Pumpkin prime time

Pumpkins might get their annual 15 minutes of fame on Halloween, but these orange icons of fall can

Pumpkins might get their annual 15 minutes of fame on Halloween, but these orange icons of fall can grace our tables with delicious, savory dishes long after All Hallow’s Eve.

For Tim Meaney, chef and owner of The Beekman Street Bistro in Saratoga Springs, when pumpkins start showing up, it’s a sign that summer is over. “My whole menu is driven by ingredients — seasonality and availability,” he said. So pumpkins make their way onto the menu in dishes like pumpkin risotto, pumpkin ravioli and a pumpkin upside-down cake.

Beyond baking

While we tend to think of baking sweet treats like pie and bread with pumpkins, their utility goes far beyond that. Pumpkins were a staple for Native Americans, who roasted, baked, parched, boiled, dried and fire-roasted the flesh of the pumpkin. They were common on the plates of the earliest American settlers because of their versatility as ingredients in stews, tarts, soups and puddings, as well as their nutritional value and their ability to be stored for long periods of time.

Suzanne Carreker-Voigt, market coordinator for the Saratoga Farmers’ Market Association, remembers her mother cooking pumpkin from her grandmother’s recipes. “I don’t think my generation cooked with it,” she said. “I think pumpkin has had a resurgence — I know I’m bringing it back into my vocabulary and my plates.”

Fresh pumpkins are plentiful now at grocery stores and farmers markets in several different varieties. Pumpkins for cooking are vastly different than jack-o’-lantern pumpkins, which have stringy, watery, tough flesh. Cooking varieties provide a lot of sweet flesh.

Many varieties

“The variety of pumpkin you grow or buy makes a big difference if you’re eating the end product,” said Gordon Sacks of 9 Miles East Farm in Northumberland, which grows a few different varieties of pumpkins for use in dishes made for ready-to-eat meals that the farm delivers to subscribers.

One is the Kakai pumpkin, which produces tasty hull-less green seeds that can be roasted or ground for their oil. Another is the Winter Luxury, an heirloom variety from 1893. The farm also grows cheese pumpkins, a flat variety with pale pink-orange skin. Those are a favorite of chefs for their low moisture and meaty flesh that is almost free of strings.

Pumpkins can be prepared (boiled, baked or microwaved) and used right away in recipes or frozen for use when they’re no longer in season, something that Carreker-Voigt likes to do. If that seems like too much work, there are always cans of pumpkin puree at the grocery store.

Fresh or canned, pumpkin adds a unique flavor to a variety of savory dishes. Carreker-Voigt likes to cut the flesh into chunks and add it to a mix of roasted fall root vegetables. Pumpkin is a natural for soups, and it can also be simply seasoned and eaten all by itself. Pumpkin can be added to chili, veggie burgers, ravioli, hummus and a host of other dishes.

Pumpkin Risotto with Brown Butter and Sage

Recipe by Tim Meaney of The Beekman Street Bistro in Saratoga Springs.

1 medium onion, diced

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 cups Arborio rice

1 quart of vegetable stock (or water), hot

1 cup of pumpkin puree

1⁄2 teaspoon grated nutmeg

1⁄2 teaspoon cinnamon

1⁄2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1 tablespoon of fresh sage, ribbon cut

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Salt and pepper to taste

In a medium-sized sauce pot, place onions in olive oil and sweat on low heat until translucent. Add rice and stir for a minute or so until coated with the oil. Add hot stock one cup at a time, stirring continuously, until stock is gone or rice is cooked. Add pumpkin puree, nutmeg, cinnamon and all but one tablespoon of the Parmesan cheese. Continue stirring until it is of a smooth, creamy consistency and everything is incorporated uniformly. Add salt and pepper to taste. Put in a serving dish.

In a separate sauté pan, place butter and sage over medium heat and cook until butter gets golden brown. The sage will get crispy in butter, and the butter will take on a nutty flavor. Pour over the risotto and garnish with the reserved Parmesan cheese.

Basic Roast Pumpkin Puree

This recipe, and the two following recipes made with pumpkin puree, are from 9 Miles East Farm in Northumberland.

