Pumpkins: Beyond the Pie | Interrogator and mirror
By Sarah Leah Chase
This “Good Dish” column originally appeared in the October 28, 2021 Inquirer and Mirror.
The current dubious obsession with pumpkin spice is believed to have started in 2003 when Starbuck’s launched a seasonal latte beverage flavored with traditional pumpkin pie seasonings of cinnamon, nutmeg and clove.
Although I love cooking with these three spices, I sincerely hope that the pumpkin spice flavor craze, which now kicks off in late August and continues through the official end of fall in December, will continue. is limited to lattes and does not extend to aromas. everything from microbrew beers and Cheerios to bagel shmears, pretzels and protein bars.
While I definitely avoid any product that says pumpkin spice, I have long loved using canned pumpkin puree in my fall and winter cooking. Having occasionally experimented with recipes that call for cooking with fresh pumpkin, I enthusiastically advertise canned pumpkin puree as one of the best convenience items sold in American supermarkets and happily relegate those pumpkins I can’t resist shopping at this time of year for decorative displays and the occasional carving of a Halloween pumpkin.
To be completely honest, though, I don’t think I’ve carved a jack-o’-lantern since my son went to college and there was simultaneously a significant drop in cheaters in our neighborhood.
While Halloween rituals in my family have gradually diminished, I now find the holidays present themselves as an opportunity to cook up some of my favorite pumpkin recipes. Fans often tell me that making a batch of pumpkin muffins with crystallized ginger from my “Nantucket Open-House Cookbook” (Workman, 1987) has become an annual tradition. I’m glad to know that the recipe has stood the test of time and I can’t help but point out that the muffins were perhaps ahead of their time as they contain this pumpkin spice trilogy of cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves plus an abundance of ginger, ground and crystallized. This is a bulk muffin recipe, but fans also tell me that they frequently freeze the extras and save them to serve on Thanksgiving morning as an easy treat amidst all the other kitchens that take usually tops the kitchen that day.
I tend to favor savory pumpkin dishes over sweet ones and one of my favorites is a rich polenta recipe featuring a can of unsweetened pumpkin puree and a decadent half cup of mascarpone cheese. If you’re serving this pumpkin polenta on the side, I like to top each serving with crumbled creamy Gorgonzola Dolce cheese and a scattering of toasted walnuts. It goes particularly well with all kinds of roast or grilled sausages as a final nod to Octoberfest celebrations.
If you’d rather skip the cheesy and nutty embellishments, use the enticing orange pumpkin polenta as a savory fall bed for a number of hearty stews or in place of pastas topped with meaty red tomato sauces such as Italian Sunday Sauce. or a homemade bolognese.
Pumpkin and Crystallized Ginger Muffins
1 can (15 ounces) unsweetened pumpkin puree
2 cups (cups) light brown sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted
4 large eggs
1/2 cup apple cider
3-1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons of yeast
1 teaspoon fine salt
4-1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
4-1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1 cup finely chopped crystallized ginger
- Preheat oven to 350 F. Place paper cups in 28 muffin cups.
- Combine pumpkin, brown sugar and melted butter in a large mixing bowl. Beat eggs, one at a time, until well incorporated. Add cider, stirring until smooth.
- Sift the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, ground ginger, nutmeg and cloves into another mixing bowl. Gradually stir flour mixture into pumpkin mixture until all ingredients are well blended. Stir in chopped crystallized ginger until evenly distributed.
- Pour the batter into the cups, filling each cup almost to the top. Bake muffins until puffed and golden on top and just cooked in center, 20 to 25 minutes. Serve hot with softened butter, if desired.
Makes 26-28 muffins.
5 cups whole milk
1 cup yellow cornmeal (not instant)
One can (15 ounces) unsweetened pumpkin puree
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1/2 cup mascarpone cheese
3 ounces crumbled Gorgonzola cheese or other creamy blue cheese (optional)
1/2 cup lightly toasted walnut halves, coarsely chopped (optional)
- In a heavy-bottomed two-quart saucepan or Dutch oven, slowly bring the milk to a boil over medium heat. Place the yellow cornmeal in a measuring cup with a pour spout. Using a whisk, slowly whisk the cornmeal into the hot milk, pouring in a thin but steady stream and whisking constantly to avoid lumps. Continue whisking until all the cornmeal is absorbed and the mixture is smooth.
- Lower the heat to low and continue cooking the polenta gently, stirring with a wooden spoon approximately every 10 minutes, for 1 hour. If polenta seems to be getting too thick at any point, dilute to desired consistency with a little milk or water. The ideal consistency should be similar to mashed potatoes.
- Stir the pumpkin purée into the polenta until well incorporated and continue cooking until heated through, six to eight minutes more. Season the polenta to taste with salt and pepper. Just before serving, stir in mascarpone until just incorporated. Spoon a mound of hot polenta onto each serving plate and garnish with crumbled gorgonzola and toasted walnuts, if desired. Serve immediately.
For 6 to 8 people.