Thursday, December 14, 2006

Pumpkin Threeway

What's better than pumpkin when the weather cools?
Pumpkin and its squash cousins just taste like fall and winter. There's no rhyme or reason to it; when most of us think pumpkin, we think crisp nights and the smell of snow in the air.

Unfortunately when most people think pumpkin, they also think pumpkin pie. Don't get me wrong; I love me some pumpkin pie, but it seems only a small minority of the population realize that pumpkin is so much more than pie.

Three versatile recipes follow, from breakfast to dinner, from entree to dessert.

The most telling example I have of "Ew, pumpkin what??" is my favorite non-pie pumpkin application.
A couple Thanksgivings ago, my mom made a pumpkin roll to serve with dessert. The recipe called for around a cup of pumpkin, and she had purchased one of those big 30-some oz cans of the stuff. There was a LOT of leftover pumpkin that she didn't want to see I said I'd come up with something.
I was already working on a couple other dishes and we had a full menu planned, so I wanted simple and somewhat unassuming. What to do, what to do? Why, we had no soup on our menu! I remembered seeing recipes for pumpkin soup somewhere along the line, but I couldn't remember any of the important details - including what goes in pumpkin soup other than pumpkin.
Not one to let something so trivial stop me, I threw together what I thought would be tasty. Come time for dinner, I ladled that soup out and proudly served it to my perplexed and mildly horrified family. They all stared at their bowls with more than a little trepidation, and as spoons slowly went from bowl to mouth I could tell they were only trying it to be polite and fully expected to discreetly move on to the "normal" food after one bite.
Since I don't serve food that I haven't tasted, I already knew it was good. In fact, I was halfway through my bowl before anyone else had worked up the nerve to try the stuff. From the corner of my eye, I saw the surprise register on everyone's faces as they tasted, and before long the soup was gone.
My recipe has evolved since that first foray, but it remains simple and fuss-free.

Pumpkin Soup

Makes 6-8 appetizer or side dish sized servings

24oz pumpkin, pureed (roasted and pureed raw pumpkin, or canned pure pumpkin)
36oz chicken or vegetable stock
1 medium white onion, small dice
1/2 green apple, grated
1 T brown sugar
Heavy cream
Dry mustard, nutmeg, curry powder, salt & pepper
Green onions to garnish

In a stockpot, saute the onion in a bit of butter or oil over medium heat until translucent.
Add the stock and the pumpkin and allow to come up to temperature, whisking well to combine.
Add the grated apple and mix well.
Add 1 teaspoon curry powder, 2 teaspoons dry mustard, brown sugar, and 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg. Whisk well and then let it simmer for 15-20 minutes.
Season to taste with salt & pepper.
Slowwwwwllly add heavy cream, whisking the entire time, until you achieve your desired consistency and creaminess.
Taste and adjust for seasoning again.

To serve:
Ladle into ramekins or small soup bowls. Top with a sprinkle of nutmeg and some sliced green onion.

Pumpkin Muffins from Cooking Debauchery

Next in line of my favorite pumpkin recipes is a recent discovery from the ever-incredible Kitarra over at Cooking Debauchery.
Oh holy hell, these muffiny-cupcakey things are amazing.

I made a few adjustments to her recipe based on, of course, personal taste and what I had on hand; the most drastic change was omitting the fruit.
I went with:

1 1/2 cups AP flour
1 t salt
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 t baking soda
1 cup pumpkin puree
1/2 cup canola oil
2 eggs, beaten
1/4 cup skim milk
1/2 t ground ginger
1 t cinnamon (maybe more...we like cinnamon)
1 T vanilla

1 8oz brick of cream cheese
1 t cinnamon
1 t vanilla
3 T brown sugar

I prepared it as directed in the original recipe. As mentioned there, overmixing the batter will give you rubbery, dense muffins. Use a gentle hand and mix only until the dry ingredients are moistened.

My favorite part of these muffins is how easily they transition to a simple dessert. They're awesome with your morning tea/coffee, but they're also just sweet enough to cap off a hearty dinner.
Let's not mention that picky children will happily eat some pumpkin if they think it's a cupcake, too. There's enough wiggle room in this recipe that you can easily make them low fat (sub out some of the oil with applesauce...yum!), and between the vitamin A and fiber pumpkin carries, your kids won't know they're eating something healthy.

Next up is another mishmash recipe that I cobbled together from various other recipes and ideas.

Pumpkin....and pasta. Together. In the same dish.

Pasta with Sausage and Pumpkin Alfredo Cream

Makes: 4 entree servings

1lb pasta, cooked and drained
1lb sweet or hot Italian sausage (bulk, or casings removed)
1 cup pumpkin puree
1 cup chicken or vegetable stock, plus more as needed
1 cup white wine
2 T butter
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
1/2 cup heavy cream
Small handful of sage leaves, chiffonade
Half a handful of basil leaves, chiffonade
Nutmeg, salt & pepper

Brown the sausage and drain well. Remove to a bowl.
Deglaze the skillet with wine, then whisk in pumpkin, stock, butter, and a pinch of salt over medium heat. Simmer for 10 minutes.
Whisk in the heavy cream and bring up to heat. Add the Parmesan and whisk gently until combined. Simmer for 5 minutes, until thickened. If sauce is too thick for your liking, add a bit of stock until it reaches the consistency you like.
Add sausage and simmer for 5 more minutes.
Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add 2 pinches of ground nutmeg.
Just before serving, add sage and basil and mix well. Add salt or pepper as needed.

Serve over pasta.

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