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Pumpkins on a roll this season

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It’s that time of year when pumpkin spice invades everything from cookies and coffees to household goods, and piles of gourds sit proudly in front of every market.

Here in Sonoma County, it also means a multitude of pumpkin patches and fall harvest celebrations — almost too many to choose from. And at the center of all this is the star of the season: the pumpkin.

Pumpkins are actually a type of winter squash (and related to cucumbers), and come in all shapes and sizes, from the behemoth prize-winning species like Atlantic Giant right down to the tiny orange and white pumpkins often referred to as Jack Be Littles. There are Halloween jack-o’-lanterns, elegant Cinderella pumpkins, blue-green Jarrahdale varieties, and even warty multi-colored options. All pumpkins are edible but you wouldn’t want to eat just any of them. Large pumpkins tend to be less sweet, and their flesh can turn stringy and watery when cooked. Save those for carving into light-up spectacles perfect for scaring away the ghouls of All Hallows’ Eve (bonus: save the seeds for roasting, see recipe below).

Smaller pumpkins, ideally in the 3- to 8-pound range, have sweeter, smoother flesh ideal for roasting or pureeing. The most common variety you’ll find in supermarkets or at local pumpkin patches are sugar pie pumpkins. It’s worth seeking out other good cooking pumpkins too — especially if you grow your own or frequent local farmers’ market — including New England pie pumpkins, Long Island cheese pumpkins, the aforementioned Cinderella pumpkins, Fairytale pumpkins, and some newer varieties such as Autumn Gold, Baby Pam and Ghost Rider.

Of course, in a pinch, butternut squash makes a terrific alternative in any pumpkin recipe, including those listed in this article (yes, even the pumpkin pie).

You might be surprised to learn that most canned pumpkin puree is made from a winter squash called Winter Dickinson that looks like a cross between a pumpkin and a butternut squash, and is even in the same species as butternut (C. moschata).

So why not just pick up a can of pumpkin puree at the store and forego all this extra effort? Well, fresh pumpkin puree is far more flavorful — especially if it’s made from pumpkins you and your family gather yourself during a fun-filled autumn day at the pumpkin patch.

And it really isn’t that hard! You’ll be rewarded for your effort when you transform it into bread, pie, cake, soup, muffins or any other pumpkin-alicious recipe you love.

Making pumpkin puree

To make pumpkin puree that can be used in myriad recipes, first select a baking pumpkin that is heavy for its size, without any noticeable bruises or soft spots.

You’ll want to stick to the 3- to 8-pound range; bigger pumpkins tend to be less sweet and creamy and can get all weird and stringy.

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Use a big, heavy knife to take off the stem end, then use a vegetable peeler to peel the pumpkin.

Cut the pumpkin in half lengthwise. Use a large metal spoon to scoop out the seeds. Save the seeds.

Then cut each scooped-out pumpkin into wedges, then into chunks. Place the pieces on a large rimmed baking sheet in an even layer. Bake until completely soft, about 40 minutes. Set aside to cool slightly.

Transfer the cooked pumpkin to a food processor and process until smooth, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula.

Voila! You have fresh, homemade pumpkin puree.

You can use it in a recipe, or transfer it to an airtight container or freezer bag and freeze it until you are ready to whip up the pumpkin recipe of your dreams.

Roasting pumpkin seeds

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Pick out and discard any stringy or pulpy bits from the seeds.

Rinse and drain the seeds in a colander, then transfer to a large rimmed baking sheet and blot dry with a paper towel (or set aside until dry). Drizzle the seeds with a little olive oil and season with salt (or other spices).

Spread the seeds into an even layer. Bake, stirring occasionally, until fragrant and toasty, about 25 minutes. \

Let cool, then enjoy.

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This curry was originally inspired by a recipe by esteemed British author Nigel Slater.

Over the years I’ve changed it from butternut squash simmered in the curry to roasted, spiced pumpkin, but you can use butternut squash in a pinch.

It’s a hearty, warming stew that just so happens to be vegan.

Add other veggies, such as handfuls of baby spinach or chopped cauliflower if you like (just simmer until tender). I love it on its own over rice, or served with a dollop of plain yogurt and some whole wheat naan bread.

Spiced Pumpkin Curry

Serves 4 to 6

1 sugar pie pumpkin (3 1/2 to 4 pounds)

— Olive oil

4 teaspoons ground coriander, divided

1/2 teaspoon crushed red chile flakes (or to taste)

— Kosher salt

1/2 large yellow onion, finely chopped

1 tablespoon peeled and grated fresh ginger

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 teaspoons ground turmeric

2 (15-ounce) cans garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed

— Juice of 1 lemon

1 (13-ounce) can coconut milk (not low-fat)

1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro, plus more for garnish

— Steamed basmati rice, for serving

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Cut off the stem end of the pumpkin, then use a vegetable peeler to peel the whole pumpkin.

