When Autumn rolls around, there are a few things we know to expect for sure: leaves fade to yellows and reds, and fall off their trees, sun dresses and flip flops get traded in for sweaters and boots, and pumpkin can be found in just about everything. From cheesecake to ravioli to jack-o-lanterns, this fall squash is everywhere right now, and I, for one, think that’s just great.
First of all, pumpkin is delicious. Its rich flavor conjures warm memories for just about everyone (Thanksgiving pumpkin pie, anyone?), and it can be easily added to dishes to really Fall-ify them.
Secondly, it’s super healthy. Despite its sweetness, it’s actually quite low in sugar (a mere 2 grams per serving), but high in fiber (keeping you fuller, longer) and packed with Vitamins A and C (to better equip you to ward off cold-weather sickness). Adding it to dishes is an easy way to crank up their nutrition factor.
I love working with fresh pumpkin (and roasting the seeds with sea salt for snacking!) but I also love that I can crank open a can of unsweetened pumpkin (this part is important—don’t buy “pumpkin pie filling” unless you are making a pumpkin pie, and even then, I wouldn’t really recommend it—it’s way sweet), and have my cooked, pureed pumpkin ready to go.
One of my favorite things to do with pumpkin is to add it to cheese sauces to bulk them up (both in terms of quantity and flavor), without weighing them down. The result is a smooth and creamy sauce that tastes rich but doesn’t give you that weighed-down feeling after you eat it. Adding a dash of nutmeg enhances both the cheese and the pumpkin flavors, making them both sing. This mac-and-cheese recipe is on my table every Thanksgiving, and throughout the year whenever the hankering for cheesy baked goodness comes over me.
Brown Butter-Pumpkin Mac and Cheese
•8 oz. elbow macaroni, penne, shells or other small cut of pasta
•2 tablespoons unsalted butter plus more for the pan
•2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
•3/4 cup milk
•3/4 cup unsweetened canned pumpkin
•1/2 cup plus 2 tablspoons shredded cheddar cheese
•salt and pepper to taste
1.Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Lightly butter an 11"x13" baking pan or 4 ramekins/oven-proof bowls
2.Cook macaroni in salted boiling water according to package directions.
3.While macaroni cooks, melt the butter in a medium pot over medium heat. As soon as it begins to brown, add the flour and whisk until you have a very sticky dough.
4.Slowly whisk in the milk to form a creamy white sauce.
5.Continue whisking as you add the pumpkin and 1/2 cup of the white cheddar. You should have a very creamy orange sauce. Season with nutmeg, salt and pepper.
6.Drain the pasta and return it to its pot. Use a rubber spatula to scrape all of the sauce over the pasta and stir to coat the pasta evenly.
7.Scrape the sauced pasta into the prepared pan(s) and top with the reserved cheddar plus more salt and pepper.
8.Bake for 18-22 minutes or until the cheese is very bubbly and lightly browned on top. Serve hot.
Pumpkin is also amazing in curries. Thai pumpkin curries are a traditional dish in Southeast Asia, and for good reason--they’re an amazing and healthy way to warm up during cold winter months. I like this one over brown rice or quinoa. Note that the recipe calls for fresh pumpkin cut into 1” cubes. This is a great way to use your jack-o-lantern after Halloween is over, but if you’re just not into the chopping and peeling of a fresh pumpkin, look for cubed butternut squash in the produce and/or freezer sections of your grocery store—it's a fine substitute. Also, feel free to substitute cubed tofu or chicken thighs for the beef.
Thai Pumpkin-Beef Curry
•6 cups fresh pumpkin, peeled and cut into 1” cubes
•1 tablespoon flavorless oil, such as vegetable or grape seed
•3 cloves garlic, chopped
•1 1-inch piece ginger, peeled and minced
•1 medium onion, cut into 1” pieces
•1/2 lb. beef stew meat
•1 14-oz. can coconut milk
•2 teaspoons Thai red curry paste (available at most grocery stores, near the soy sauce)
•1 tablespoon soy sauce
•1 tablespoon honey
•1 red bell pepper, cut into 1” pieces
•1 jalapeño, seeded and chopped
•1 handful fresh cilantro, chopped
1.Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
2.Spread the pumpkin out in an even layer on an ungreased baking sheet (use 2 if necessary) and roast for 45 minutes, just until pumpkin is fork-tender.
3.About 20 minutes before the pumpkin is finished roasting, heat the oil over medium heat in a large frying pan (make sure it also has a fitted lid—you’ll need it later).
4.Add the garlic, ginger and onion and cook, stirring once or twice, for 2 minutes.
5.Add the beef and brown lightly on both sides.
6.Add the coconut milk, curry paste, soy sauce and honey and stir well to make a pale red, creamy sauce.
7.Add the bell pepper and jalapeño, stir contents of pan well, and cover with the fitted lid. Cook, covered, for about 15 minutes.
8.Once the pumpkin is done, carefully add it to the pan. Stir well and cover again. Cook for another 12-15 minutes, until beef is very tender.
9.Serve in bowls, over rice if desired, topped with the chopped cilantro.
Pumpkin is a wonderful way to add not only flavor, but also much-needed moisture to baked goods. And if there’s one baked good that is always in need of moisture, it’s corn bread. Stirring pumpkin puree into corn bread batter yields a tender, just-sweet-enough result that pairs perfectly with a bowl of chili. They’re also great with a little honey butter.
Pumpkin-Jalapeño Corn Muffins
Makes about 12 muffins
•1 cup all-purpose flour
•1 cup cornmeal
•1 teaspoon baking soda
•1 teaspoon baking powder
•1/2 teaspoon salt
•1 tablespoon brown sugar
•2 vegetable oil
•2/3 cup milk
•1 cup canned pumpkin puree
•1 jalapeño, seeded and chopped
1.Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Lightly grease or line with muffin cups a 12-cup muffin pan, two 6-cup muffin pans, or 2 8" round or square cake pans.
2.In a mixing bowl, combine flour, cornmeal, baking soda, baking powder, salt and brown sugar.
3.Whisk in olive oil, milk, egg and pumpkin puree until a smooth batter is achieved.
4.Gently fold in the chopped jalapeño.
5.Pour the batter into prepared muffin cups (they should be nearly full) or pans and top each muffin with a tiny pinch of black pepper. Bake for 15-18 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean.
What are your favorite things to do with pumpkin? Let me know in the comments!