I remember the first time I heard about the Starbucks pumpkin spice latte. I couldn’t imagine why anyone would want to drink coffee that tasted like pie. I figured it would be a passing trend that we’d all be laughing about later, like cake balls.
But here we are today with pumpkin-pie flavored lip balm and Cheerios, dog treats and beer — and of course, still going strong, the coffee drink that started the obsession.
Need I remind everyone that Christmas and chocolate Santas and bell-shaped cookies with icing are just around the corner? Is it necessary to pumpkin pie-ify everything from now until then?
I actually love pumpkin and the various pumpkinlike squashes (kabocha, which I use below, as well as red kuri, are some of the sweetest ones I’ve found) when they become available in the fall. I love its buttery, slightly nutty flavor, and while they are naturals for desserts, there are so many other ways to use them.
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If you’ve ever been to northern Italy, then you’ve probably tasted pumpkin ravioli with brown butter sauce, which is probably still my favorite way to eat pumpkin. It was the first time I encountered pumpkin in a savory dish, and it made me realize how limited my pumpkin worldview had been.
Years later, when traveling around Morocco for a month, there were thick, smile-shaped wedges of pumpkin in every tagine I was served; in Paris, the subtle chestnut flavored potimarron soup (made with the pumpkin of the same name, or red kuri here) is something I’d find on menus all over the city come fall, and I was soon making my own at home.
Because French grocery stores don’t stock canned pumpkin, I had to buy them whole and roast my own. As I got to know pumpkin better, I realized how much more it could be than just an ingredient for pie. I made curry with pumpkin, ice cream, and tarts small enough to put in your hand. I’d slice it, roast it, and put it on top of pizza. I added it to chunky vegetable soups. I made pumpkin muffins, croustades, and soufflés.
I’m still playing around with pumpkin. The pumpkin lasagna recipe below is a new version of one I made first in France with bechamel sauce; this one uses ricotta instead, thus cutting down on the prep time. The idea for the crispy sage leaves is straight from Florence. And the nachos? I had a wild Tex-Mex craving and built these in my head before I made them on the plate — of course pumpkin and black beans go together. Next I’m thinking about making enchiladas. Tostadas. Or both.
OK, the pumpkin smoothie is kinda sorta like pie, but I’m not officially going to say that. Yes, there is ginger (fresh) and a little bit of cinnamon, but that’s where I draw the line. I made this a few times before I settled on this non-banana version made without dairy or sugar. It’s quite simple, and it happens to be vegan, and tastes like a milkshake.
The pumpkin maple scones turned out even better than I’d hoped they would, letting the pumpkin flavor shine through with just a little sweetness. So you can pile on the whipped cream and jam if you want. Or eat them just as they are, like I did.
Ellise Pierce is the author of “Cowgirl Chef: Texas Cooking With a French Accent” (Running Press). Read her blog (www.cowgirlchef.com), and follow her on Twitter (@cowgirlchef) and Instagram (cowgirlchef).
Pumpkin ginger smoothie
1 cup organic pumpkin puree
2 cups almond milk (I use unsweetened)
1-inch knob fresh ginger, grated
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon, plus more for garnish
3 Medjool dates, seeds removed
Put everything in a blender and puree until silky smooth. Sprinkle with additional cinnamon.
Note: You may add protein powder to amp up this smoothie.
Black bean and pumpkin nachos
Makes 2 servings
1 (16-ounce) bag tortilla chips
1/2 of a (16-ounce) can refried black beans
1 cup roasted, diced kabocha squash (see note)
1 cup shredded Monterey Jack or cheddar cheese (or more if you like them super-cheesy)
1/2 avocado, chopped
Pico de gallo:
1/4 cup diced yellow onion
1 Roma tomato
1 small handful cilantro
1/4 of 1 jalapeño, finely chopped
Juice of 1 lime
Sea salt to taste
1. Make the pico de gallo first. Dice the onion and put it in a colander. Run cold water over the onion — this will lessen the onion’s strength but keep the flavor. Dice the Roma tomato and put it in a bowl along with the onion, cilantro, chopped jalapeño, lime juice, and salt. Toss everything together and taste for seasonings.
