Pumpkin: It's not just for pie and spiced lattes
October is prime time for pumpkins in Western Pennsylvania.
While many of the festive orange symbols of fall selected at local farm markets will end up as carved jack-o’-lanterns for Halloween, pumpkins also are a versatile and healthy “super food” that can be incorporated into a variety of dishes.
The health benefits of pumpkins are many; they’re low in saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium and are a good source of vitamins E, A, C and B6, in addition to dietary fiber and potassium, according to the Food and Drug Association (FDA).
Not just for pies
Brian Barcus, recently named executive chef at The Commoner restaurant in downtown Pittsburgh, says consumers should think outside the box when using pumpkin in cooking.
“You can use it in so many savory applications like pastas, filling, breads, soups, and side dishes,” he says. “I have personally used it in a few pasta dough recipes, agnolotti and ravioli fillings, and even folded it into risotto.”
He says he hasn’t incorporated a lot of pumpkin into his fall menu because of its current over-popularity.
“You can find pumpkin everything now these days,” he says. “Don’t get me wrong; I love a good piece of pumpkin pie just as much as anyone else. I just feel it’s out of control right now.”
The one dish he has incorporated pumpkin into is Uncommon Toast on the Commoner’s brunch menu.
“It’s a pumpkin baked bread pudding that is sliced and crisped on our flat top, finished with local Wigle whiskey maple syrup, sweet whipped cream and fresh berries. Just a subtle fall twist to a breakfast classic,” he says.
Among other restaurants adding pumpkin to their menus is Vallozzi’s Pittsburgh, with its Pumpkin Ravioli made with pumpkin mascarpone, black walnuts, Swiss chard and brown butter, and a special cocktail created with pumpkin-spice infused mescal, cynar, Orchard Cherry and Woodford Reserve Spiced Cherry Bitters.
At Fl.2 downtown, executive chef Julio Peraza is featuring Pumpkin Tamale on his menu.
Lauri Bruno, owner of Kids Nutrition Kitchen in Cranberry, has created a four-session “Pumpkin Palooza” class as part of her mission to teach kids about cooking with simple, healthy ingredients. Participants learn how to make a pumpkin pizza sauce, pumpkin smoothies and Pumpkin Mac and Cheese.
“Pumpkin Palooza originated from the idea of offering a fun class for kids that incorporated the star of the season — pumpkin — into their favorite dishes,” Bruno says.
The Pumpkin Mac and Cheese recipe starts with a roux made from butter and flour, to which low-fat milk is added and thickened, followed by additions of shredded cheddar cheese, pumpkin purée, salt and pepper. The sauce is used with whole grain pasta.
The “Pumpkin Palooza” class will be offered for ages 6-13 from 5 to 6 p.m. Nov. 6, 13, 20 and 27 at the Steam Studio in Warrendale. The fee is $90. Details: healthyinstructor.com
Ben D’Amico, product development chef for Market District/Giant Eagle based at RIDC Park, O’Hara, agrees that fresh pumpkin is quite versatile and can be prepared in various ways.
“This time of year, people associate pumpkin with pumpkin spice, which has nothing to do with pumpkin. There’s so much more you can do with pumpkin,” he says.
One easy method involves peeling the pumpkin, removing the seeds and pulpy flesh, cutting it into cubes, adding salt, pepper and olive oil and roasting the cubes in the oven.
“You can either use the roasted pieces as a winter vegetable like Brussels sprouts, or add them to soups and stews for a subtle sweetness and earthy flavor,” says D’Amica, of Eighty-Four, Washington County.
Pumpkin also can be pureed and made into sauces or used as a filling for stuffed shells or manicotti. “It goes really well with Italian dishes and pairs well with Alfredo, cream-based sauce,” he says.
The size and type of pumpkin used in cooking is important, according to the chef, who says bigger is not always better for flavor and texture.
And don’t forget about the seeds; D’Amico offers a recipe for Roasted Pumpkin Seeds with two seasonings.
Roasted Pumpkin Seeds
2 cups pumpkin seeds, rinsed and dried
1 Tbsp. olive oil
Seasoning for Smoky Toasted Pumpkin Seeds
2 tsp. ancho or chipotle pepper powder
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1/4 tsp. onion powder
1 tsp. paprika
1 tsp. sea salt, fine grind
Seasoning for Spicy-Sweet Pumpkin Seeds
1 tsp. cayenne pepper, ground
2 Tbsp. brown sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon, ground
1/2 tsp. clove or allspice, ground, optional
1 tsp. sea salt, fine grind
Remove seeds from pumpkin, rinse under cold water and remove any membrane that remains stuck to the seeds.
Lightly pat seeds dry with paper towels, then spread on a sheet tray and allow to dry at least one hour, the longer the better.
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Mix all ingredients for either the Smoky Toasted or Spicy-Sweet seeds (except the olive oil and seeds) in a small bowl.
Toss dry pumpkin seeds with olive oil in a separate bowl until well coated. Evenly coat the pumpkin seeds with seasoning mix of choice. Place seasoned pumpkin seeds onto a foil- or parchment-lined baking sheet.
Bake 17-20 minutes or until seeds are golden brown and crispy. Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly before eating.
Penn State Extension Nutrition Links offers a recipe for a smoothie drink featuring pumpkin:
Makes 6 servings.
1 15-ounce can pumpkin, chilled
12-ounce can evaporated low-fat milk (or 1 ½ cup skim milk, chilled)
1 1/3 cups orange juice
1 banana, small, sliced
1/3 cup light brown sugar, packed, or 1/3 cup regular sugar
2 dozen ice cubes, optional
2 tsp. ground cinnamon, optional
Place the pumpkin and other ingredients into a blender; cover the blender and blend until smooth. Pour into glasses and serve.
Food Network Chef Robert Irvine utilizes pumpkin puree in his recipe for Pumpkin Lasagne:
1 cup pumpkin puree
1 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
4 to 6 cloves garlic, sliced
1 pound spicy Italian sausage, casings removed
1/2 cup red wine
1 28-ounce can tomato sauce
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1 16-ounce box lasagna noodles
1 large egg
2 1/2 cups ricotta cheese
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup shredded romano cheese
1 large zucchini, very thinly sliced
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the pumpkin puree in a fine sieve over a bowl; set aside to drain while you make the sauce.
Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a medium pot over medium heat. Add the onion and saute until translucent, 6 to 7 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, 2 more minutes. Add the sausage and cook until brown, breaking it up with a wooden spoon. Pour in the wine and cook until reduced by half. Stir in the tomato sauce and herbs and bring to a simmer over medium-low heat. Season with salt and pepper, cover and reduce the heat to low. Simmer 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the lasagna noodles and cook as the label directs. Drain and toss with the remaining 1/2 tablespoon olive oil.
Mix the strained pumpkin puree with the egg in a bowl and season with salt and pepper. In a separate bowl, mix the ricotta, 1 cup mozzarella and the romano.
Build your lasagna in a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Start with a layer of sauce, then top with a layer of noodles. Evenly spread half of the pumpkin filling, then half of the zucchini, over the noodles. Top with half of the cheese mixture and cover with some of the sauce. Repeat the layers, finishing with noodles and sauce; sprinkle with the remaining 1 cup mozzarella. Bake, uncovered, 35 to 40 minutes, or until bubbly. Let cool 15 minutes before slicing.
Candy Williams is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.