Drink — Pumpkin-flavored treats are the best part of fall

Pumpkin-flavored treats are the best part of fall

Muffins, pie and more from the innards of your jack-o’-lantern

By Amy Diaz [adiaz@hippopress.com] 

Pumpkins are the peak of the food evolutionary chain.

Not only are they a fashionable color, serve as a canvas for annual decorating purposes and come in a handy variety of sizes but their addition to just about any food makes it better.

Muffins, pasta, ice cream, beer—how many things do you know off that can actually make all of those different items taste 10 times better?

Fall is a pumpkin-lover’s heaven not only because it brings the annual harvest of this magnificent fruit (no, really, look it up) but also because it brings a cornucopia of seasonally-available pumpkin-flavored products.

You can get a frozen pumpkin pie any time of the year, but shops and restaurants alike will, from about the second week of October until at least Thanksgiving, burst with cookies, muffins, pastas, ice cream and, best of all, pumpkin soups. I make a point of ordering the pumpkin soup at every restaurant that offers it. So far this season, Jewell and the Beanstalk’s warm pumpkin soup (beautifully garnished with pumpkin seeds) has been my favorite, with the pumpkin apple soup offered at Richard’s Bistro a close second.

The beauty of pumpkin soup is that its good hot or cold, which makes it a dandy summer soup as well as a warm, winter pick-me-up.

The all-season nature of pumpkin fits its availability as, let’s be honest, most of us work with the canned variety. In its handy pureed form, though, pumpkin becomes an easy and versatile addition to recipes.

Less starchy than potato, more flavorful than squash and full of moisture, try pumpkin in cookie, bread and bar recipes. In addition to soup, it also has the right consistency to make an appearance in sauces and dressing and even as an additive to meat dishes (what tasty new way to stretch that leftover ground beef for a meatloaf.)

When Thanksgiving rolls around, keep pumpkin in mind as a way (with a little paprika or brown sugar) as a way to add a new favor to those bread crust stuffing recipes.

Even pumpkin seeds are fantastic, though I recommend having fun with fresh seeds. Most store-bought, snack-sized seeds are, sadly, unnecessarily salty.

From the surgery-like remains of creating that jack-o’-lantern, pick out the cream-colored seeds.

Rinse them with water in a strainer. Pat dry with a clean cloth or a paper towel and then spread them out on a cookie sheet that has been lightly greased with olive oil. Spread the seeds evenly and sprinkle with a little salt. Cook at 350 degrees for 15 minutes or until seeds reach a crunchy consistency.

The results serve as a tasty snack or as a garnish to soups (to steal the idea from Amber at Jewell), salads or pasta dishes.

For a spicer variation, tos the seeds with a bit of Tabasco sauce before toasting.

Or, for a sweeter version, toast the seeds after sprinkling with brown sugar and cinnamon. These seeds could be used too dress up ice cream, sit a top pumpkin pies or muffins or as a way to class up those pumpkin-shaped sugar cookies. That is if you can help from eating them all first.

Don’t want to cook your own pumpkiny items? Here are some of the more interesting pumpkin-flavored items available in the city.

• Harvest Pumpkin raviolis with sage crème and toasted hazelnuts ($12.99) at Starfish Grill, 33 S. Commerical St., 296-0706.

• Pumpkin muffins ($.85) and pumpkin drop cookies ($.65) at Michelle’s Gourmet Pastries and Deli, 819 Union St., 647-7150.

• Pumpkin Spice latte and pumpkin spice frappuccino, starting at $3.62 at Starbucks Café inside the Barnes & Noble, 1740 S. Willow St., 668-5557. (Starbucks also sells a pumpkin cheesecake from the Cheesecake Factory.)

• Red pumpkin ravioli ($17) at Baldwin’s on Elm, 1105 Elm St., 622-5975.

• Pumpkin apple bread ($7 per loaf) at Jewell and the Beanstalk, 793 Somerville St., 624-3709.

• Pumpkin ice cream, at the Puritan, 245 Hooksett Rd., 623-3182.

• Pumpkin muffins and pumpkin donuts, at Dunkin Donuts city-wide.

• Pumpkin whoopee pies, at Coffee Break Bakery, 260 Mammoth Road

$1.25 (622-7582).

• Whipped mascarpone pumpkin torteloni ($14) on the lunch menu at Bedford Village Inn, 2 Village Inn Lane, Bedford (472-2001).

