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Pumpkin recipes to spice up spooky season

It's Halloween week. And for children — and the child within us all — that means lots of candy and all things sugar. But it's also pumpkin season. And pumpkin can be used for so much more than pie. Sweet and savory, pumpkin and winter squash (like butternut, buttercup, acorn) can be used to make soups, stews, risotto, bread, muffins, cookies, cakes and more.

I've spent the past few weeks experimenting with this meaty orange squash and developed three new favorite pumpkin dishes. The first is a big bowl of simmering hot soup. A ginger-miso broth is scented with cilantro and scallions and then simmered with slices of roasted pumpkin and mushrooms. Udon noodles are added — think of an autumnal riff on ramen. The second recipe is for pumpkin cookies, full of all the spices that define this season. And finally, a simple rolled pumpkin cake that's filled and topped with a cream cheese frosting and then sprinkled with pumpkin seeds and toasted walnuts.

Pumpkins are full of fiber, antioxidants and Vitamin A. Keep in mind when shopping for a pumpkin for cooking, always look for a sugar pumpkin, not a carving pumpkin. The gorgeous big carving pumpkins you see at pumpkin patches are not meant to be cooked. They tend to be fibrous, stringy and unappealing. Sugar pumpkins, or pie pumpkins, are generally smaller in size but sweet and hold up well to cooking. If you can't find a sugar pumpkin, substitute winter squash. They are perfectly interchangeable in all these recipes.

Make your own puree: Pumpkin or winter squash


  • Take a small pumpkin or squash (about 1 pound 12 ounces) and peel it with a wide-mouthed peeler. Cut down the center and remove all seeds and stringy inner portions. Cut the pumpkin meat into small cubes. Bring a medium pot of water to a rolling boil. Add squash cubes and cook for about 10 to 12 minutes, or until very tender when tested with a small sharp knife. Drain thoroughly. And then either mash in a bowl with a potato masher or place in a food processor or blender and puree until smooth. A 1 pound 12 ounce pumpkin or squash will yield about 2 1/4 cups squash puree. The puree can be covered and refrigerated for about 2 to 3 days. It can also be placed in a freezer bag and frozen for up to 2 months.
  • Roasted pumpkin and mushrooms in ginger-miso broth with scallions and cilantro

    Wedges of pumpkin are roasted and then served in a miso-rich broth scented with scallions and cilantro. The hot broth is then poured over udon noodles. You can easily substitute any variety of winter squash for the pumpkin. If you make the broth and roast the pumpkin and mushrooms ahead of time, you can put this hearty soup together in the time it takes to boil the noodles.

    Serves 2 main course portions or 4 smaller portions.


    Roast pumpkin, mushrooms and noodles

  • 1 pound sugar pumpkin or winter squash, peeled, deseeded and cut into 1/2-inch wide wedges
  • 1 tablespoon canola oil
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 3.5 ounces shiitake mushrooms, about 4 large, ends trimmed and cut in half
  • 5 ounces udon noodles
  • The miso broth

  • 1 tablespoon canola oil
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil or hot sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh ginger
  • 1 tablespoon fresh ginger cut into very thin matchsticks
  • 2 scallions, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • Dash hot pepper sauce or chili paste, to taste
  • 1 ½ tablespoons miso paste
  • 2 tablespoons fresh cilantro, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce or tamari
  • 4 cups vegetable or chicken broth
  • Garnish: Finely chopped fresh scallions and sprigs or coarsely chopped fresh cilantro


    Pumpkins and winter squash. (Kathy Gunst)
    Pumpkins and winter squash. (Kathy Gunst)

  • Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
  • Place the pumpkin wedges in a medium roasting pan or ovenproof skillet and toss with the oil, salt and pepper. Roast on the middle shelf for 15 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, make the broth: In a medium saucepan, heat the oil and sesame oil over moderate heat. Add the chopped and sliced ginger and cook for 10 seconds. Add the scallions and hot pepper paste and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Add the miso paste and use a kitchen spoon to spread it into the scallions and ginger to create a smooth paste. Add the cilantro, soy sauce or tamari, and the broth and bring to a boil over high heat. Use a whisk or kitchen spoon to make sure the miso is fully incorporated into the broth. Reduce the heat to low and simmer partially covered for about 10 minutes.
  • After 15 minutes of roasting time, stir the mushrooms into the pumpkin wedges and roast for another 10 minutes, or until the pumpkin feels just about tender when tested with a small, sharp knife. Remove from the oven and add half the pumpkin and mushrooms to the simmering broth. Set aside the remaining half. The recipe can be made 24 hours ahead of time up to this point: Cover the broth and the vegetables and refrigerate.
  • Meanwhile, just before serving: Bring a pot of salted water to boil. Cook the noodles for about 5 to 6 minutes, or until just tender. (They will continue to cook in the hot broth.) Drain. If you made the broth ahead of time bring it to a hearty simmer over medium-high heat.
  • To serve: Divide the noodles into two large or wide bowls. Divide the hot broth between the two bowls and then top with the remaining roasted pumpkin and mushrooms. Sprinkle the scallions and cilantro on top and serve piping hot.
  • Pumpkin, pistachio and pumpkin seed spice cookies

    The combination of pumpkin puree, spices, crunchy pumpkin seeds (pepitas) and pistachio nuts creates an unusual and winning cookie. The dough needs to sit in the refrigerator for at least one hour and up to 24 hours before baking so plan your time accordingly.

