Pumpkins bring new flavor to fall dishes

The hundreds of pumpkins piling up in patches around town have inspired me to experiment with using the orange gourd in my cooking.

On a recent rainy, chilly Sunday I had a hankering for something pumpkin-flavored but didn't want to leave the house to buy a fresh pumpkin. So I rummaged through the pantry and found a jar of pure pumpkin from a pie I never got around to making last Thanksgiving. I threw it into my favorite chili recipe, along with some cinnamon and brown sugar, and ended up with a delicious fall-flavored meal.

The pumpkin thickened the chili and gave it a beautiful orange color and a fresh, unexpected flavor. Too often, we think of pumpkin only in terms of pies and other desserts, but it actually pairs perfectly with savory dishes. Anywhere you'd use butternut or acorn squash, you can substitute pumpkin.

While canned pumpkin is easy, you can also cook up your own pumpkin to use in cool-weather recipes from soup to risotto. When shopping for cooking pumpkins, look for those that are smaller-sized - often labeled "sugar pumpkins" or "pie pumpkins." They have flesh that's more tender and succulent than the bigger pumpkins meant for carving, according to the "Food Lover's Companion" (Barron's, $16.95).

Cooked, cubed pumpkin is a great addition to stews and casseroles. To prepare them, cut a small pumpkin in half, remove seeds and strings, then cut it into cubes. The cubes can be baked, boiled, microwaved or steamed until tender.

You can also make your own puree from fresh pumpkins, according to Whole Foods Market. After scraping the seeds and strings out of a halved pumpkin, place the halves rind side down on a lightly oiled roasting pan, cover tightly with foil and bake for 75 minutes at 325 F. Remove foil and bake 30 to 45 minutes more, until the flesh doesn't give up moisture when pressed with a spoon.

Let the pumpkin cool, then scrape the flesh from the rind and puree it in a food processor, food mill, ricer or strainer. One pound of pumpkin makes about a cup of puree.

Pumpkin Chili

1 pound lean ground beef

1 small onion, chopped

1 red bell pepper, chopped

2 cans (14.5 ounces each) diced tomatoes with green peppers and onions, with juice

2 cans black beans, rinsed

1 can pure pumpkin

6 ounces beer, such as a pumpkin ale

1 tablespoon chili powder

1 tablespoon cinnamon

1⁄2 teaspoon nutmeg

Pinch brown sugar

Salt and pepper to taste

Brown beef over medium heat in a large pot. Drain. Add onion and bell pepper, cook for about 5 minutes until softened. Add tomatoes and their juices, beans, pumpkin, beer and spices. Bring to a boil, then lower heat to low and simmer for 1 hour.

Sweet Pumpkin Dip

2 packages (8 ounces each) cream cheese, softened

1 can (15 ounces) pure pumpkin

2 cups sifted powdered sugar

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground ginger

Beat cream cheese and pumpkin in large mixer bowl until smooth. Add sugar, cinnamon and ginger; mix thoroughly. Cover; refrigerate for 1 hour. Serve with sliced fruit, bite-size cinnamon graham crackers, gingersnap cookies, toasted mini-bagels, toast slices, muffins or English muffins.

Makes 15 servings.

Source: Nestle

Pumpkin Curry Soup

2 tablespoons butter or margarine

1 cup chopped onion

2 large cloves garlic, finely chopped

11⁄2 teaspoons curry powder

1⁄2 teaspoon salt

1⁄4 teaspoon ground white pepper

3 cups chicken broth

1 can (15 ounces) pure pumpkin

1 can (12 fluid ounces) evaporated milk

Melt butter in large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onion and garlic and cook, stirring frequently, for 2 to 3 minutes or until tender. Stir in curry powder, salt and pepper and cook for 1 minute.

Add broth and pumpkin; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and cook, stirring occasionally, for 15 to 20 minutes. Stir in evaporated milk. Transfer mixture to food processor or blender (in batches, if necessary); cover. Blend until smooth. Serve warm.

Makes six servings.

Source: Nestle

Pumpkin and

Cranberry Risotto

2 cans (14.5 ounces each) reduced-sodium chicken broth, divided

1 tablespoon butter

1 tablespoon olive oil

1⁄2 cup chopped onion

11⁄2 cups arborio rice

1⁄2 cup dry white wine

1 cup canned pure pumpkin

1⁄2 cup sweetened dried cranberries

1⁄4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Salt and white pepper to taste

Additional grated Parmesan cheese, if desired

Bring chicken broth to a boil in medium saucepan. Reduce heat to low; keep warm.

Melt butter and oil in large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onion and cook, stirring frequently, for 2 minutes. Add rice and cook, stirring frequently, for 2 minutes. Add wine and simmer, stirring frequently, until all liquid is absorbed. Stir in pumpkin.

Add 3⁄4 cup chicken broth to rice. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring frequently, until absorbed. Continue adding broth, 1⁄2 cup at a time, allowing each addition to be absorbed before adding more broth. Rice should be tender but still firm to the bite and mixture should be creamy. This should take about 20 to 25 minutes. Stir in sweetened dried cranberries and cheese. Add salt and pepper to taste. If desired, garnish with additional Parmesan cheese.

Makes six servings.

Source: Nestle