A few weeks after Labor Day, when we've indulged in every ripe tomato, picked every basil leaf and shucked countless ears of sweet corn, our attention turns to fall, and in my opinion no other single ingredient screams the turning leaves of cuisine than the pumpkin.
Let me first go on the record by saying I'm a huge pumpkin fan. As soon as there is a little nip in the air, my menus at my restaurants are studded with the word "pumpkin" everywhere.
I use it in many ways . . .
There's Pumpkin soup with pomegranates and pumpkin seeds, pumpkin tamales, pumpkin waffles for brunch, and for dessert I've done pumpkin custards and crème brulees, pumpkin cheesecakes, and this year we're serving triple pumpkin bread pudding. Yum!
Even when I was a kid, pumpkin pie was my go-to on Thanksgiving, so much so I even named my first cat Pumpkin (Guess what color he was!)
Pumpkin as a concept is a good one. However, pumpkin as an ingredient is really an imposter.
Why? Because pumpkin tastes like nothing! Well, maybe not nothing, but really not much at all.
I've been on a book tour lately where I've been polling lots of people about the taste of pumpkin. Most people respond with, "Pumpkin tastes like cinnamon," or "It has a spicy flavor." Some people say it tastes sweet and earthy.
All of those descriptions are true, but what they're tasting is not pumpkin, but the ingredients that mask the true flavor of pumpkin.
Pumpkin's best friends range from the spice rack like cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, allspice and clove, to the sweet rack like maple syrup, honey and molasses. The pumpkin is just a figurehead to some of our favorite things to consume.
Take my Pumpkin Soup recipe from Mesa Grill, for instance, which year after year is the #1 most requested recipe in all of my restaurants.
I start with plain roasted pumpkin puree that you can either roast fresh yourself or use right of the can. Thin it out in a saucepan with chicken stock or water and begin adding the following ingredients to bring flavor to the party: Cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and allspice.
Add a pureed chipotle chile pepper, sweeten and balance the spices by adding some maple syrup and honey, add some reduced heavy cream or crème fraiche to the soup to give it a creamy texture, season it with salt and pepper to your taste, and garnish with some toasted pumpkin seeds.
I promise you that it's simple, delicious and a terrific starter for any Thanksgiving Dinner. But it doesn't taste like pumpkin.
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