The Food Issue

Pumpkin harvest

Six chefs share their recipes – some sweet, some savory – for the season's biggest flavor.

Pumpkin recipe (Globe photo / Jim Scherer)
By Lisa Zwirn
November 7, 2010

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Roasted Pumpkin With Cranberries and Sage Brown-Sugar Butter Serves 6 to 8

Chef Michael Scelfo of the Russell House Tavern in Harvard Square likes this dish as a main course, or served alongside poultry or pork.

1 3-pound sugar pumpkin

4 cloves garlic, smashed

2 shallots, halved

2 cinnamon sticks, broken in half

2 bay leaves

1½ cups fresh cranberries

½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter

½ cup dark brown sugar

8 sage leaves, coarsely chopped

Salt and pepper

1 tablespoon olive oil

Set the oven to 375 degrees. Halve the pumpkin and scoop out the seeds and fibers. In a large roasting pan, pour about ½ inch of water, and add the garlic, shallots, cinnamon, and bay leaves. Place the pumpkin, cut sides down, in the pan and cover tightly with foil.

Bake until the pumpkin is tender when pricked with a fork, 50 to 60 minutes. When cool enough to handle, skin the pumpkin and cut into 1½- to 2-inch chunks. Place the pumpkin in a large bowl. Add the cranberries.

Increase the oven temperature to 450 degrees. In a saucepan, stir the butter, brown sugar, and sage over moderate heat. Simmer gently for 1 minute or until the sugar is dissolved. Pour the butter mixture over the pumpkin and cranberries and toss gently. Season with ½ teaspoon salt and pepper to taste.

Empty and wipe out the roasting pan, and brush with oil. Transfer the pumpkin mixture to the pan and bake until bubbling hot, 12 to 15 minutes. Serve hot or warm.

Pumpkin and Swiss Chard Tagine Serves 6 to 8

Chef Alia Radjeb Meddeb, owner of the Baraka Cafe in Cambridge’s Central Square, recommends braising this stew in a clay pot or a tagine, and serving it over rice or couscous.

1 5-pound baking pumpkin

2 bunches Swiss chard, thick stems cut out, leaves torn or cut into 3-inch pieces

Peel of ½ lemon, cut into strips

1/3cup olive oil

1 large onion, finely chopped

½ tablespoon turmeric

1 cup chopped cilantro

1 15-ounce can crushed tomatoes

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper, or more, to taste

Salt and black pepper

3 cups cooked dried chickpeas (or 2 15-ounce cans)

½ cup chopped parsley

Set the oven at 350 degrees. Halve the pumpkin and scoop out the seeds and fibers. Place the pumpkin, cut sides down, on a baking sheet. Bake until the pumpkin is just tender when pricked with a fork, 30 to 40 minutes. When cool enough to handle, skin the pumpkin and cut into 2-inch chunks.

In a pot of boiling water, cook the chard for 1 minute. Drain in a colander and set aside.

In a small saucepan, bring 1 inch of water to a boil. Add the lemon peel and simmer 1 minute. Drain and repeat. (Blanching removes the bitterness.) Drain and set aside.

Increase the oven temperature to 400 degrees. In a large Dutch oven or flameproof casserole, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until it starts to turn golden, 10 to 12 minutes. Stir in the turmeric and ½ cup of the cilantro. Add the tomatoes, cinnamon, cayenne, 2 teaspoons salt, and ½ teaspoon black pepper and simmer gently for 10 minutes. Stir in the pumpkin, chard, lemon peel, chickpeas, and 2½ cups of water. Transfer the stew to a tagine or a clay pot, if using; otherwise cover the cooking pot and place it in the oven. Bake until bubbling hot, about 45 minutes, stirring halfway through cooking time.

Stir in the remaining ½ cup of cilantro and the parsley. The stew shouldn’t be soupy, but if it needs more liquid, add a little water. Taste for seasoning and adjust as needed. Serve hot.

Pumpkin, Leek, and Smoked Cheddar Strata Serves 8 to 10

JP’s Centre Street Cafe owner Felicia Sanchez makes a different strata every weekend. Since the restaurant always has Iggy’s dinner rolls on hand, that’s the bread she uses, but you can use any crusty, chewy loaf.