1 pumpkin

1 tablespoon kosher salt

Preheat oven to 375. Split pumpkin in half. Scoop out seeds with a sturdy spoon and save seeds to roast if you like. Sprinkle cut sides with salt. Set cut sides down on a sheet pan with a lip, put in the preheated oven, and add water to cover the bottom of the pan by a half inch or so. Cook until the pumpkin deflates and is quite soft when you press on the skin, which will take between 45 minutes and an hour and 15 minutes, depending on the size of the pumpkin.

Remove from oven, flip over pieces with a dish cloth and scoop out soft pumpkin, leaving skin behind. Mash with a fork or potato masher to desired consistency.

This puree can be used for gnocchi, ravioli filling, soup, breads — or any recipe that calls for cooked or canned pumpkin. Here are a few examples:

Pumpkin Polenta

2 cloves garlic

1 branch fresh rosemary

1 fresh hot chili pepper

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 quarts milk

4 cups water

3 cups medium grind local cornmeal

1 teaspoon salt

Freshly ground pepper

1 cup of grated cheese (Parmigiano Regiano, aged Gouda or your choice)

2 cups pureed roasted pumpkin

Chop garlic, rosemary and chili pepper in a good-sized saucepan. Sauté gently in olive oil — don’t let the garlic brown. Pour in milk and water and heat to a simmer. Then trickle in the cornmeal, whisking as you go. Add salt and pepper. Cook low and slow for a half hour, then stir in pureed pumpkin and cheese. Run under broiler for a minute to brown the top if you like. This is a great side dish for pork or salmon. It would also be good at Thanksgiving with fresh sage in place of the rosemary.

Asian-style Roasted Pumpkin

1⁄2 teaspoon Chinese five spice powder

1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger

1⁄2 bunch chopped cilantro

3 or 4 chopped scallions

1 teaspoon sesame oil

2 cups roasted pumpkin puree (see above)

Stir five-spice powder and fresh ginger into pumpkin puree in serving dish. Top with cilantro, scallions and a drizzle of sesame oil.

Pumpkin Soup

Recipe from Suzanne Carreker-Voigt, market coordinator, Saratoga Farmers’ Market Association.

3 tablespoons butter

1 medium sweet onion, chopped

4 medium carrots, chopped

3 medium ribs celery, chopped

1 clove garlic, minced

11⁄2 cups vegetable broth

11⁄2 teaspoons curry powder, or to taste

1⁄2 teaspoon salt, or to taste

Dash fresh ground black pepper

2 tablespoons fresh parsley or 2 teaspoons parsley flakes

3 cups mashed fresh pumpkin

2 cups half-and-half (or 11⁄2 cups milk and 1⁄2 cup heavy cream)

Parsley and pumpkin seeds, for garnish, optional

In a large saucepan, melt butter over medium-low heat. Add chopped vegetables and sauté until just tender. Add garlic and vegetable broth; bring to a simmer. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes.

Add curry powder and salt along with the pepper, parsley and pumpkin. Stir in half-and-half or milk and cream until well blended. Working with batches, blend until smooth and pour back into the saucepan. Heat through; taste and add more salt and curry powder as needed. Garnish with parsley and hull-less pumpkin seeds or sunflower seeds. Serves 4-6.

Pasta with Pumpkin Cream Sauce

Recipe from JoAnne Cloughly, associate professor of arts, hospitality and tourism at SUNY Cobleskill.

1 cup heavy cream

1⁄2 cup pumpkin puree

1⁄4 cup fresh-grated Parmesan cheese

2 tablespoons thinly slice fresh sage leaves

Salt and ground black pepper to taste

1 tablespoon butter

1 pound cooked pasta of your choice (the bulkier shapes work best)

Combine the cream, pumpkin puree, Parmesan and sage in a saucepan over medium heat. Simmer the mixture until slightly thickened, 10 to 12 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in butter. Season with salt and pepper as desired. Toss with cooked pasta.

Excellent with grilled chicken or pork. Serves 4.

Categories: Life and Arts

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