The humble pumpkin

While jack-o’-lanterns will grace the stoops of many homes this evening, spooking trick-or-treaters, the humble pumpkin also deserves to be front and center in the kitchen this time of year.

While jack-o’-lanterns will grace the stoops of many homes this evening, spooking trick-or-treaters, the humble pumpkin also deserves to be front and center in the kitchen this time of year. The thick, delicately flavored flesh of the pumpkin lends itself to heavy-handed cooks and bakers–a perfect blank canvas for holiday spices such as cloves, nutmeg and allspice. Pumpkin is a star in soups of all varieties, soaking up the herbal flavors of Thai, Italian and south-of-the-border cuisines. And then, there are the seeds. Worth cutting a pumpkin open for, these tiny gems explode with nutty flavor when toasted. Toss a handful on top of a salad, process into a dressing or sauce, or eat out of hand-don’t even think of tossing these beauties away. Many people use canned pumpkin for their favorite desserts, and while perfectly acceptable, the flavor and texture of fresh pie pumpkins is a bit more delicate and sweet. It takes only a few minutes to scoop away the seeds and toss the large pieces into the oven, and you can toast the seeds at the same time. Here are a few recipes to try: Roasting your own pumpkin and toasting the seeds Buy a sugar or pie pumpkin (leave the carving pumpkins out on the porch). Cut in half lengthwise and remove stem and seeds. Roast cut-side down in a 350-degree oven on a cookie sheet lined with foil. When pulp is soft to the touch, remove from oven and let cool. Peel away skin, and puree pulp in food processor or blender until smooth. Toss seeds in sea salt and spread out in a single layer on a sheet of foil. Toast in a 350-degree oven until light brown. Pumpkin cheesecake This cheesecake is of the fluffy variety, with a slightly gooey crust. For the crust: 2 cups gingersnap cookies 1 cup brown sugar, packed 1/3 cup crystallized ginger chunks 1/2 stick butter, melted Process the cookies, ginger and sugar until broken down into small crumbs. Add melted butter and process briefly. Spray a nine-inch springform pan with nonstick spray, dust with flour and line bottom and sides with parchment paper. Press the crust mixture into the bottom and up sides of pan, about three-quarters of an inch. Wrap outside of pan with one large piece of heavy-duty foil. For the filling: 2 pounds cream cheese, room temperature 1 1/4 cups sugar 1 cup pumpkin puree 3 tablespoons pumpkin pie spice, dissolved in 3 tablespoons milk 1 teaspoon vanilla extract 4 eggs plus 1 egg yolk, at room temperature Preheat oven to 350 degrees. With a mixer or by hand, beat the cream cheese and sugar until smooth. Add the pumpkin puree, spices and vanilla, and mix. Add the eggs and the yolk, one at a time, mixing slowly until barely combined. Pour into prepared pan. Bake in a water bath for about 45 minutes, or until center no longer wobbles when shaken gently. Turn off heat and allow to rest in oven, propping the door open to release the heat. Chill for at least six hours, or preferably overnight, before serving. Pumpkin bread with chocolate or nuts Pour batter into smaller loaf pans or cupcake tins for individual servings. Garnish with hot fudge for a more formal dessert. 2 cups all-purpose flour 1 cup whole-wheat flour 1/2 teaspoon salt 1 tablespoon baking powder 2 teaspoons cinnamon 1 teaspoon ginger Pinch of cloves Pinch of nutmeg 3/4 cup dark-chocolate chips or toasted nuts 1 1/2 cups sugar 2 eggs 1 stick (1/4 cup) butter, melted 1 1/4 cups milk 2 1/2 cups pumpkin puree Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat the inside of a nine-by-five-inch loaf pan with nonstick spray or melted butter, and dust with flour. Mix dry ingredients (first nine on list) in a large bowl. In a medium bowl, combine sugar, butter, eggs, pumpkin and milk. Pour into dry ingredients and mix gently until just combined. Pour into prepared container. Bake for 35 minutes or until middle springs back when touched gently. Pumpkin and green chile stew Serves six to eight This makes a full meal on chilly nights. Garnish with sour cream and a sprinkle of brown sugar. 2 tablespoons butter 1 tablespoon ground cumin 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon 1 tablespoon salt 2 teaspoons pepper 1 leek, white part only, cut lengthwise and into half-inch pieces 1/2 cup red wine 1/2 cup celery, cut into half-inch pieces 1/2 cup carrot, cut into half-inch pieces 1/2 cup potato or other root vegetable, cut into half-inch chunks 2 1/2 cups pumpkin, peeled and cut into three-quarter-inch chunks 1 quart chicken or vegetable stock 1 cup green roasted chilies of your choice, peeled and seeded, diced into half-inch pieces In a large soup pot, sauté the leeks in the butter over medium heat until translucent. Add the spices and seasoning, and cook a few minutes until fragrant, stirring often. Add the wine, and allow to reduce almost completely. Add all the vegetables (except for the chilies) and stir occasionally for a few minutes. Add the stock and cover. When the soup comes to a boil, reduce heat to low. Simmer until all vegetables are tender. Turn off heat and add the chilies. Allow to sit for half an hour before serving.