For many years, I was unequivocally convinced that there was but one worthwhile use for a pumpkin: a jack-o’-lantern. From my culinary point of view, it was nothing more than a big squash and bigger wasn’t better. The only squash I liked were the summer varieties, green zucchinis and yellow crooknecks, the smaller the better. The problem with all the fall varieties was they lived up to their name, being mushy and bland. Back then, I wouldn’t even touch pumpkin pie. I’d been forced to eat one-too-many Thanksgiving dinners where the most popular dessert for everyone else was forced on me. My mother use to bake the life out of it—she had a propensity for making sure everything was done—yet, mysteriously her pumpkin pie inevitably had a soggy crust.
I’m not sure when or what caused me to change my tune about winter squash. It certainly wasn’t the first time I experienced a baked acorn squash filled with a syrupy sea of dubious brown liquid. Yet, now for me one of the salvations of cold weather is butternut squash soup, pureed kuri squash, and, yes, pumpkin! Pumpkin in pie at Thanksgiving of course, but it’s so vibrant in color and versatile to cook with, lending itself to both the savory and sweet.
If you’re not a fan already, here are a few menu selections that will make a pumpkin eater out of you.
Budino di zucca is Osteria Papavero‘s fall spin on its signature creamy caramel pudding spiced up with pumpkin.
Lombardino’s presents a spectacular vegetarian entrée, a roasted Prairie Farm baby pumpkin filled with walnut risotto and served with garlic braised green beans and escarole.
Chocolate Shoppe dishes up a seasonal favorite, “Snap-O-Lantern” ice cream—a spicy pumpkin concoction complete with chunks of gingersnap cookies.
Greenbush Bakery is famous all over town for its donuts and among its many choices none are better than the pumpkin spice variety.
Bradbury’s is a coffee house with crepes. The imaginative list changes continually but currently includes a hearty one stuffed with ham, brie, fall greens and pumpkin.
Pumpkin seed oil has an intense nutty flavor and is an excellent addition to a winter vinaigrette made with extra virgin olive oil and honey balsam vinegar. Find it and the other ingredients at Vom Fass.
An adult version of Harry Potter’s pumpkin juice is the very popular seasonally brewed pumpkin ale at Great Dane Pub and Brewing.
Black Bean Pumpkin Soup
3 15.5-ounce cans black beans, rinsed and drained
1 14.5-ounce can diced fire-roasted tomatoes, drained
1 cup chopped yellow onion
½ cup minced shallots
4 minced garlic cloves
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup unsalted butter
4 cups beef stock
1 15-ounce can pumpkin pureé
½ cup dry sherry
8 ounces Spanish-style chorizo,* finely diced
¼ cup sherry vinegar
Grated manchego cheese
Lightly toasted pumpkin seeds
In a food processor partially purée the beans and tomatoes (it should not be completely smooth). In a large heavy kettle cook the onions, shallots, garlic, cumin, smoked paprika, salt and pepper in the butter over moderate heat, stirring, until the onions are soft and begin to brown. Stir in the bean-tomato pureé. Stir in the beef stock, pumpkin and sherry. When well combined, reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, for about 25 minutes or until the soup is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. The soup can be made to this point ahead of time, cooled to room temperature, and then stored covered in the refrigerator.
Just before serving, add the chorizo and vinegar and reheat the soup over low heat, stirring, until heated through. Serve the soup garnished with a sprinkle of grated manchego cheese toasted pumpkin seeds.
Makes about 9 cups
*Underground Food Collective makes a stellar chorizo and will soon open a butcher shop on Williamson Street.