Falling for pumpkin

These orange squash can serve many purposes, from main course to dessert

Cinnamon-Swirl Pumpkin Bread (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Kelly Brant)

It's hard to beat the convenience of canned pumpkin. Sure, fresh pumpkins are aplenty this time of year, but after sitting on your front porch or mantel since before Halloween, they're not exactly at the peak of freshness.

Whether you want to bake a pie, whip up a pot of soup or try something unexpected, like say pumpkin au gratin, canned pumpkin — which is not necessarily true pumpkin — is a dependable choice.

The following recipes — three savory and three sweet — are all made with canned pumpkin, which is plentiful on grocery store shelves (it's a shame stores don't keep it so amply stocked year-round). Sure, you could use sugar pumpkins, but frankly, in these recipes canned is just better. The flavor and texture are consistent, and there's no pressure/guilt regarding what to do with all those seeds, stringy fibers and skins. Just open the can, use its contents, give the can a rinse and toss it in the recycling bin.

But if you insist, here's how to use a whole sugar pumpkin (please, don't ruin these delicious recipes by using a giant jack-o'-lantern pumpkin):

Cut pumpkin into large pieces, scrape out seeds and remove stringy membrane; rub pumpkin flesh with oil and season with salt and pepper. (Omit salt and pepper if puree will be used in a dessert.) Place pieces in a shallow roasting pan, skin side up, fill pan with ¼ inch of water, cover tightly with foil and roast 45 minutes to 1 hour or until flesh is soft. Scrape flesh from skin into a medium pot and mash into a puree. Cook puree over medium heat until all of the liquid has evaporated.

Yield will vary. Generally, a 1-pound whole pumpkin will yield about ½ pound of raw flesh. One pound of raw pumpkin flesh will yield about 2 cups of cooked puree. A 15- or 16-ounce can generally contains 1 ¾ cups puree.

Oh, you want to know what I meant by canned pumpkin not necessarily being true pumpkin? The United States Food and Drug Administration defines canned pumpkin as "prepared from clean, sound, properly matured, golden fleshed, firm shelled, sweet varieties of either pumpkins or squashes ..."

Pumpkins or squashes. You may remember, all pumpkin is squash, but not all squash are pumpkin. And not every can of canned pumpkin is the same. For some brands (we're talking about you, major grocery chain we will not name) the variety can vary by season, which explains why the contents of the cans range from putrid yellow to deep amber.

Most of the time we avoid recommending specific brands, but we make an exception for canned pumpkin. Libby's is our preferred brand. Simply because it is consistent from can to can to can to can to can. Libby's pure pumpkin is actually made with Dickinson pumpkin, which looks more like a giant beige squash than a jack-o'-lantern, but it has the flavor we think of when we think "pumpkin."

This recipe is for those days when you really want pie for breakfast but you're trying to be wholesome.

Pumpkin Pie Oatmeal (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Kelly Brant)
Pumpkin Pie Oatmeal (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Kelly Brant)

Pumpkin Pie Oatmeal

  • 1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
  • 1 ¾ cups milk (dairy or almond) or water or a combination
  • ¼ cup canned pure pumpkin
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ¼ to ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • Butter, optional
  • ½ cup chopped pecans
  • 2 tablespoons to ¼ cup maple syrup

Combine oats and milk in a small saucepan over medium heat.

Bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until desired consistency is reached, about 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in pumpkin, vanilla and cinnamon until heated through, about 1 minute.

Serve immediately, topped with a pat of butter, pecans and maple syrup, if desired.

Makes 2 servings.

Recipe adapted from damndelicious.net

Creamy Pumpkin Pasta topped with hazelnuts, parmesan and fresh thyme (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Kelly Brant)
Creamy Pumpkin Pasta topped with hazelnuts, parmesan and fresh thyme (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Kelly Brant)

Creamy Pumpkin Pasta

  • Salt
  • 1 pound dried pasta such as penne, orecchiette, cellentani
  • 1 cup canned pure pumpkin
  • ½ cup mascarpone cheese
  • 1 to 2 teaspoons fresh snipped rosemary, thyme or sage, plus more for garnish
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • ½ cup chopped toasted hazelnuts
  • Freshly grated parmesan cheese

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Season with about 1 teaspoon salt and add the pasta. Cook pasta, according to package directions, until al dente.

Drain the pasta, reserving 1 cup of the cooking water.

Add the pumpkin, mascarpone and 2 teaspoons herbs to the now-empty pasta pot and cook over low heat until mixture is heated through. Return the pasta to the pot and some of the reserved cooking water and mix well to coat, adding as much of the remaining cooking water as needed to create a silky sauce.

