By Rochelle Bilow
This time of year, it seems we can’t escape the
wrath reach of “pumpkin spice” (that’s, generally speaking, a heady mix of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, allspice, and/or cloves) wafting through the air. It’s in our marshmallows, it’s in our Pop-Tarts, hell; it’s even in our vodka. While we’re all for the occasional baked good made with a dash of spice mix and pumpkin—key ingredient here is pumpkin, folks—we’re much more interested in pumpkin that tends toward cheesy, spicy, savory, and herbaceous. There’s a whole world of pumpkin cooking out there, and it goes way beyond the latte. This is the real pumpkin spice.
Let’s start slowly, here. You’ve probably encountered pumpkin and nuts with fairly high frequency—it’s a common pairing that works well in sweet baked goods. But pumpkin, seeds, and nuts are just as happy together without a hit of sugar. We like this savory, salty seed-and-nut mix that’s spiked with curry and cayenne. A drizzle of agave keeps things balanced, but the flavor profile is decidedly savory.
Pumpkin seeds don’t have to be sweet—these are flavored with cayenne.
When we say “spice,” we’re talking about all of the flavorings that add depth, and complexity—minus you-know-who, who’s in time-out next to the rolling pin. We’re talking chiles, and we’re talking heat. This spiced pumpkin masala skips the cinnamon and flavors pumpkin with an Indian-inspired mix of garlic, garam
masala, turmeric, cumin, and coriander. The trick to well-developed flavors is toasting the spices in a hot pan before adding the vegetables: It does wonders for the finished dish. Taking a page from Japanese cooking, this pumpkin soup recipe (you can swap it out for kabocha squash, if you’d like) is flavored with mellow white miso and a sesame-spiked spice blend called togarashi. If you’re aiming for dinner in a hurry, try a quickpumpkin stir-fry, made fiery hot and funky with red chiles and oyster sauce. We’re also particularly fond of this pork and squash stew, which gets its kick from two types of chiles—chiles de árbol and guajillo—and simmers together over into a hearty, healthy one-pot meal. The recipe calls for delicata and kabocha squash, but you could certainly use pumpkin.
Pumpkin and cheese like each other a lot. Real cheese! The aged stuff! Not just the cream cheese slathered on that pumpkin spice-flavored bagel at your corner coffee shop. For example, this pumpkin agnolotti is flavored with sharp Parmesan and lemon zest, with nary a cinnamon stick in sight. Oh, and this pumpkin soup? It’s made with melty, oozy Gruyère—and it stays the savory course with pimento d’Espelette, bay leaf, and fennel. If you happen to have any Gruyère leftover, might we suggest this thyme cheese ball? You’ll notice that pumpkin makes its appearance on the cheese ball in the form of toasted pepitas. Pumpkin quesadillas? Why not! Black bean enchiladas smothered in pumpkin sour cream? Be still, our hearts.
This pumpkin and Parmesan agnolotti will make you forget all about cream cheese and pumpkin muffins.
We’re looking primarily to curries for pumpkin-and-coconut inspiration. A good curry is well-balanced with toasted spices, a little (or a lot) of heat, and sweet, cooling coconut milk to tie it all together. Our test kitchen is a-okay with both canned pumpkin and coconut milk. This pumpkin shrimp curry uses both, and is ready in about 30 minutes. Or go nutty with a pumpkin and cashew dish—it calls for a homemade curry, which allows you to adjust the heat level to your liking. Both are fantastic over rice, and reheated the next day. Those pressed for time can still get the effect—this recipe for Thai-spiced pumpkin soup calls for canned coconut milk and pre-made red curry paste. Jamaican cuisine also lends itself well to coconut curries, like this one that calls for smoking hot Scotch bonnet chiles.
Baking with pumpkin isn’t off-limits, but these days we’re more excited about unexpected spices and flavor combinations than we are about Cinnamon & Co. This pumpkin flan is flavored with fragrant cardamom, star anise, and orange zest; heavy cream and squash purée add a natural and nuanced sweetness. Never paired pumpkin with pineapple? This upside-down cake gets its sweet notes from a double hit of the tropical fruit. We’re also mildly obsessed with hobakjuk, a Korean rice pudding thickened and sweetened with cooked pumpkin.
Cooked pumpkin is creamy and naturally sweet—it’s almost always made better with the addition of fresh herbs, which lighten and brighten the dish. Case-in-point? This roasted sugar pumpkin gussied up with tangy-sweet balsamic vinegar and a healthy handful of torn mint leaves. The folks over at Food52 also put their heads together to brainstorm the most pumpkin-friendly herbs. Topping their list? Sage, thyme, rosemary, and marjoram.