Cut it in half and use a large metal spoon to scoop out the seeds. Cut the pumpkin flesh into 1-inch pieces and place on a large rimmed baking sheet.

Drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle with 2 teaspoons ground coriander, the red chile flakes, and 1 teaspoon salt.

Toss to coat evenly, then roast, turning once or twice, until tender and browned, about 35 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a large, heavy saucepan or Dutch oven, warm 2 tablespoons oil over medium heat.

Add the onion and cook, stirring, until starting to brown, about 10 minutes. Add the ginger and garlic and stir until fragrant, about 1 minute.

Add the turmeric and the remaining 2 teaspoons coriander and stir to combine.

Add 1 cup water, the garbanzo beans and the lemon juice, and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 15 minutes.

When the pumpkin is ready, add it to the garbanzo bean mixture and stir to combine.

Stir in the coconut milk and 1/4 cup cilantro and simmer gently for 15 minutes longer.

Serve over steamed rice, garnished with cilantro.

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The following two recipes are reprinted with permission from “Williams Sonoma Home Baked Comfort” by Kim Laidlaw (Weldon Owen, 2011).

Pumpkin Coffeecake with Brown Sugar-Pecan Streusel

Makes 1 9-inch coffee cake

For the streusel:

1/3 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

— Pinch of kosher salt

6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into small chunks

1 cup chopped pecans, lightly toasted (see note)

For the batter:

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 cup unsalted butter

1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar

2 large eggs

1/2 cup pumpkin puree (see recipe above)

1/2 cup sour cream

For the glaze:

1⁄2 cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted

1 teaspoon whole milk

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a 9-inch springform pan or a 9-inch cake pan with 3-inch sides.

To make the streusel: In a bowl, combine the flour, brown sugar, cinnamon, and salt. Toss in the butter and, using 2 table knives or a pastry cutter, cut it into the dry ingredients until the mixture looks like coarse crumbs. (Or you can whir the mixture in a food processor as I do.) Stir in the pecans.

To make the batter: In a bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and salt. In the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and brown sugar on medium-high speed until well combined.

Beat in the eggs, one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Add the pumpkin puree and sour cream and mix with the spatula.

Stir in the flour mixture. The batter will be quite thick. Spread half of the batter in the prepared pan.

Sprinkle half of the streusel over the batter. Dollop the remaining batter over the streusel and spread the thick batter as best you can. Top with the remaining streusel.

Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, about 50 minutes.

Let cool in the pan on a wire rack for about 15 minutes. Remove the sides from the pan and slide the cake onto the rack.

To make the glaze: In a small bowl, whisk together the confectioners’ sugar, milk, and vanilla. Drizzle over the top of the cake. Cut into thick wedges and serve with big steaming cups of coffee.

Baker’s note: To toast pecans, preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Spread the nuts out on a rimmed baking sheet and bake, stirring often, until fragrant and lightly toasted, about 10 minutes.

Maple Pumpkin Pie

Makes a 9-inch pie

— Single crust pie dough, homemade or purchased

1 1/2 cups pumpkin puree (see above)

2/3 cup firmly packed light brown sugar

1/3 cup maple syrup

2/3 cup whole milk

1/2 cup heavy cream

2 large eggs, lightly beaten

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground ginger

1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

— Whipped cream, for serving

Prepare the pie dough and chill as directed. On a lightly floured work surface, roll out the dough into a circle about 13 inches in diameter and 1/8 inch thick.

Line a deep, 9-inch pie pan with the dough. Trim the edges so they extend about 1/2 inch beyond the pan (don’t worry if the dough isn’t completely even).

Tuck the dough under itself to create a rim. Use your fingers or a fork to make a decorative rim. Chill in the freezer for about 20 minutes.

Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 400 degrees. Line the pie shell with foil and fill with pie weights or dried beans.

Bake until the crust starts to look dry, about 20 minutes. Remove the foil and weights and bake until the crust is just barely golden, about 5 minutes. Remove from the oven and reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees.

In a large bowl, whisk together the pumpkin, brown sugar, and maple syrup. In another bowl, whisk together the milk, cream, and eggs.

Whisk into the pumpkin mixture. Sift the flour, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and salt over the pumpkin mixture and whisk to combine.

Place the pie pan on a baking sheet. Pour the filling into the shell. Bake until the filling is just set and still jiggles very slightly in the center when gently moved, about one hour.

Let cool on a wire rack for at least one hour. Serve wedges of the pie with big spoonfuls of whipped cream.

Kim Laidlaw is a Petaluma-based food writer, recipe developer and cookbook producer. Reach her at kim@castironmedia.com