When it comes to pumpkin in America, we tend to conjure up images of warm pie and flickering jack-o’-lanterns. Yes, it’s hard to think about the autumn chill, costumed children darting through the neighborhood and cozy Thanksgiving gatherings without a spooky orange orb on the porch and a rich and tasty pie in the oven.
But if you’re looking to use pumpkin in new and creative ways, try some ideas that may take your autumnal cooking to new heights – salads, stews, cakes, cookies, breads and salad dressings, among other things.
At some Thai restaurants locally, you’re apt to find a seasonal pumpkin curry on the menu. Bistros tend to make pumpkin risotto or pumpkin soup this time of year, often as an alternative to more commonly used squash.
Pumpkin has all kinds of nutritional benefits that qualify it, in some circles, as a so-called superfood. Vision-enhancing vitamin A? A serving of pumpkin has twice the recommended daily allowance. Tryptophan? If you tend to toss and turn at night, snacking on pumpkin seeds might put you in just the right kind of food coma.
High in fiber, pumpkin is inevitably heart-healthy. And if you’re looking for something a little more natural than Cialis and Viagra – yup, beta-carotene in pumpkin to the rescue.
Then there are the spices that tend to pair so well with pumpkin, including cloves and cinnamon, “gram for gram, the most powerful antioxidant foods in the world,” according to the website nurtritionfacts.org,
At Grange, the esteemed downtown Sacramento restaurant known for its embrace of all things local and seasonal, you’ll see pumpkin used in creative ways, bringing color, texture and subtle flavor to several savory dishes.
“When we work so seasonally, you get really inventive with how you use certain ingredients,” said Grange executive chef Oliver Ridgeway. “I’ve done everything with pumpkin but pumpkin pie.”
That includes savory beignets, a barbecue sauce, a risotto with smoked pumpkin purée, a pumpkin soup made with lobster stock, and a panzanella salad for which Ridgeway kindly provided the recipe.
“It’s a really usable seasonal vegetable,” he said. “Just roasting it and seasoning it with garlic and olive oil releases its own natural sugars.”
Canned pumpkin is commonly available for pies, as well as for the pumpkin cake recipe included with this story. In that puréed form, pumpkin can also be used in soups, smoothies, lattes and more.
If you want to use fresh pumpkin, however, steer clear of those giant ornamental orbs, said Michael Thiemann, chef-owner of K Street hot spots Mother and Empress Tavern.
“Those are the grossest of the gross,” he said with a laugh. “Find the smaller pumpkins. There is definitely a difference between the decorative pumpkin and edible pumpkins.”
Turns out, Thiemann is not a huge fan of pumpkins. They can be unwieldy to work with. If you break down enough of them, you need a hacksaw. Flavorwise, they tend to be tame. But more than that, they are done and done to death in the same limited ways at so many restaurants.
“There are so many ways pumpkin is cool and they’re super iconic, but you don’t see a lot of creativity with them,” Thiemann said. “Everything is usually too sweet and done with browned butter and sage. You don’t see a lot else.”
Thiemann likes to take pumpkin pulp and work it into a Dijon vinaigrette (his recipe is included).
“It creates this really nice depth of flavor and texture, and the color is beautiful,” he said.
Thiemann likes to roast pumpkin on a sheet pan for many applications, cut into pieces and tossed with olive oil and finished with flake salt. He said you can also freeze pumpkin (or butternut squash) overnight and see it transformed on a molecular level.
“It’s the wildest thing,” he said. “When it thaws back out, the ice crystals soften the texture and you can basically eat it raw.”
Or toss it into the blender for a smoothie. Or into a pot for soup. Beyond pie, there are plenty of possibilities.
Pumpkin/ Anasazi bean stew
Note: Anasazi beans are considered an heirloom bean and might be found at specialty food stores. They are similar to beans and can easily be substituted.
Reprinted with permission from “Forks Over Knives – The Cookbook,” by Del Sroufe,
1 large yellow onion, peeled and diced
2 large carrots, peeled and diced
2 celery stalks, diced
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
2 tablespoons cumin seeds, toasted and ground
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 small pumpkin (about 1 pound), peeled, seeded and cut into 1-inch cubes
4 cups cooked Anasazi beans, or two 15-ounce cans, drained and rinsed
6 cups vegetable stock or low-sodium vegetable stock
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
6 green onions (white and green parts), thinly sliced
Place the onion, carrot, and celery in a large saucepan and sauté over medium heat for 10 minutes.
