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Pumpin' up the pumpkin - and making more than pie

October 27, 2014

Savory pumpkin soup is one way to use the mighty pumpkin other than in a standard pie.

Behold the pumpkin, plump harbinger of autumn, a bright-orange beacon for us all to blah blah blah, yada yada yada.

Look, I was going to write a nice story about pumpkin, everybody’s favorite winter squash, a gourd that is beloved in both pie and jack-o’-lantern forms. I was going to discuss how it spans both Halloween and Thanksgiving and how it is particularly appropriate for Thanksgiving because it is native to North America.

But then I made some Salted Caramel-Swirled Pumpkin Cheesecake Bars, and now all I want to write about are Salted Caramel-Swirled Pumpkin Cheesecake Bars.

These things are so good, dentists leave them out in their offices. These things are so good, endocrinologists tell their diabetic patients, "You know what? We all have to go sometime." These things are so good, just two or three pans of them, properly dispersed, could bring peace to the Middle East.

They are that good.

Salted Caramel-Swirled Cheesecake Bars were apparently invented by a woman with the implausible name of Averie Sunshine (she lives and blogs in San Diego, so perhaps her name isn’t that unusual after all). She unveiled the recipe in her second book, "Cooking With Pumpkin," and the one recipe by itself may make the book one of those hard-to-find classics in future years that will be auctioned off for thousands of dollars.

The base is a tempting crust of graham cracker crumbs, butter, brown sugar and calories. On top of that is spread a rich mixture of pumpkin puree, softened cream cheese, sugar, pumpkin pie spice, vanilla and calories. And before baking, it is all topped with swirls of caramel sauce — it’s best if you make it yourself — and calories.

These things are so good, they could cure cancer.

But after eating them, I felt as if I needed something more substantial and heartier. I used to get a curried pumpkin dish at an Afghan restaurant in Washington, D.C., and I marveled at the way curry spices blend with the rich pumpkin. So I sought out a curried pumpkin recipe and found one including beef in a new American release of a British book called "Pumpkin: Not Just for Halloween and Thanksgiving!" (one assumes the British title did not include Thanksgiving).

In this delicious dish, the pumpkin is simmered in a broth containing green and red bell peppers, onions, tomatoes and the beef. The curry part comes from coriander seeds, turmeric, ginger and a chile. It’s warm and soothing, and not too hot. It is exactly the kind of meal you want to eat when the weather is chilly enough for pumpkins.

I still wanted something healthful, so I decided to make a pumpkin soup. Because pumpkin is a squash, I essentially decided to make it in much the same way I make butternut squash soup. I sautéed onions and garlic and added flavors that go well with pumpkin — nutmeg, brown sugar, paprika and a hint of cayenne pepper.

Next, I added vegetable stock. Chicken stock would work well, too, but I wanted this version to be vegetarian. And into that went pumpkin that I had roasted and scraped from the skin.

I’m sure canned pumpkin would have worked, too, but it wouldn’t be as good as the real thing. And it is easy to make, too. Just take a pie pumpkin (they’re about 2 pounds, much smaller than jack-o’-lantern pumpkins), cut it into sections, remove the seeds and stringy bits and set it in a 350-degree oven for 30 to 35 minutes.

When all the ingredients had simmered together, blending their flavors, I added a soupçon of coconut milk. Then I pureed it into a hearty, delicious soup that could serve as either a first course or an entrée.

But I wasn’t done with pumpkin yet. But I had one more trick up my sleeve, or at least the sleeve of Ms. Sunshine. Her recipe for Parmesan and Cream Cheese Pumpkin Puffs is easy to make, yet it delivers a huge impact. This is one of those dishes that has a very high flavor-to-effort ratio.

The key is puff pastry. Puff pastry is easy (as long as you buy it frozen) and it makes everything taste great. Just smear it with a mixture of pumpkin purée and softened cream cheese, sprinkle it with seasoning salt (I made my own mixture of pumpkin-friendly spices: nutmeg, allspice, cinnamon and coriander) and add shredded Parmesan cheese.

Roll it all up tightly, slice it thin, and pop it in the oven until it bakes up golden brown. It is a savory treat, but also wonderfully rich.

Pumpkins, the golden orbs of fall, the gourds of glory. Yada, yada, yada. Blah, blah, blah.

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PUMPKIN SOUP

Yield: 4 servings

2 (2-pound) pie pumpkins or 3 cups canned purée

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 medium onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, sliced

1 tablespoon brown sugar

1 teaspoon paprika

1/8 teaspoon (2 pinches) cayenne pepper, optional

1 teaspoon nutmeg

3 cups vegetable stock or chicken stock

1/2 cup coconut milk

Salt and pepper

Crème fraîche, optional

1. If using canned pumpkin, begin with step No. 2. If using fresh pumpkin, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Slice off tops of pie pumpkins and cut pumpkins into quarters; remove seeds and stringy bits. Place pumpkin quarters on an ungreased baking sheet and roast 30 to 35 minutes until soft. When cool enough to touch, remove and discard the skins (they will come off easily). Set pumpkin aside.

2. Put oil in a large pot over medium-high heat, add onions and sauté until softened, 3 to 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, 30 seconds to 1 minute. Add brown sugar, paprika, optional cayenne and nutmeg and stir 30 seconds to 1 minute until well mixed and fragrant. Stir in pumpkin and add vegetable stock.

3. Bring to a simmer and cook 20 minutes. Add coconut milk and mix thoroughly. Add salt and pepper to taste. Purée in a blender or use an immersion blender. Serve hot, topped with a dollop of crème fraîche or a sprinkling of nutmeg, if desired.