1 2¼-pound baking pumpkin

1 bunch kale, stems removed and leaves torn

1 tablespoon olive oil

3 leeks, white and light-green parts only, sliced into thin half-moons

6 Iggy’s dinner rolls or 1 16-inch French baguette, cut into 1½-inch pieces (about 8 packed cups)

10 ounces smoked cheddar cheese, shredded

8 eggs

3 cups whole milk

1 cup heavy cream

Salt and pepper

Set the oven at 350 degrees. Halve the pumpkin and scoop out the seeds and fibers. Place the pumpkin, cut sides down, on a baking sheet. Bake until the pumpkin is tender when pricked with a fork, 30 or 40 minutes. When cool enough to handle, skin the pumpkin and cut into ¾-inch chunks. Measure out 3 cups of pumpkin for the strata and set aside. (Maintain the oven temperature.)

In a large skillet, with 1 inch of boiling water, cook the kale, stirring occasionally, until just tender, 3 to 5 minutes. Drain in a colander and refresh under cold water. Squeeze the kale to remove the water, then chop coarsely. Wipe out the skillet. Heat the oil over moderate heat, then cook the leeks until softened, about 8 minutes.

In a very large bowl, combine the bread, pumpkin, kale, leeks, and cheese. In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs. Whisk in the milk, cream, 1 teaspoon salt, and ½ teaspoon pepper. Pour the egg mixture into the bowl with the bread and stir to moisten all the bread.

Transfer the strata mixture to an ungreased 9-by-13-by-2-inch baking dish. Let stand at room temperature for 15 minutes. (Or chill, covered, for up to 12 hours. Let stand at room temperature for about 30 minutes before baking.)

Bake the strata at 350 degrees for 20 minutes. Remove the dish from the oven and stir, moving the outer edges to the center and the less-cooked center to the edges. Return the strata to the oven and bake until set in the center and golden, about 40 minutes more. Let stand for 5 to 10 minutes before serving.

Sugar Pumpkin Creme Caramel Serves 8

Autumn is when Elaine Stella, pastry chef of Harvest in Harvard Square, whips up some of her favorite desserts. “I like roasting sugar pumpkins and using all the wintry spices.” Pomegranate makes a pretty garnish.

For the caramel ½ cup sugar

2 tablespoons water

Place 8 ¾- or 1-cup ramekins in a roasting pan that is at least 2 inches deep. In a medium saucepan, heat the sugar and water over medium heat, stirring with a wooden spoon just until the sugar dissolves. Bring to a boil. Boil without stirring, brushing down the sides of the pan with a pastry brush dipped in water to prevent sugar crystals from forming and swirling the pan occasionally, until the caramel turns deep golden brown, about 5 to 7 minutes. Pour the hot caramel into the ramekins, about ½ tablespoon in each. The caramel will harden.

For the pumpkin custard 1 2-pound sugar pumpkin or 1 cup canned pumpkin puree

1½ cups whole milk

1½ cups heavy cream

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

¼ teaspoon ground allspice

1/8 teaspoon ground ginger

1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

7 large eggs

1 cup sugar

¼ teaspoon salt

Set the oven at 350 degrees. Halve the pumpkin and scoop out the seeds and fibers. Place the pumpkin, cut sides down, on a baking sheet. Bake until the pumpkin is soft when pressed, about 40 minutes. Cool for about 15 minutes, then peel off the skin. Place the flesh in a food processor and puree until smooth. You’ll need 1 cup of puree for the custard. (Reserve the remaining puree for another use.) Decrease the oven temperature to 325 degrees. Fill a teakettle or pitcher with hot water and set aside.

In a saucepan, whisk together the milk, cream, the 1 cup of pumpkin puree, cinnamon, allspice, ginger, and cloves. Heat just until it begins to bubble around the edge. Remove from the heat and pour the pumpkin mixture through a fine mesh strainer set over a bowl. Use a firm rubber spatula to force the pumpkin puree through the strainer. Discard any remaining solids.

In a large bowl, whisk the eggs. Whisk in the sugar and salt. Slowly add the warm pumpkin-cream mixture, whisking constantly.

Using a ladle, divide the custard among the ramekins. Place the roasting pan in the middle of the oven. Pour enough hot water into the pan to come halfway up the sides of the ramekins, taking care not to splash any water into the ramekins. Bake the custards until set around the edges and only slightly wobbly in the centers, 35 to 40 minutes. Carefully remove the pan from the oven, and let the custards sit in the water for 10 minutes. Using tongs, lift custards from the pan and cool on a rack.

Chill the custards for at least 2 hours. (Can be made 1 day ahead; cover loosely with plastic wrap and refrigerate, then let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes before serving.) To serve, run a knife around the edge of each custard and invert onto dessert plates.