Add water 1 to 2 tablespoons at a time to keep the vegetables from sticking to the pan.
Add the garlic and cook for another minute. Add the cumin, tomato paste, pumpkin, beans, and vegetable stock and bring to a boil over high heat.
Reduce the heat to medium and cook, covered, for 25 minutes, or until the pumpkin is tender.
Season with salt and pepper, and serve garnished with the green onion.
Pumpkin pie cake with cream cheese frosting
We did say no pumpkin pie, and you’re likely to agree this is even better – and lighter – than that beloved slice of Americana. Recipe from Cooking Light.
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup canola oil
1/2 cup egg substitute
2 large eggs
One 15-ounce can unsweetened pumpkin
2 cups all-purpose flour (about 9 ounces)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons pumpkin-pie spice
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons butter, softened
One 8-ounce package 1/3-less-fat cream cheese
3 cups powdered sugar
2 teaspoons fresh orange juice
1/4 cup chopped pecans, toasted
Orange slices (optional)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
To prepare cake, coat two 8-inch round cake pans with cooking spray. Dust pans evenly with 2 tablespoons flour.
Combine 1 cup granulated sugar, brown sugar, and oil in a large bowl; beat with a mixer at medium speed 2 minutes or until well blended. Add egg substitute and eggs; beat until well blended. Add pumpkin, beating until blended.
Lightly spoon 2 cups flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flour, baking powder, and next three ingredients (through salt) in a medium bowl. Gradually add flour mixture to pumpkin mixture, beating just until blended. Spoon batter into prepared pans. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pans 10 minutes on a wire rack. Remove cake from pans; cool completely on wire rack.
To prepare frosting, beat butter and cream cheese at medium speed until creamy. Gradually add powdered sugar, beating until blended (do not overbeat). Add juice, stirring until blended.
Place one cake layer on a serving plate. Spread 1 cup frosting over layer, and top with remaining cake layer. Spread remaining frosting over top of cake. Sprinkle with pecans, and garnish with orange slices, if desired.
Roasted pumpkin panzanella salad
Recipe from Oliver Ridgeway, Grange restaurant, Sacramento.
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
10 baby carrots, peeled and cut
2 pumpkin, peeled and cubed
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 baguette, ripped into chunks
3 to 4 cups fresh arugula
2 heads endive
1/3 cup pomegranate arils (seeds)
2 apples, sliced
Spiced pomegranate dressing (see recipe)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix salt, pepper, chili powder, cinnamon, and garlic powder in a small bowl. In a large bowl, place pumpkin and carrots, then drizzle 1 tablespoon of olive oil on top and mix with your hands to coat. Add about three-fourths of the spice mixture and mix again to coat. Lay on a baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes, flipping once.
Let the carrots and pumpkin cool, then add bread chunks to the baking sheet. Bake for 10-12 minutes, or until golden and crispy. Drizzle with a bit of olive oil if desired.
In a large bowl, combine arugula and endive with vegetables and bread cubes. Toss with about 1/4 cup of dressing (or to taste), then sprinkle with pomegranate arils and sliced apple. Serve immediately.
Spiced pomegranate dressing
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon honey
1/4 cup pomegranate juice
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
Pinches of salt, pepper, nutmeg
1/2 cup olive oil
Combine all ingredients except oil in a bowl and whisk. Stream in olive oil while constantly whisking until dressing emulsifies. Store in fridge for up to two weeks.
Japanese pumpkin vinaigrette
Recipe adapted from chef Michael Thiemann, Mother and Express Tavern restaurants, Sacramento.
1 Japanese pumpkin (kabocha squash)
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 cup canola oil
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon honey
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 teaspoon cinnamon
Sea salt, pepper
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cut pumpkin in half and scoop seeds out. Lightly coat pumpkin with 2 tablespoons of olive oil and moderate sea salt. Place cut side down on a baking tray and cook for 20 minutes, until pumpkin is noticeably soft.
Remove soft pulp, leaving the skins behind; refrigerate. In a blender place canola oil, pumpkin pulp, Dijon mustard, honey, lemon juice and cinnamon. Purée at a low speed, gradually moving up to medium high. Season with salt and pepper.