Per serving: 241 calories; 13 g fat; 7 g saturated fat; 5 mg cholesterol; 9 g protein; 28 g carbohydrate; 14 g sugar; 8 g fiber; 271 mg sodium; 55 mg calcium.

Recipe by Daniel Neman

SALTED CARAMEL-SWIRLED PUMPKIN CHEESECAKE BARS

Yield: 12 servings

1 stick unsalted butter

1 cup graham cracker crumbs

3/4 cup light brown sugar, packed

1 tablespoon cornstarch

Pinch salt, optional

1 egg

6 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature and very soft

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/3 heaping cup pumpkin purée

2 1/2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1/2 cup thick salted caramel sauce, see note

Note: For caramel sauce, either make your own from the recipe below or use store-bought. But do not use ice cream or sundae sauce made with corn syrup listed as the first ingredient; it will be too thin.

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line an 8-by-8-inch baking pan with aluminum foil, leaving an overhang on 2 sides, and spray with cooking spray. Set aside.

2. For the crust: In a medium, microwave-safe bowl, melt the butter, about 1 minute on high power. Add the graham cracker crumbs, brown sugar, cornstarch and salt, if using. Mix well with a fork to combine. Pour the crumbs into the prepared pan and use a spatula to pack the mixture firmly into the pan in an even, flat layer. Set aside.

3. For the filling: In a medium bowl (you can use the same, unwashed bowl), combine egg, cream cheese, sugar, pumpkin, pumpkin pie spice and vanilla, and whisk (or use a mixer) until smooth and combined. The softer the cream cheese, the easier the mixture comes together. Add the flour and mix just to incorporate. Do not overmix.

4. Pour the filling into the crust. Top with caramel sauce, swirled in a fanciful design.

5. Bake 40 minutes or until center is set with very little jiggle; some looseness is OK, but there should be no sloshing in the center. A toothpick inserted in the center should come out mostly clean or with just a few moist crumbs. Cool bars in pan for 1 hour before lifting out, using the foil overhang, and slicing. They are best when served chilled: Cover the pan with foil and refrigerate 2 hours or overnight before slicing and serving. Bars will keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.

Per serving: 331 calories; 18 g fat; 11 g saturated fat; 67 mg cholesterol; 2 g protein; 40 g carbohydrate; 34 g sugar; 1 g fiber; 140 mg sodium; 41 mg calcium.

Recipe from "Cooking With Pumpkin" by Averie Sunshine

BEEF AND PUMPKIN CURRY

Yield: 6 servings

1/3 cup vegetable oil

1 red bell pepper, seeded and cut into chunks

1 green bell pepper, seeded and cut into chunks

2 onions, sliced

1 teaspoon ground turmeric

2 teaspoons ground coriander

2 teaspoons granulated sugar

1 1/2 pounds lean stewing beef, cut into small, 1/2-inch pieces

3 garlic cloves, sliced

1 ounce fresh ginger, peeled and chopped

1 red chile, seeded and chopped

1 (14-ounce) can chopped tomatoes

2 1/2 cups beef or chicken stock

1 (2-pound) pie pumpkin

Salt

Crème fraîche, optional

1. Heat the oil in a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan. Add the bell peppers and sauté 4 to 5 minutes until they start to color. Drain with a slotted spoon and set aside. Add the onions, turmeric, coriander, sugar and beef and sauté gently 5 minutes or until lightly colored.

2. Add the garlic, ginger and chile to the pan and cook 2 minutes, stirring. Add the tomatoes and stock and bring slowly to a boil. Reduce the heat, cover with a lid and simmer on the lowest heat for 1 hour until the beef is tender.

3. Meanwhile, use a vegetable peeler to peel the skin from the pumpkin and cut the flesh into chunks. Add to the pan along with the reserved red and green bell peppers. Cook gently for 20 minutes until the pumpkin is very soft. Season with salt if necessary and serve with crème fraîche, if desired, and basmati rice.

Per serving: 352 calories; 18 g fat; 4 g saturated fat; 71 mg cholesterol; 29 g protein; 21 g carbohydrate; 10 g sugar; 3 g fiber; 442 mg sodium; 78 mg calcium.

Recipe from "Pumpkin: Not Just for Halloween and Thanksgiving!" by Joanna Farrow

SALTED CARAMEL SAUCE

Yield: About 1 cup

1 cup granulated sugar

1/4 cup water

3/4 cup heavy cream

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

1/2 stick (4 tablespoons) butter

1/2 to 1 teaspoon kosher salt, or to taste, see note

Note: If using table salt, use less — perhaps 1/4 to 3/4 teaspoon.

1. In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine the sugar and water. Heat over medium-low heat until the sugar dissolves, stirring occasionally.

2. Raise the heat to medium-high and bring to a boil without stirring. Carefully use a wet pastry brush or damp paper towel to wipe down any crystals that cling to the sides of the saucepan. Failure to remove them could result in a grainy sauce. Boil until the mixture is a deep amber color, about 5 to 6 minutes; it will turn color fairly quickly.

3. Remove the pan from the heat and carefully whisk in the cream; the mixture will bubble up vigorously. Add the vanilla; it will bubble up again. Stir in the butter and salt to taste. Transfer the caramel to a glass or heatproof jar with a lid. Caramel sauce will keep airtight for months in the refrigerator.

Per (1 tablespoon) serving: 115 calories; 7 g fat; 4 g saturated fat; 23 mg cholesterol; no protein; 13 g carbohydrate; 13 g sugar; no fiber; 65 mg sodium; 10 mg calcium.

Recipe from "Cooking With Pumpkin" by Averie Sunshine

 

 


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