What autumn staple can be sweet, savory or scary?
If you guessed pumpkin, you are correct.
Long touted for its role in jack-o'-lanterns and Thanksgiving pies, pumpkin is being stretched beyond the standard limits thanks to creative minds and a multifaceted nature.
"It's an outstanding fall flavor," said Alex Canale, chef/owner at Chato Brasserie. "Pumpkin's very versatile so you can go in multiple directions."
This autumn, Chato Brasserie is featuring a specialty cocktail called Whiskey Pumpkin Smash. It calls for fresh pumpkin, which is juiced, then topped with WhipperSnapper rye whiskey and finished with toasted pumpkin seeds.
"It's a nice roundness of fall flavors," Canale said. "You get that sweet earthiness out of the pumpkin."
He said there has also been discussion about introducing a pumpkin gnocchi to the menu.
At Cafe on the Corner on Lookout Mountain, Ruth Oehmig has created savory pumpkin soup, finished with a dash of cream.
"Depending on the direction I'm going in," she said, "I'll put some spices in, like curry or nutmeg."
Oehmig also uses pumpkin in desserts. She has created a pumpkin cheesecake, as well as a pumpkin bourbon mousse. The mousse, she said, is her favorite. "It's ridiculous, it's so good."
Local brewery Moccasin Bend Brewing Co. has created a pumpkin beer, and pumpkin cupcakes are cropping up at Whipped Cupcakes and Good Dog.
Recently, Starbucks made national headlines when The Wall Street Journal reported a shortage of pumpkin spice lattes at selected stores across the country.
In addition to their autumnal flavor and versatility, pumpkins have inherent health benefits as well. One cup of pumpkin contains 3 grams of fiber and more than 200 percent of the daily requirement of vitamin A.
According to the National Cancer Institute, pumpkins contain high levels of beta carotene, a common antioxidant that can help reduce the risk of cancer. Pumpkin is also a good source of potassium and vitamins E, C and K.
Pumpkin Cheesecake Brownies
For brownie batter:
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
4 ounces (4 squares) unsweetened chocolate, finely chopped
2/3 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
For cream cheese layer:
1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup pumpkin purée (not pumpkin pie filling)
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1 tablespoon unbleached all-purpose flour
Heat oven to 325 degrees. Adjust oven rack to bottom third of oven. Line an 8-inch square baking pan with heavy-duty aluminum foil, making sure that foil is tucked into all the corners and that there is at least 1 inch overhanging top of pan on all sides. Spray foil with nonstick cooking spray.
To make brownies: Combine butter and chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl, and microwave on high until almost melted. Whisk until smooth, and set aside to cool.
Combine flour, baking powder and salt in a small mixing bowl.
Whisk together sugar and eggs in a large mixing bowl. With a wooden spoon, stir in chocolate mixture and vanilla. Stir in flour mixture until just incorporated. Spread in an even layer into prepared pan.
To make the cheesecake: Combine cream cheese and sugar in a medium mixing bowl. With an electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat mixture until very smooth. Add pumpkin, egg and vanilla, and beat again until smooth. Stir in salt, cinnamon, ginger and flour. Spread cream cheese mixture over brownie batter, and smooth with a spatula to create an even layer.
Bake brownies in bottom third of the oven until they are set around the edges but still a little wobbly in center, 45 to 50 minutes. Let cool completely in pan on a wire rack.
Cover with plastic wrap, taking care that plastic doesn't touch surface of brownies. Refrigerate until completely chilled, at least 6 hours. Grasping overhanging foil on either side of pan, lift out brownies and place them on a cutting board. Cut into 16 squares. Pumpkin Cheesecake Brownies will keep in refrigerator in an airtight container for up to 5 days. Makes 16 squares.
Source: Lauren Chattman, Newsday
Pumpkin-Cranberry Cake with Crunchy Pumpkin Seed Topping (Streusel)
This cake is baked in a springform pan, so there is no messy unmolding and the pumpkin seed topping stays in place.
For pumpkin seed topping:
6 tablespoons packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 cup unsalted pumpkin seeds
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 3/4 cups unbleached flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 1/4 cups sugar
3 large eggs
1 cup canned pumpkin purée
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup milk
1 cup dried sweetened cranberries
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9-inch round springform pan with nonstick cooking spray.
To make streusel: Combine brown sugar, flour, cinnamon and pumpkin seeds in a mixing bowl. Work butter pieces into mixture with your fingers, making coarse crumbs. Refrigerate until ready to use.
To make cake: Combine flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, salt, cloves and nutmeg in a medium mixing bowl.
Combine butter and sugar in a large mixing bowl, and cream with an electric mixer on medium-high speed until fluffy, about 3 minutes, scraping down sides of bowl.
With mixer on medium-low speed, add eggs, one at a time, scraping down sides of bowl after each addition. Stir in pumpkin purée and vanilla. Stir in milk.
Turn mixer to low speed and add flour mixture, 1/2 cup at a time, scraping down sides of bowl after each addition. Stir in cranberries.
Scrape batter into prepared pan and smooth top with a rubber spatula. Sprinkle streusel topping over batter. Bake cake until it is firm to the touch and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 50 to 55 minutes. Place pan on wire rack and cool completely.
Release the sides of the pan, cut into wedges, and serve. Store leftover cake at room temperature, wrapped in plastic, for up to 3 days. Makes 8 to 10 servings.
Source: Lauren Chattman, Newsday
Pumpkins and lentils in tomato sauce
6 cups (half a medium pumpkin) pumpkin (peeled, deseeded and cut into cubes)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cups tomatoes, peeled and chopped
2 cups lentils, washed
5 cups water
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1/2 teaspoon allspice
Sauté pumpkin cubes in olive oil until they are soft and slightly golden brown. Remove from pot; set aside.
In the same pot, sauté onions until they are soft and translucent.
Add the chopped tomatoes and lentils, and cook on medium heat for 5 minutes, while stirring.
Add water, reduce heat and cook for 40 minutes or until the lentils are done (you can tell by tasting a few). You may need to add more water, depending on how much water your lentils will take up while cooking.
Add the pumpkin, tomato paste, allspice and salt, and cook for 10 minutes.
Sprinkle with parsley, drizzle with a little lemon juice and serve with pita bread and olives.
Contact Holly Leber at email@example.com or 423-757-6391. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/hollyleber. Subscribe to her on Facebook at facebook.com/holly.j.leber.
Holly Leber is a reporter and columnist for the Life section. She has worked at the Times Free Press since March 2008. Holly covers “everything but the kitchen sink" when it comes to features: the arts, young adults, classical music, art, fitness, home, gardening and food. She writes the popular and sometimes-controversial column Love and Other Indoor Sports. Holly calls both New York City and Saratoga Springs, NY home. She earned a bachelor of arts ...