Know of other pumpkin-flavored or pumpkin-based foods? E-mail me at adiaz@hippopress.com. I’m always delighted to spread the pumpkin love.

Pumpkin delights 

Pumpkin Bread

Recipe from my mother, Rachel Diaz, before that, who knows.

3 cups of sugar

2 teaspoons baking soda

3 teaspoons cinnamon

3 1/3 cups flour

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

3 teaspoons nutmeg

1 cup oil

4 eggs

2/3 cup water

2 cups pumpkin

Sift together dry ingredients.

Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and add the oil. With a whisk, slowly mix the oil into the  dry ingredients. When most of the dry ingredients have been blended with the oil, add in the four eggs (beaten, first) and then the water.

Mix until all ingredients are well blended, then stir in the pumpkin. Mix thoroughly.

Grease and flour two loaf pans. Divide the mixture evenly between the two pans and cook for 60 to 70 minutes at 350 degrees.

Spicy Pumpkin Muffins

Recipe adapted from Healthier Muffins: A Healthier Food Choice for Your Family and Your Heart, by Elizabeth Cox, Rolex Printing, 1997.

1 cup unbleached flour

1/2 cup whole wheat flour

1/4 cup soya or unbleached flour

1/4 cup brown sugar

3 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon allspice

1/4 teaspoon mace

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

2/3 cup skim milk

1/2 cup pumpkin

1/4 cup vegetable oil

2 egg whites

1 teaspoon vanilla

In a large bowl, combine flours, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, allspice, mace and cloves. Set aside.

In a separate bowl, combine milk, pumpkin, oil, egg whites and vanilla until well-blended.

Pour wet ingredients over dry ingredients stirring just until moistened.

Fill greased or lined muffin cups 3/4 full.

If desired, top with brown sugar.

Bake for 30 minutes at 400 degrees.

(Notes: Just in case you’re not sure, yes, you do desire the brown sugar topping. It melts and crystallizes into a crunchy, almost candy-like topper for the spicy muffin.)

Mini Pumpkin Pies with Brown Sugar and Nut Crust

Adapted from the “deep-dish pumpkin pie” recipe in All-Butter Fresh Cream Sugar-Packed No Holds-Barred Baking Book, by Judy Rosenberg, Workman Publishing, 1991.

For crust

1 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cup ground nuts

1/3 cup brown sugar

6 tablespoons butter, chilled and cut into pieces

2 tablespoons cold water

Mix flour, ground nuts (walnut, pecan or hazelnut works best—nuts should be the consistency of oily wheat flour) and brown sugar. Mix together with a pastry blender, a whisk or two forks for best results.

Cut in butter using forks or pastry blender. Mush together butter until mixture looks like small peas.

Add water and continue to work with forks or pastry blender until dough forms a ball.

Grease a muffin tin.

Pull off pieces of dough about the size of a golf ball.

Shape dough into the muffin cups. Be careful not to make bottoms too thin.

Before adding pie filling, you can cook crusts for five minutes in a 350 degree oven but it isn’t completely necessary.

(Notes: I can up with this crust on the fly when I decided I just couldn’t face a boring flour crush but didn’t have the graham crackers for anything more interesting. Luckily, this ratio of ingredients worked but you might need to play around with it a bit to get to do what you want. Also, though the crush recipe produces about a dozen mini crusts, the pie filling recipe produces at least twice that much filling.)

For filling

1 1/4 cups (one 15-ounce can) pumpkin puree

1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons dark brown sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1 teaspoon ground cloves

1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger

1/4 teaspoon salt

3 tablespoons molasses

1 1/4 cups evaporated milk

3 large eggs

Preheat oven to 375

Place the pumpkin, brown sugar, spices, and salt in a large mixing bowl and blend with a whisk.

Add the molasses, milk and the eggs; stir vigorously with the whisk until smooth.

Pour the filling into the pie shell.

Mini-pies cook in about 45 to 55 minutes. Full-sized pies cook in about an hour.

(Notes: The filling as works well with a 9-inch graham cracker crust. For a serious sugar rush, serve with vanilla bean ice cream.

On the spices, the difference between pre-ground spices from the supermarket and spices you grind yourself is like, to steal a line from comedian Larry Miller, the difference between shooting a bullet and throwing it. The pie comes alive with freshly ground spice—it’s an extra five minutes (or less) but it makes a world of difference in the end product.)

- Amy Diaz

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