Chow Town

Putting the pumpkin back in pumpkin spice

Updated: 2013-10-25T20:24:19Z

By TYLER FOX

Fall is the season best defined by two holidays of hedonistic, festive excess —Halloween and Thanksgiving.

While Thanksgiving is a roasted and gravy drenched day of relentless cooking, eating, drinking and football — similar to what we in Kansas City call a “Chiefs Sunday” — Halloween is the holiday people of all ages excite and delight in for different reasons.

For younger generations, it’s a time to dress up and harass older people for free sweets and costume compliments.

The older generations find Halloween fun with other motives in mind. Some revel at the chance to dress up, drink and dance in costumes like Sexy Nurse or their favorite Dr. Who character, trying to recapture the unbridled joy of candy crazed youth.

Others mark the autumn holidays as the time when the world is beset by a cultural phenomenon that has come to be known simply as “Pumpkin Spice.”

Once the leaves change and begin to fall, everywhere you turn becomes scented with that unmistakable, at times vaguely synthetic smell and color of pumpkin pie. Sadly, this is as close to the concept of “seasonal eating” that many will attempt, like popping a Watermelon Jolly Rancher in August and saying, “Hey, its in season!”

Pumpkin spice lattes. Pumpkin spice cupcakes. Pumpkin spice air fresheners.

The list goes on. Perhaps the most perplexing aspect of the pumpkin spice juggernaut is that many of the products contain little, if any, actual pumpkin in their recipes. It is as if your morning cup of coffee is wearing a pumpkin costume for Halloween this year.

Starbucks — seemingly the ground zero of the pumpkin spice epidemic — even admits to the titular pumpkin’s absence in their iconic Pumpkin Spice Latte, which celebrates it’s 10th birthday this year.

So how did we get here? How did we take a festive and delicious gourd that defined the traditions of sacred holidays and turn it into Pumpkin Spice Donut Hole Clusters at QuikTrip?

Like many other things in society, they just took a few easily identifiable hallmarks of something special — in this case the “cookie spices” like cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and others — and distilled it into a soulless abbreviated product to package and market for months of the year.

I am suggesting that this year, we reclaim an element of holiday tradition and put real pumpkin back into pumpkin products. Obviously, pumpkin pie is the sacred text from which these words are written. Everyone loves it. It is a classic for a reason. But this seasonal squash relative has so many uses beyond a simple dessert.

Pumpkin pizza? Why not, I say it can be a new fall classic. Throw some Brussels sprouts and good mozzarella on your favorite pizza dough with a few aromatic needles of rosemary and you’ve got yourself a meal fit for fall.

What is that you say? Risotto? Yes, pumpkin goes swimmingly in it, adding a depth of vegetal sweetness and complexity to the creamy grains of the Italian classic.

Going to a party and don’t want to be the only one their with a sweet dish not dressed in pumpkin? Might I suggest a pumpkin and Nutella crepe? If you want to get fancy, throw a pinch of cardamom and vanilla bean into some whipped cream and pipe on top. You’ll be swatting away the fawning compliments like flies.

I am in no way arguing against using the recognizable flavors or elements of pumpkin or pumpkin pie, but merely suggesting that we put the actual pumpkin and actual spice back into the seasonal treats we dine and delight upon.

This following recipe, or method really, is a simple way to start the journey to finding pumpkin’s authentic self. You could buy the canned puree, sure. And there are perfectly fine canned products out there for certain. But if you are reading this column, I take you as the sort that wants to get your hands dirty and put an element of yourself into your cooking.

Don’t worry, this won’t be the last I touch on pumpkin this holiday season. Stay tuned right here and we will explore greater depths of this seasonal delicacy. But first, we must crawl before we walk. Once you master this basic method, you will have an enchanting cache of roasted pumpkin with which there is no limit to the possibilities.

Roasted Pumpkin

This cooking method works on multiple levels to extract the maximum amount of pumpkin flavor from the gourd. By cutting into thin strips and roasting, it cooks out the moisture and begins to caramelize the natural sugars, thereby concentrating the flavor into a wonderful pumpkin ready to use however you please. If you want more concentrated flavor, cook longer for darker color. If you want lighter flavor and color, cook a bit less and add a few drops of water to the sheet pan to help prevent too much coloring as it roasts.

1 medium sized Pumpkin

2 Tablespoons Grapeseed Oil, or neutral flavored oil

1/2 Teaspoon Sea Salt

Preheat oven to 375 F. Cut a hole in the top of the pumpkin and remove. Pull as many strings and seeds out as possible. Cut your pumpkin in half, following the grooves of the pumpkin as an easy guide. Take your halves and cut in half again and again until you have pieces about 2 inches wide, generally 8 or so on a medium pumpkin. Make sure to remove any stringy pulp or seeds remaining. Rub pumpkin pieces with olive oil and salt and place cut on a parchment lined baking sheet. Roast in oven for 10-15 minutes, and then flip the pieces on to the other side for even cooking and browning. Cook another 15 minutes and check for desired doneness. Total cooking time should be about 30 minutes. Enjoy!

Tyler Fox, personal chef/event caterer who emphasizes ‘nose-to-tail’ cooking philosophy as well as vegan and local/farm to table foods.

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