FOOD 101: ‘Tis the season for pumpkin lovers

Everywhere you look, it’s pumpkin, pumpkin, pumpkin! Marching across the front porch or spicing up coffee. (Actually, coffee shops have been “pumpkin spicing” since mid-August. Too soon?) Of course, there’s no actual pumpkin in pumpkin spice. It is just an amalgam of fall flavors that could just as accurately be labeled apple pie spice. Anyway, we don’t need a trip to the coffee shop to enjoy this aromatic seasoning. We can make it ourselves and add it, as needed, to our morning mug.

Make four tablespoons of pumpkin spice, putting two teaspoons ground cinnamon in a small jar. Then measure in a teaspoon of ground ginger, a teaspoon of ground allspice and half a teaspoon of ground nutmeg. (It makes more than you think.)

Cover the jar tightly and shake well. Raise or lower the amount of each spice to alter the flavor to your own taste. Fond of cinnamon? Up the amount in the mix, starting slowly with about ¼ teaspoon. For a spicier mixture, add more ginger. And so on with the others. These heady spices go a long way, so start small. Store this mixture with the other spices on the shelf.

Use this flavoring in hot chocolate as well as in coffee drinks. Then try it in baked goods like quick breads, muffins, scones, pumpkin or apple pies. Crisps, cobblers and slumps, made with fall fruits, take to this mixture, too.

Sprinkle it over French toast, oatmeal (with a tiny spritz of maple syrup) or on cold cereal in place of sugar. Dust this mixture over unadorned supermarket donuts. Heat them on a sheet pan in a 250 degree oven for about seven minutes to elevate them to heavenly.

As for the pumpkins themselves, be on the lookout for sugar pumpkins for cooking, which are different from the big jack-o-lantern kind. The best places to find them are at the grocery store where they are usually labeled. At the outdoor market, ask the farmer to point out the best ones for cooking.

For the rest of us, canned pumpkin puree (or cooked down pulp), saves peeling, cutting and cooking time. The word “pure” (meaning only, or not seasoned) should appear somewhere on the can. This is not a complete guarantee that a little butternut or blue Hubbard hasn’t sneaked into the can. It’s allowed — by whoever makes the rules.

Not every recipe will use up a whole can of puree. The rest, no matter how small, freezes well to use in another recipe. I know cooks who fill ice cube trays with the leftovers from a whole can. It’s easy to pop out the individual cubes and store them in a freezer bag until another recipe that uses a small amount. The new jumbo-size ice cube makers are ideal for this.

Don’t want the bother of freezing? Then treat the kids to pumpkin shakes.


Makes 2 (8-ounce) glasses.

1 cup vanilla ice cream

2 heaping tablespoons pumpkin puree

½ teaspoon pumpkin pie spice

¼ cup milk

Put these all in a blender and puree as you would a smoothie. Pour into glasses and dollop some whipped cream on top. If whipping your own cream, flavor it with ground ginger, or, if you spritz your whipped cream from a can, top with a nugget of candied ginger as a garnish. Or use an entire can for two pumpkin breads — one for right now, the other for the freezer.


Makes 2 loaves

Use good, large bowls for mixing ingredients. This spillovers especially with dry ingredients. Less mess is easier on the cook.

3 cups sugar

1 cup vegetable oil

4 eggs

3-1/3 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking soda

1-1/2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground nutmeg

2/3 cup water

A 15-ounce can pumpkin

-Preheat oven to 350 F degrees. Grease two 9×5-inch loaf pans.

-Whisk together sugar and oil, beat in eggs until combined.

-In a separate bowl, stir together flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg. Alternately add this mixture and the water to the sugar mixture. Beat until combined. Add pumpkin.

-Pour batter into loaf pans. Bake for 55 to 60 minutes (at 350 degrees) until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.

-Cool in the pans on racks for 10 minutes. Remove from pans and cool completely.

Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 2 hours overnight.

All autumnal flavors need not be relegated to sweets. Savory flavors like dancing with pumpkin. Remind the taste buds that the recipe is not desert by including a measure of salt and/or ground black pepper. Pasta is a surprising combination with pumpkin.


Makes 6 servings.

Sage adds a depth of flavor to this dish. Mascarpone is Italian cream cheese found in small plastic tubs in the deli section of the grocery store. It is sweeter than ricotta. A mixture of both ricotta and mascarpone works well in this, too.

1 pound pappardelle noodles

2 tablespoons butter

½ to a whole red onion, chopped

4 fresh sage leaves, minced

½ cup white wine (optional)

1 15 ounce can pumpkin puree

½ cup whole milk ricotta or mascarpone

Salt, pepper to taste

-Boil the pasta in a large pot of salted water. Drain and save ½ cup of the cooking water. Return the pasta to the pot to keep warm

-In a skillet, melt the butter. Sauté the onion and sage, cooking until the onions are lightly golden. (Do not brown the onions.) Add the wine, if using. Pour in the pumpkin puree. Then add this to the pot with the pasta.

-Add the ricotta or mascarpone. Toss together gently so the noodles do not break. Add some of the saved cooking water, two tablespoons at a time, if the mixture is too tight. Toss again over very low heat. The pumpkin-cheese mixture should coat the noodles.

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