a schmear of cream cheese. A recipe from Epicurious makes two loaves, using cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg to spice things up. Try adding a few twists of black pepper or a pinch of cayenne for a tiny kick. This sweet treat of rich autumnal spices freezes well, so there can always be some on hand.
PUMPKIN SAGE BISCUITS
This easy and savory biscuit recipe from the blog Sweet Peas and Saffron has a hint of Thanksgiving in it, due to the crumbled sage. It's pretty healthy, with pumpkin and Greek yogurt as the main ingredients. Putting a fresh sage leaf on top of each biscuit is pretty, and tasty, but unnecessary if there are none around.
Use a cleaned, cut-up pumpkin in place of acorn or butternut squash in almost any recipe, whether baked on its own or as part of a multi-ingredient dish. Jamie Oliver's gluten-free version of this meal contains onion, garlic, black olives, rosemary, chili, nutmeg, cinnamon, dried cranberries, pistachio nuts, vegetable stock, tangerine zest, and rice for a complete meal stuffed into the hollow of a cleaned-out pumpkin.
This pasta alternative with ricotta cheese is fairly easy to make, with directions from the blog Simply Recipes, and lighter than traditional potato gnocchi. If there are children at home, let them roll out the dough, then cut the resulting logs into small pieces. Ambitious cooks (junior and otherwise) can roll the little squares up the tines of a fork. Poach the gnocchi in boiling water, drain, and fry in brown butter with a bit of sage.
Chefs in other countries often use pumpkin as the basis for vegetarian meals. Chowhound's pumpkin curry combines cubed pumpkin with turmeric and curry leaves, cumin and coconut, black mustard seeds and smoked paprika, and a few whole chilis for heat. Serve over rice, or as is.
PUMPKIN SHEPHERD'S PIE
This super easy weeknight dinner from Nestlé recipe site Very Best Baking mixes canned pumpkin with the mashed potato topping and sauce of traditional shepherd's pie. For an even heartier dish, add cubed pieces of steamed pumpkin to the beef mix along with the broth and Worcestershire sauce.
PUMPKIN LASAGNA WITH FONTINA CHEESE
Families looking for vegetarian meals should try lasagna, which is so hearty the meat won't be missed. A recipe from Food & Wine mixes puréed pumpkin with cream and parmesan to make it creamier. While you're at it, why not complement the swiss chard used as the main vegetable with any summer squash that's still in the garden or farmers market? Baby spinach and other vegetables can work too.
If dessert doesn't seem like dessert without chocolate, try a pumpkin brownie recipe from Martha Stewart. Definitely for grownups, the ingredients include bittersweet chocolate and a touch of cayenne along with the usual cinnamon and nutmeg. The orange and black color scheme is a fitting finale for an autumn meal, and as appealing to the eye as it is to the sweet tooth.
For all intents and purposes, pumpkin custard is pumpkin pie minus the crust. The overall effect is lighter and less calorie laden. Use a favorite pumpkin pie filling, typically a custard made with evaporated milk, eggs, pumpkin purée (of course), sugar, cinnamon, ginger, and cloves. Pour the custard into individual ramekins and bake for about 45 minutes at 300 degrees. Don't forget the whipped cream.
PUMPKIN SEED BRITTLE
Roasted pumpkin seeds are tasty alone and as toppings, but especially delicious made into sweet brittle by a cook adept with a candy thermometer and boiling sugar. A recipe from Country Living adds a bit of cinnamon for spice.
PUMPKIN WHOOPIE PIES
Put a twist on this treat (more of a cookie than a pie, really) by making the cakey part with pumpkin and spices instead of chocolate. A maple filling enhances the autumn theme. Adding bits of crispy bacon, as suggested by the blog Buns In My Oven, is pure genius.