Tablet Life & Arts

Pumpkin gets its day in the sun with these fall-perfect recipes

Some food-minded folks might argue that “the most wonderful time of the year” is now — that the “hap, happiest season of all” is fall. With its rich, warm colors and flavors, autumn practically begs us to stay home and cook a hearty meal every night.

One of the most recognizable fall icons is the lowly pumpkin. Most often seen in its traditional bright orange skin, the pumpkin is the centerpiece of fall decorations and the key in another seasonal must-have, pumpkin pie.

However, the tasty fruit often gets shortchanged, as it can be the star of far more than dessert this time of year. From a pumpkin risotto to savory pumpkin tarts, here are some recipes that put the gourd to good use.

Plus there’s a bonus at the end: a recipe for pumpkin spice chai latte. While many pumpkin latte recipes don’t actually contain any pumpkin, this black tea-based one does, making it the undisputed sip of the season.

Pumpkin risotto with fried sage

Serves 6

If you’ve never made risotto before, you’re missing out on a great candidate for a weeknight meal. I cast pumpkin as the star of this dish because this is the season for it. But I’m not talking about Charlie Brown’s great pumpkins; I’m working with the mini guys. Most folks think these cute little squashes are just for decoration, but they happen to be super tasty. If you can’t find the tiny pumpkins, you can substitute 1 1/2 to 2 cups of mashed roasted butternut squash.

• Vegetable oil

• About 2 pounds small pumpkins, halved top to bottom

• 36 fresh sage leaves (from 1 small bunch)

• Salt

• 2 tablespoons unsalted butter

• 1/2 cup finely chopped yellow onion

• 6 cups chicken or vegetable broth

• 2 cups arborio rice

• 1/2 cup dry white wine

• 1 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese, plus extra to serve

• Ground black pepper

1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly coat a rimmed baking sheet with vegetable oil. Arrange pumpkins, cut side down, on the baking sheet. Bake on the oven’s middle rack 45 to 60 minutes, or until a knife can pierce the flesh with ease. Using tongs, turn the pumpkin halves cut side up, then let cool until they are easily handled. Scoop out and discard seeds. Scoop out pulp into a bowl and mash it with a potato masher. Set aside.

2. In a 4-quart saucepan, heat 1 inch vegetable oil to 360 degrees. Add about 6 sage leaves (don’t crowd the pan) and fry 10 to 15 seconds. Use a slotted spoon to transfer them to a paper towel, then immediately sprinkle with salt. Repeat with remaining sage. Set aside.

3. Discard oil, then return saucepan to medium heat. Add butter and onion, then cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is softened, about 5 minutes.

4. Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, bring chicken broth to a bare simmer.

5. Add rice to softened onions and cook, stirring, until well coated. Add wine, bring to a simmer and cook until most of the wine is absorbed. Add half of the warm broth, return to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until most of the broth has been absorbed, about 9 to 10 minutes. Add remaining broth and cook, stirring occasionally, until most of the broth has been absorbed, about another 9 to 10 minutes. Stir in cheese and pumpkin puree. Taste, then season with salt and pepper. Cook until just heated through. Divide among 6 serving plates, then top each with additional cheese and fried sage leaves.

Nutritional analysis per serving: 447 calories, 15 grams fat, 63 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams protein, 21 milligrams cholesterol, 303 milligrams sodium, 1 gram dietary fiber, 28 percent of calories from fat.

— Sara Moulton, The Associated Press

Bread and pumpkin “fondue”

Serves 6-8

This recipe, from the new cookbook Plenty More by renowned London chef Yotam Ottolenghi, was inspired by Ruth Reichl’s brilliant, pot-saving trick where she uses a whole pumpkin to house the pumpkin flesh, creamy cheese and crusty bread that is layered inside. “Although my version makes use of a dish, it shares with the original the advantage of being a kind of cheese fondue that will not provoke fishing about in a pool of melted cheese for lost chunks of bread,” the author says.