2. Heat the oven to broil.
3. Put enough tortilla chips on a heatproof plate or baking sheet for two people. Add refried beans, roasted pumpkin, and cheese. Slide into the oven and cook until the cheese is bubbly and starts to brown. Top with chopped avocado, pico de gallo, and serve.
Note: To roast kabocha squash, halve it, remove the seeds with a spoon and peel the outer skin. Chop into cubes, toss with 2 tablespoons olive oil, and roast at 425 degrees for 30 to 40 minutes.
Individual pumpkin lasagnas
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
Fresh basil leaves, torn
Pinch red pepper flakes
1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
1 tablespoon honey
Sea salt and pepper
1/2 kabocha squash, seeds and skin removed, thinly sliced
1 (10-ounce) box lasagne noodles
Grapeseed oil, for frying
20 sage leaves
16 ounces ricotta
16 ounces mozzarella
Parmesan for serving
1. Make the sauce. Put 2 tablespoons olive oil, basil, and red pepper flakes in a saucepan over medium heat. Cook for a minute or two or until the basil sizzles. Add the tomatoes, honey, and sea salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Cook for 30 minutes.
Save time: Make this in advance and keep refrigerated until you’re ready to make the lasagnas.
2. Heat the oven to 425 degrees. Put the kabocha squash slices on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Drizzle the other 2 tablespoons olive oil over them and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes or until lightly browned on both sides, turning once.
Save time: Bake these in advance and keep in the fridge.
3. Boil the lasagna noodles, but not all the way. Put a pot of salty water onto boil. Break the noodles in half and put them in the water. Cook until they’re just this side of al dente — still on the firm side and definitely not floppy. Lay these out on a parchment-lined baking sheet to dry and cool slightly.
4. Put just enough grapeseed oil to cover the bottom of a small skillet, and turn the heat to medium. When it’s hot, add the sage leaves and fry until crispy, about 2 minutes. Remove them to a paper towel-lined plate.
5. Reduce the heat to 400 degrees.
6. Build your lasagnas. In 6 individual ramekins, layer: 2 tablespoons of sauce, one lasagna noodle, 2 tablespoons of ricotta, a layer of roasted pumpkin, a few fried sage leaves, about 1/4 cup shredded mozzarella, and a spoonful of sauce. Add 1 more noodle to the top, a large spoonful of sauce, and another 1/4 cup mozzarella. Cover the ramekins with foil and put into the oven to warm through, for 20 minutes. Remove from the oven, take off the foil, and turn the oven to broil. Return to the oven so the cheese browns, an additional 5 minutes. Add sage leaves on top and grated Parmesan. Serve.
Pumpkin maple scones
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
4 tablespoons cold butter, cut into small pieces
1/2 cup pumpkin puree
1/3 cup maple syrup
1/3 cup heavy whipping cream
1/3 cup sugar sprinkles (for top)
1 cup heavy whipping cream
3 tablespoons sugar
Jam, for serving
1. Heat the oven to 425 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
2. Put the flour, baking powder, and salt in the food processor and pulse a time or two.
3. Add the pats of very cold butter (I often freeze the cut cubes in advance) to the mixture, and pulse three or four times, or until there are large and small pebblelike pieces throughout.
4. With the motor running, add the pumpkin puree, maple syrup, and the 1/3 cup whipping cream.
5. Turn dough out on a floured board and form a large, flat disc, about 1 inch thick. Add the sugar sprinkles to the top, pressing the sugar into the dough. Cut into 6 pielike wedges and place on the baking sheet. Bake for 15 minutes or until the edges are lightly brown.
6. While the scones are in the oven, put the other 1 cup of whipping cream in a mixer bowl with the whisk attachment. Beat until it begins to thicken, sprinkle in 3 tablespoons sugar, and continue until it’s a soft consistency.
7. Serve the scones warm with whipped cream and jam.