Pumpkin: It's not just for desserts any more

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Pumpkin chili, made with black beans and turkey, can add some savor to a traditional holiday favorite. | COURTESY LITTLE FERRARO KITCHEN

If you take your cooking cues from magazines, websites or Pinterest, then you've no doubt had the urge to bake pumpkin cookies, pumpkin cakes and maybe even some pumpkin pancakes and muffins. But in our sugar stupor, we've overlooked one important culinary notion: Pumpkin has a savory side, too. "We're in the habit of looking at pumpkin for pies or bread or a jack-o'-lantern and forget that it's a great winter squash," said Catherine Cassidy, editor of Taste of Home magazine. Pumpkins -- canned and fresh -- can be added to chilis, soups, stews and pasta dishes similar to sweet potatoes or butternut squash, Cassidy said during a recent telephone interview from her office in Milwaukee. When her now-grown children were younger, Cassidy secretly stirred canned pumpkin puree into spaghetti sauce to ramp up dinner with extra vitamins and fiber. And one of her favorite cool-weather meals is the Black Bean and Pumpkin Chili in Taste of Home's "Best Loved Recipes" cookbook. "It gives foods a subtle sweetness without being overpowering," she said. That's something American Indians knew well. They roasted, baked, boiled and even dried pumpkin and ground it into flour, according to food historians. Pumpkin and other winter squashes -- as well as beans and corn -- helped them make it through long cold winters. Pumpkin soup was one of the recipes that inspired author Valerie Phillips to write "Soup's On!" (Covenant, $19.99). The new cookbook contains 100 soup, stew and chili recipes. Phillips, who blogs at chewandchat.blogspot.com, said she came up with her Harvest Pumpkin Soup with Cheddar recipe nearly 20 years ago, inspired by something she ate at a fundraiser. Since then, she has been taking the savory orange soup with flavors of onion and bacon to parties and potluck dinners. She usually leaves with an empty container and at least one request for the recipe. "When I thought about doing this cookbook, the pumpkin soup was one of the first recipes I wanted to include," she said. More recently, Phillips has taken the pumpkin soup to her book events and cooking demonstrations for guests to sample. "People are really surprised when they find out it's pumpkin," she said. Whether it's soup or chili, most recipes call for canned pumpkin. And while these days many people are avoiding processed foods, canned pumpkin is actually one of the few foods whose canned version may be better than fresh. According to health experts, canned pumpkin has higher levels of beta-carotene and fiber than fresh pumpkin because it's picked and canned the same day, preserving most nutrients. Of course, that only applies to the cans labeled "100 percent pure pumpkin," which contain no salt, sugar, flavorings or colorings. Don't confuse it with pumpkin-pie mix that includes spices and sugar. While canned pumpkin may be easier to use, Todd Gardiner says cooks shouldn't be afraid to roast a fresh pumpkin the same way they do winter squash. Recently, Gardiner was adding strips of grilled pumpkin to the shredded pork and dry roasted lamb tacos at his new Salt Lake City restaurant, Taqueria 27. "Pumpkins add that earthy sweetness, and they are the perfect complement to spicy foods," he said. Gardiner even took the pumpkin love a step further, adding fresh pureed pumpkin to his guacamole of the day. "It's definitely an interesting way to use pumpkin," he said. "But it's fun." HARVEST PUMPKIN SOUP WITH CHEDDAR 2 teaspoons canola oil 1 cup frozen chopped onions 5 cups chicken stock (or 3 cans chicken broth) 1 (29-ounce) can solid-pack pumpkin (NOT pumpkin-pie mix) 1 (2.5-ounce) package cooked bacon pieces (about 1/2 cup) 1 tablespoon sugar 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme 1 cup cream, or half-and-half (or fat-free half-and-half)* 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg 1 teaspoon curry powder (optional) 1 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese** Pumpkin seeds for garnish (optional) Add oil to pot and turn heat to high. Add onion and saute, stirring, until it begins to soften and turn golden, about 10 minutes. Stir in stock, pumpkin, bacon, sugar and thyme. Bring to a gentle boil. Reduce heat to medium-high and simmer about 5 minutes. Remove the soup from the heat and add cream, nutmeg and curry powder, if desired. Puree soup in two or three batches in blender, leaving the middle of the lid open to avoid pressure buildup of steam. Start on low speed to prevent splashing. Or use an immersion blender. Season with salt and pepper. When serving, spoon a little of the cheese on top of each bowl of soup. Garnish with pumpkin seeds, if desired. *For a unique tropical flavor, substitute coconut milk for cream or half-and-half. **Substitute Parmesan cheese for the cheddar topping. Servings: 6 -- "Soup's On!" by Valerie Phillips, Utah blogger at www.chewandchat.blogspot.com GRILLED PUMPKIN 1 medium-size pumpkin Olive oil Salt Pepper Heat oven to 350 degrees. Carefully cut the pumpkin in half from top to bottom, removing top stem and bottom. Scrape out all seeds and fiber from the cavity. Place halves on a sheet pan, cut side down. Bake 20 to 30 minutes or until almost cooked through. Remove from oven and cool. Remove skin and cut into 1/2-inch slices. Toss with a little bit of olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Using tongs, place on a heated grill, turning until pieces are tender enough to pierce with a fork. Remove the slices from the grill and serve alone or as an accompaniment to shredded pork or lamb tacos. Servings: 6-8 -- Todd Gardner, Taqueria 27 and Coffee BLACK BEAN AND PUMPKIN CHILI 1 medium onion, chopped 1 medium sweet yellow pepper, chopped 2 tablespoons olive oil 3 garlic cloves, minced 3 cups chicken broth 2 (15-ounce) cans black beans, rinsed and drained 2-1/2 cups cubed cooked turkey 1 (15-ounce) can solid-pack pumpkin 1 (14-1/2-ounce) can diced tomatoes, undrained 2 teaspoons dried parsley flakes 2 teaspoons chili powder 1-1/2 teaspoons dried oregano 1-1/2 teaspoons ground cumin 1/2 teaspoon salt In a large skillet, saute the onion and yellow pepper in oil until tender. Add garlic; cook 1 minute longer. Transfer to a 5-quart slow cooker; stir in the remaining ingredients. Cover and cook on low for 4-5 hours or until heated through. Servings: 10 -- Taste of Home magazine PUMPKIN LASAGNA 1/2 pound sliced fresh mushrooms 1 small onion, chopped 1/2 teaspoon salt, divided 2 teaspoons olive oil 1 can (15 ounces) solid-pack pumpkin 1/2 cup half-and-half cream 1 teaspoon dried sage leaves Dash pepper 9 no-cook lasagna noodles 1 cup reduced-fat ricotta cheese 1 cup (4 ounces) shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese 3/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese Heat oven to 375 degrees. In a small skillet, saute mushrooms, onion and 1/4 teaspoon salt in oil until tender. In a small bowl, combine pumpkin, cream, sage, pepper and remaining salt. Spread 1/2 cup pumpkin sauce in an 11- by 7-inch baking dish coated with cooking spray. Top with three noodles (overlap slightly). Spread 1/2 cup pumpkin sauce to edges of noodles. Top with half of mushroom mixture, 1/2 cup ricotta, 1/2 cup mozzarella and 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese. Repeat layers. Top with remaining noodles and sauce. Cover and bake for 45 minutes. Uncover; sprinkle with remaining Parmesan cheese. Bake 10-15 minutes longer or until cheese is melted. Let stand for 10 minutes before cutting. Servings: 6 -- Taste of Home magazine (Email kathys@sltrib.com) (Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, www.shns.com.) Bytes: 33,280