• 12 ounces sourdough bread, sliced into pieces 2/3 inch thick

• 1 medium pumpkin, peeled and cut into 3/4-inch chunks (about 5 3/4 cups)

• 2 small turnips, peeled and cut into 3/4-inch chunks (1 1/2 cups)

• 6 ounces Gruyère cheese, coarsely grated

• 6 ounces Emmentaler cheese, coarsely grated

• 2 1/2 teaspoons dry mustard

• 1 2/3 cups heavy cream

• 1 1/2 cups dry white wine

• 1 large clove garlic, crushed

• 1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg

• 1/3 cup sage leaves, coarsely chopped

• Salt and white pepper

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Lay sourdough out on a baking sheet and bake 10 minutes, until lightly toasted. Remove and set aside.

2. In a large bowl, mix together the vegetables with a rounded 1 cup of a mixture of both cheeses and 1 teaspoon of the dry mustard. Spread mixture into a deep gratin dish, roughly 9 by 13 inches.

3. Place cream and wine in a saucepan over medium heat. Whisk gently as you add the remaining 1 1/2 teaspoons dry mustard, garlic, nutmeg, sage, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon white pepper. Warm through before pouring over gratin.

4. Cover dish with aluminum foil and bake 45 minutes. Remove foil and layer bread on top, each piece slightly overlapping the next. Press bread down and turn it over so that it soaks up some of the liquid. Sprinkle remaining cheese on top, cover with foil and cook for an additional 15 minutes. Remove foil and cook for a final 15 minutes, until the top is golden and crispy. Remove from oven and set aside for 10 minutes before serving.

Nutritional analysis per serving, based on 6: 694 calories, 44 grams fat, 43 grams carbohydrates, 25 grams protein, 147 milligrams cholesterol, 587 milligrams sodium, 4 grams dietary fiber, 59 percent of calories from fat.

— “Plenty More” by Yotam Ottolenghi (Ten Speed Press, $35)

Pumpkin tarts with spinach and Gorgonzola

Makes 1 large pie or 6 small ones

“Pumpkins and winter squash are great in tarts. It’s that mixture of the sweet and the salty in savory pumpkin pies that really gets me,” writes Diana Henry, author of Roast Figs, Sugar Snow . The hit 2009 cookbook has been newly revised and updated and was released last month .

For the pastry:

• 2 cups all-purpose flour

• 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter

• Good pinch salt

• A little very cold water

For the filling:

• 1 pound pumpkin or winter squash, such as butternut

• Olive oil

• 1 pound spinach

• 2 large eggs plus 1 egg yolk

• 1 1/4 cups heavy cream

• 1/2 cup grated Parmesan

• Freshly grated nutmeg

• 7 ounces Gorgonzola

1. Make the pastry: Put flour, butter and salt into food processor and, using the plastic blade, process the mixture until it resembles bread crumbs. Add just enough water to make the pastry come together. Wrap it in tin foil or plastic wrap and refrigerate for about half an hour.

2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cut pumpkin from top to bottom into broad slices, remove the inner stringy bits and seeds, and peel. Brush lightly with olive oil and bake 20 minutes, or until just tender. Remove stalks and wash spinach. Put it into a large saucepan, cover and wilt in the water left clinging to it about 4 minutes over low to medium heat. Drain well and let cool.

3. Make custard: Mix together whole eggs, egg yolk, cream and Parmesan. Season well.

4. Roll out the rested pastry and line a tart pan 9 inches in diameter and 1 1/2 inches deep. Chill for another 30 minutes (or stick it in the freezer for about 15 minutes). Prick the bottom of the tart and bake blind — line the pastry with nonstick parchment paper and put ceramic baking beans or ordinary dried beans on top — for 7 minutes. Remove paper and beans and cook an additional 4 minutes.

4. Cut pumpkin into small slices, about 4 inches long and 1/2 inch thick. Squeeze every last bit of water from spinach and chop it up. Season both of these and add freshly grated nutmeg to the spinach. Spread spinach over the bottom of the pastry crust, then add slices of pumpkin and dot with nuggets of Gorgonzola. Pour custard mixture over the tart and bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes for 1 large pie and 25 to 30 minutes for smaller ones, or until the pastry is golden. Let stand 10 minutes to let the custard finish cooking and set a little once you have taken it out of the oven.

