Beyond Pie: 11 Ways to Cook or Bake With Pumpkin

View as:


Despite a declared pumpkin shortage, there's still plenty of canned and fresh pumpkin to go around this fall. Pumpkin flavors everything at this time of year -- beer, bread, even 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 sweet or savory dishes. It's best to avoid the large jack-o'-lantern pumpkins, because they're grainy and stringy. Instead, choose small sugar or pie pumpkins that abound at farmers markets and increasingly are available in supermarkets.


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, lightly coat 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.)


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 easily pierces the flesh. When the wedges are comfortable to touch, scoop out the flesh (letting them cool completely makes it harder to separate the flesh from the shell). Set 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 one from the Food Network 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 in the usual way, slather with butter and maple syrup, and enjoy.


This is an excellent way to use stale bread. A recipe from Two Peas and Their Pod uses a loaf of French bread, but most any kind of bread will do. The dish is prepared ahead of time -- even the night before -- and then baked. It contains pumpkin custard made with six eggs, 2-and-a-half cups milk, 1 cup purée, three-quarters cup sugar, 2 tablespoons vanilla extract, and a bit of 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 cheap pumpkin soup recipe (and 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 (quick) pumpkin bread topped with a schmear of cream cheese. This sweet treat boasts all the rich autumnal spices and freezes well, so there's always some on hand. A recipe from Taste of Home uses cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg and ups the ante with walnuts and raisins, although these latter ingredients can certainly be omitted for reasons of cost or health.


Use a cleaned, cut-up pumpkin in place of acorn or butternut squash in almost any recipe -- that is, baked on its own or as part of a multi-ingredient dish. Jamie Oliver's version is gluten-free, and contains onion, garlic, black olives, rosemary, chili, nutmeg, cinnamon, dried cranberries, pistachio nuts, vegetable stock, tangerine zest, and rice for a complete meal all stuffed into the hollow of a cleaned-out pumpkin.


This pasta alternative is fairly easy to make and lighter than traditional potato gnocchi, even more so when following directions from Simply Recipes, which call for ricotta cheese. If there are children at home, let them roll out the dough (homemade play dough is the perfect teaching tool), and then cut the rolled logs into small pieces. Ambitious cooks (junior and otherwise) can roll the little squares up the tines of a fork. Poach the little gnocchi in boiling water, drain, and fry in browned 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.


If the definition of dessert includes chocolate, try a brownie-pumpkin 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 fitting for an autumn meal finale, and as appealing to the sweet tooth as the eye.


For all intents and purposes, pumpkin custard is the same as pumpkin pie, minus the crust. The overall effect is lighter and less calorie laden. Use a favorite pumpkin pie filling, which invariably involves 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.