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Pumpkins are versatile ingredients for autumn foods

Marian Betancourt, The Associated Press

In New Hampshire, pumpkins are the law.

That’s because a group of civic-minded elementary school pupils this year led a successful campaign to make all those orange orbs destined for pies and jack-o’-lanterns the official state fruit.

Their inspiration? Ostensibly, to learn how bills become laws. But the Harrisville, N.H., children probably couldn’t help but be a bit influenced by their state’s many pumpkin festivals, including the mother-of-them-all in nearby Keene.

That festival (held Oct. 21 this year), began in 1991 and typically attracts 50,000 visitors to see the sometimes record-setting number (28,592 in 2003) of carved pumpkins that line Main Street.

But long before pumpkins were teaching children how to lobby lawmakers, the region’s American Indians were teaching settlers how to eat them. And from those early efforts was born the beloved pumpkin pie.

Pumpkins come in many shapes and sizes, but the smaller sugar or New England pie varieties are best suited for eating.

Dan Dumont, executive chef at the Wentworth by the Sea resort in New Castle, N.H., likes to roast 2 to 3-pound sugar pumpkins, then puree the soft flesh and use it in gnocchi.

To make pumpkin puree, Dumont advises selecting a 2 to 4-pound pumpkin with no soft spots (it should yield about 1 1/2 cups of mashed pumpkin). To prepare the pumpkin, cut it in half and remove the stringy fibers and seeds.

The flesh then can be boiled or roasted. To boil, cut the pumpkin into chunks and place them in a pan. Cover the chunks with water, bring to a boil and cook until tender when pierced with a fork.

To roast, place the pumpkin halves cut side down on an oiled baking sheet and roast for about 1 1/2 hours in a 350 F oven.

Once the pumpkin is tender, remove the flesh and mash it with a potato masher. The puree will keep for up to three days in the refrigerator. It also freezes well.

Pumpkin Sage Gnocchi

(Start to finish 45 minutes)

For the gnocchi:

1/2 cup pumpkin puree

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

2 tablespoons brown sugar

1 1/4 cups water

12 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 tablespoon kosher salt

2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted

5 large or 6 medium eggs

2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage

1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives

1 tablespoon chopped fresh Italian parsley

1 cup greated Parmesan cheese

Salt and white pepper, to taste

For the sauce:

1/4 cup unsalted butter

10 fresh sage leaves chopped

1/8 cup pine nuts

Juice of half a lemon

Salt and white pepper, to taste

Parmesan cheese, for garnish

In a small bowl, combine the pumpkin puree with the cinnamon and brown sugar. Set aside.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil.

Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, heat the water, butter and salt over a medium heat until the butter has melted. Sprinkle in the flour, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon. Continue stirring until the dough pulls away from the sides.

Transfer the dough to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add the pumpkin puree and mix on low speed until blended. Add eggs one at a time with mixer on low, then add sage, chives, parsley, cheese, salt and pepper, mixing until just incorporated.

Transfer the mixture into either a piping bag, or large plastic zip-close with the corner snipped off. Squeeze the bag over the pot of boiling water. As the dough comes out, use a knife or scissors to cut off 3/4-inch lengths. Let the gnocchi fall into the water and cook until they float, about 30 seconds. Use a slotted spoon to remove gnocchi once they’ve cooked. Let cool on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper while preparing the sauce.

For the sauce, in a large skillet heat the butter until it melts and foams. Once it begins to brown, add the sage. When the sage begins to sizzle, add the pine nuts and juice of half a lemon. Season with salt and pepper.

Add the gnocchi and toss gently to coat. To serve, garnish with Parmesan shavings.

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

(Recipe from Dan Dumont, executive chef at the Wentworth by the Sea resort in New Castle, N.H.)

Pumpkin Creme Brulee

(Start to finish 5 hours, 1 hour active)

1/2 cup whole milk

1 1/2 cups heavy cream

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon nutmeg

1/8 teaspoon ginger

1/2 cup sugar, plus additional for garnish

4 egg yolks

1/4 cup pumpkin puree

Preheat oven to 300 F. Set a tea kettle of water to warm on the stove.

In a medium saucepan over a low heat, combine the milk, cream, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and 1/2 cup sugar. Bring to a simmer and cook until the sugar has dissolved. Set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk the egg yolks. While whisking, slowly add the milk mixture. Whisk in the pumpkin puree. Set a mesh sieve over a medium bowl and strain the mixture through it.

Divide the mixture among four 8-ounce ramekins. Place the ramekins on a baking pan, then add enough hot water from the kettle to come halfway up the sides of the ramekins.

Bake for 35 minutes, or until the centers move slightly to the touch of your finger. Remove ramekins from the pan and refrigerate for at least four hours or up to a day.

When ready to serve, sprinkle sugar over the top of each ramekin, and put under the broiler until the top browns, about 1 to 3 minutes. Let cool a moment and serve.

Makes 4 servings.

(Recipe from Perrie Purcell, pastry chef at the Wentworth by the Sea resort in New Castle, N.H.)

Spicy Pumpkin Cake

(Start to finish 1 hour)

3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon allspice

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

3/4 teaspoon salt

1 1/3 cups light brown sugar

3/4 cups whole milk

1/3 cup vegetable oil

2 large eggs

15-ounce can pumpkin puree

1/3 cup chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease one standard loaf pan or eight smaller, individual pans.

In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and soda, allspice, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and salt. Mix and set aside. In a smaller bowl, whisk together the brown sugar, milk, oil, eggs, pumpkin and walnuts.

Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and add the pumpkin mixture. Stir until just combined. Pour the batter into the pan or pans and bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 35 to 40 minutes.

Makes 8 servings.

(Recipe from Perrie Purcell, pastry chef at the Wentworth by the Sea resort in New Castle, N.H.)


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