    Makes 12 cookies.


  • ½ cup pistachios or walnuts or almonds
  • 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour, 172 grams
  • ¾ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon fine salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 ½ teaspoons cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon allspice
  • 1 ¼ stick unsalted butter
  • ¾ cup light brown sugar
  • ¾ cup granulated sugar
  • 2 small or 1 large egg
  • ½ cup pumpkin puree, canned or see how to make your own puree above
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ½ cup salted pepitas, or toasted pumpkin seeds*
  • *Pumpkin seeds, also called pepitas, are available in grocery stores and health food shops


  • Toast the nuts: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the nuts on a cookie sheet and roast for about 6 minutes, or until they just begin to darken in color. Remove and coarsely chop; set aside.
  • In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, and salt. Stir in the ginger, cinnamon and allspice and set aside.
  • In a stand mixer or a large bowl with a handheld mixer, beat the butter with the brown sugar and white sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 to 4 minutes. Add the egg(s) and beat until fully incorporated. Add the pumpkin puree and vanilla extract and beat until incorporated. Add the flour mixture in thirds, beating well after each addition. Using a spatula fold in the toasted nuts and the pumpkin seeds.
  • Cover the dough and place in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour and up to 24 hours.
  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper. Use about 2 tablespoons of dough to form each cookie, making sure to leave plenty of room between cookies (they will spread as they bake). Use your hand to flatten the cookie down. Bake on the middle and upper shelves for about 12 to 15 minutes, alternating the cookie sheets after 6 minutes. Bake until just golden and crisp looking along the edges. Cool on the cookie sheets for 2 minutes then remove and cool the cookies on a cooling rack. The cookies will keep in a tightly covered tin or plastic container for several days.
  • Pumpkin spice roll cake with cream cheese frosting

    This elegant-looking cake requires very little work. No, seriously. I mean it.

    A pumpkin-flavored cake batter is baked in a sheet pan and then rolled up into a fat cigar shape. It cools in the refrigerator for an hour and is then filled and topped with a cream cheese frosting and decorated with walnuts and pumpkin seeds (pepitas). This is an adaptation of a recipe my friend Becky Schultze gave me many, many years ago.

    Serves 8.


    The pumpkin cake

  • About ½ cup confectioners' sugar, sifted
  • Canola oil for greasing the pan
  • 1 cup walnuts or your favorite nut
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • ¾ cup pumpkin puree, canned, or see how make your own puree above
  • 1 ½ teaspoons lemon juice
  • ¾ cup all-purpose flour, about 96 grams
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • ½ teaspoon fine salt
  • The cream cheese frosting and garnish

  • 8 ounces cream cheese, softened at room temperature
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • ¾ cup confectioners' sugar
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extra
  • ¼ cup toasted walnut halves or your favorite nut*
  • ¼ cup salted pumpkin seeds, (pepitas), optional*
  • *Pumpkin seeds, also called pepitas, are available in grocery stores and health food shops


  • Make the cake: Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Place the sifted confectioners' sugar on a clean tea towel. Lightly grease a jelly roll pan or half sheet pan, about 14 x 9 ½ inches.
  • Place the nuts on a cookie sheet and bake in the preheated oven for about 6 minutes, or until they just begin to turn color. Remove and cool before finely chopping.
  • Place the eggs in the bowl of a stand mixer or in a large bowl using a hand held mixer, beat the eggs for a minute. Add the granulated sugar and beat for 4 minutes, until the mixture is smooth and slightly thickened. Stir in the pumpkin puree and lemon juice and beat until fully incorporated.
  • In a separate bowl, sift the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and salt together. Working in batches, add the flour mixture to the bowl with the eggs and pumpkin until smooth. Pour into the prepared pan and sprinkle with the toasted, chopped nuts. Bake on the middle shelf for 15 to 17 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
  • Remove the pan from the oven and cool for about 4 minutes. Carefully flip the cake out of the pan onto the tea towel with the sugar. (You may need to use a flat-edged kitchen knife to loosen the cake from the pan.) Sprinkle the top of the cake with any confectioners' sugar from the sides of the tea towel. Carefully roll the cake up with the tea towel into a fat cigar shape and refrigerate for at least one hour.
  • Meanwhile, prepare the frosting: In a stand mixer or a medium bowl using a handheld mixer, beat the cream cheese and butter together until soft and smooth. Add the sugar and the vanilla and beat until smooth and fully incorporated. Keep the frosting at room temperature unless you want to let it sit overnight. Be sure to return to room temperature before spreading on the cake.
  • Unroll the chilled cake and remove the tea towel. Using an off-set spatula or kitchen knife, spread half the frosting on the inside of the cake. Reroll the cake into another fat cigar shape. Carefully frost the top of the cake and sprinkle with the toasted nuts and pumpkin seeds. The cake can be carefully covered and refrigerated for 2 days before serving.
  • Find more pumpkin and winter squash recipes here.

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