Roasted Pumpkin Pie Serves 8

Peter McCarthy, chef and co-owner of EVOO in Cambridge’s Kendall Square, likes gently spiced pumpkin pie: “You can taste the pumpkin.”

For the crust 1½ cups flour, and more for rolling

2 teaspoons sugar

½ teaspoon salt

½ cup (1 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch pieces

3 tablespoons (or more)

cold water

In a food processor, combine the flour, sugar, and salt. Add the butter and pulse about 10 times or until the mixture looks crumbly. Add the water and pulse just until small, moist clumps form, adding a little more water, as needed. Turn the dough out onto a sheet of plastic wrap and form into a disk. Wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour.

Set the oven to 400 degrees. On a floured surface, roll out the dough into a 12-inch round. Transfer it to 9-inch pie dish, keeping the edge of the crust higher than the rim of the dish. Crimp the edge and chill uncovered for 15 minutes.

Gently press a sheet of foil, shiny side down, onto the crust. Bake for 10 minutes. Remove the foil, and if the crust has puffed, gently prick it 2 or 3 times with a fork, then press down gently. Return the crust, uncovered, to the oven and bake until it looks dry and pale golden, 4 to 5 minutes more.

For the filling 1 3-pound baking pumpkin or 2 cups pumpkin puree

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

1 cup sugar

¼ cup bourbon

1 tablespoon molasses

3 eggs and 1 egg yolk, lightly beaten

2/3cup milk

½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

¼ teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Set the oven at 350 degrees. Halve the pumpkin and scoop out the seeds and fibers. Place the pumpkin, cut sides down, on a baking sheet. Bake the pumpkin until tender when pricked with a fork, about 40 minutes. While still hot, scoop the pumpkin flesh into a food processor and puree until smooth.

Transfer 2 cups of pumpkin puree to a large bowl and stir in the butter so it melts. Whisk in the sugar, bourbon, molasses, eggs and egg yolk, milk, nutmeg, salt, and vanilla until smooth.

Carefully pour the pumpkin mixture into the partially baked crust. Take care not to pour it too high or it will flow over the edge of the crust. (You might have some custard remaining; pour it into a ramekin and bake until set, 25 to 30 minutes, or discard.) Bake the pie until the center is just set, 45 to 50 minutes. Cool the pie on a rack. Serve at room temperature or chilled.

Pumpkin Ice Cream Gingersnap Sandwiches Makes 18 to 20

Chris Douglass, chef-owner of Ashmont Grill in Dorchester, “loves the combination of ginger and pumpkin.”

For the ice cream 6 egg yolks

½ cup dark brown sugar

½ cup light brown sugar

½ teaspoon salt

3 cups heavy cream

1½ cups whole milk

1½ cups pumpkin puree

¼ cup bourbon

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground ginger

In a large mixing bowl, whisk the egg yolks, dark and light brown sugars, and salt.

In a heavy saucepan, heat the cream and milk until it begins to bubble around the edges. Very slowly whisk the hot cream mixture into the egg mixture. Return the cream-egg mixture to the saucepan and cook over moderate heat, stirring often, until it’s thick enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon, about 8 to 10 minutes. Set a fine mesh strainer over a bowl and strain the custard. Refrigerate until cold.

In a small bowl, combine the pumpkin puree, bourbon, cinnamon, and ginger. Stir the pumpkin mixture into the cooled custard. Freeze in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Transfer the ice cream to a covered container and freeze until firm, about 2 hours.

For the gingersnaps 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened

2 cups granulated sugar

1 egg

¼ cup molasses

2½ cups flour

1½ tablespoons freshly grated ginger

4 teaspoons ground ginger

2 teaspoons baking soda

¼ teaspoon salt

In a large bowl, with an electric mixer, beat the butter and 1½ cups sugar until fluffy. Beat in the egg and molasses.

In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, fresh and ground ginger, baking soda, and salt. With the beaters on low, mix the dry ingredients into the butter mixture until fully blended. Chill the dough until firm, at least 2 hours.

Set the oven at 350 degrees. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Place the remaining ½ cup sugar in a bowl. Roll the dough into 1-inch balls. Roll these in the sugar, then place about 2 inches apart on the prepared sheet. Bake until golden, about 12 minutes. Transfer the cookies to a rack to cool.

To assemble the ice cream sandwiches: Scoop medium-size balls of softened ice cream onto the bottom sides of half of the cookies. Cover each one with another cookie, bottom side down, and press down lightly. Freeze for at least 30 minutes before serving.

Lisa Zwirn is a regular contributor to the Globe Magazine’s food issues. Send comments to