Nutritional analysis per serving: 750 calories, 59 grams fat, 40 grams carbohydrates, 19 grams protein, 271 milligrams cholesterol, 890 milligrams sodium, 2 grams dietary fiber, 69 percent of calories from fat.

— “Roast Figs, Sugar Snow: Food to Warm the Soul” by Diana Henry (Mitchell Beazley, $29.99)

Beef pumpkin stew

Serves 6

The new Pumpkin Pie Spice Cookbook by holistic health counselor Stephanie Pedersen includes 40 recipes, such as this beef stew, that not only promise great taste but offer healthy benefits such as lowering blood pressure and cholesterol levels, regulating blood sugar, and boosting the immune system.

• 3 pounds stew beef, trimmed into 1 1/4-inch chunks

• Salt and freshly ground black pepper

• 1 tablespoon olive oil

• 1 large onion, finely chopped

• 2 sprigs fresh thyme

• 3 bay leaves

• 6 cloves garlic, finely chopped

• 1/3 cup dry red wine, such as merlot

• 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

• 2 large carrots, peeled and cut into chunks

• 1 (15-ounce) can diced tomatoes

• 1/3 cup beef or chicken stock

• 1 pound pumpkin or butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 3/4-inch chunks

• 2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice (see recipe for homemade, below)

1. Season beef generously with salt and pepper.

2. In a large, heavy frying pan over medium-high heat, warm olive oil; add beef and braise until it’s browned on all sides, about 8 minutes total.

3. Using a slotted spoon, remove the beef to a plate. Pour off most of the fat from the pan, return to the medium-high heat and saute onion, thyme and bay leaves until the onion begins to brown, about 6 minutes. Add garlic and cook 1 additional minute. Pour in wine and vinegar and stir to dislodge any flavorful browned bits on the bottom of the pan.

4. Transfer the contents to a slow cooker with meat, carrots, tomatoes and stock. Cover and cook on low for approximately 5 hours.

5. Add pumpkin or squash chunks and pumpkin pie spice over the top of the beef, re-cover and continue to cook the stew for 3 more hours. The beef and pumpkin should be very tender. Remove and discard thyme sprigs and bay leaves, and skim off fat.

Nutritional analysis per serving: 484 calories, 19 grams fat, 15 grams carbohydrates, 60 grams protein, 143 milligrams cholesterol, 395 milligrams sodium, 2 grams dietary fiber, 36 percent of calories from fat.

— “The Pumpkin Pie Spice Cookbook” by Stephanie Pedersen (Sterling, $12.95)

Pumpkin spice chai latte

Serves 2

• 1 1/2 cups milk (dairy, rice, coconut or any other type)

• 1 1/2 cups water

• 1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice blend of your choice (recipe for homemade follows)

• 2 bags black tea

• 1 tablespoon pumpkin puree

• Optional: sweetener (sugar, agave, maple syrup, honey, etc.)

In a saucepan on medium-low heat, gently simmer milk, water and pumpkin pie spice. Turn off heat and steep tea bags 2-3 minutes (or longer depending on how strong you want the tea flavor). When tea is desired strength, remove tea bags (squeezing out their liquid) and stir in pumpkin puree and optional sweetener. Pour into a cup or mug.

Nutritional analysis per serving: 102 calories, 4 grams fat, 11 grams carbohydrates, 6 grams protein, 14 milligrams cholesterol, 95 milligrams sodium, trace dietary fiber, 32 percent of calories from fat.

— “The Pumpkin Pie Spice Cookbook” by Stephanie Pedersen (Sterling, $12.95)

Basic pumpkin pie spice blend

Makes 8 tablespoons

• 4 tablespoons ground cinnamon

• 2 tablespoons ground ginger

• 3 teaspoons ground allspice

• 2 teaspoons ground nutmeg

• 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

• 1/2 teaspoon ground mace

In a small, dry bowl, whisk ingredients together. Place in an airtight container and store in a dry, cool, dark place.

Nutritional analysis per 1-teaspoon serving: 9 calories, trace fat, 2 grams carbohydrates, trace protein, no cholesterol, 1 milligram sodium, 1 gram dietary fiber, 9 percent of calories from fat.

— “The Pumpkin Pie Spice Cookbook” by Stephanie Pedersen (Sterling, $12.95)