Divide among serving bowls and serve garnished with black pepper, hazelnuts, parmesan and remaining herbs.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Variation: Creamy Pumpkin Pasta Bake: After combing the drained pasta with the pumpkin and mascarpone, transfer mixture to a casserole dish and top with shredded mozzarella. Bake 20 minutes or until mozzarella is melted. Serve topped with herbs, black pepper and hazelnuts.

Gratin of Pumpkin With Cheese (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Kelly Brant)
Gratin of Pumpkin With Cheese (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Kelly Brant)

Here pumpkin gets the French treatment courtesy of our favorite French American chef, Jacques Pepin. He blends the pumpkin with eggs and cream and tops the mixture with cheese. We didn't have the Swiss variety specified by Pepin on hand so we subbed in Monterey Jack and were not disappointed. Be sure to serve this gratin right away because it will lose its appeal as it cools.

Gratin of Pumpkin With Cheese

  • 1 (15- or 16-ounce) can pure pumpkin
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup light cream OR evaporated milk
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg or to taste
  • Butter, for greasing dish
  • 1 cup grated cheese such as Gruyere, Emmenthaler or Monterey Jack

Heat oven to 375 degrees.

In a medium bowl or a food processor, combine the pumpkin, eggs, cream or milk, salt, pepper and nutmeg and whisk or pulse until combined.

Coat a 4-cup gratin dish with butter. Pour pumpkin mixture into the dish. Sprinkle with cheese.

Bake 30 minutes or until set and browned on top.

Makes about 4 servings.

Recipe adapted from "Jacques Pepin Quick and Simple: Simply Wonderful Meals With Surprisingly Little Effort" (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $35)

Easy Spiced Pumpkin Soup with olive oil drizzle and red pepper flakes (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Kelly Brant)
Easy Spiced Pumpkin Soup with olive oil drizzle and red pepper flakes (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Kelly Brant)

This simple, flavorful soup can be made with or without dairy, making it a pleasing option for omnivores and vegans. Both options — swirled with a bit of cream or drizzled with olive oil — are equally delicious.

Easy Spiced Pumpkin Soup

  • 2 tablespoons butter or coconut oil
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • ½ teaspoon ground cumin
  • ½ teaspoon ground coriander
  • 4 cups vegetable or chicken broth
  • 1 (15- or 16-ounce) can pure pumpkin
  • 2 tablespoons maple syrup
  • Salt and ground black pepper, to taste
  • Ground cayenne pepper or other hot chile powder, optional
  • Half-and-half or evaporated milk OR olive oil, for drizzling
  • Crushed red pepper flakes, optional

In a Dutch oven or soup pot, melt the butter over medium heat. When butter is foamy, add the onion and saute, stirring frequently, until onion is softened and beginning to look translucent. Stir in the garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Stir in the cumin and coriander and cook, stirring, for 30 seconds more or until fragrant. Add the broth, pumpkin and maple syrup and bring mixture to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 15 minutes.

Working in batches using a traditional blender or with an immersion blender, puree soup until smooth. Season to taste with salt, pepper and cayenne.

Serve with a drizzle of half-and-half or olive oil and a sprinkle of pepper flakes, if desired.

Makes about 6 cups.

Pumpkin-Cranberry Scones (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Kelly Brant)
Pumpkin-Cranberry Scones (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Kelly Brant)

The original recipe for these scones calls for mashed sweet potato and maple sugar. We subbed in pumpkin and maple syrup with excellent results.

Pumpkin-Cranberry Scones

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 6 tablespoons solid coconut oil, preferably frozen or well-chilled
  • 2 eggs, separated
  • 5 tablespoons maple syrup
  • 5 tablespoons milk (nut or dairy), plus more as needed
  • 1 cup canned pure pumpkin (can substitute cooked mashed sweet potato)
  • ¼ to ½ teaspoon finely grated orange zest
  • ¾ cup dried cranberries
  • Coarse sugar, for sprinkling, optional

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt and cinnamon.

Add coconut oil, breaking it into marble- to pea-size pieces with your fingers and quickly and lightly working it into the flour mixture. Stir in the egg yolks.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the maple syrup, milk, pumpkin and orange zest and then fold in the dried cranberries.

Add the wet mixture to the dry mixture, stirring until the dough just holds together. Turn dough out onto the parchment-lined baking sheet and knead briefly until it comes together. It will be shaggy, but there should be no dry clumps. Shape dough into a 9-inch circle. Using a sharp knife, cut dough into 8 equal wedges, separating the wedges slightly. Brush wedges with egg whites and then sprinkle with coarse sugar, if desired.

Bake 20 to 25 minutes or until lightly browned.

Makes 8 servings.

Recipe adapted from "A New Way to Food: 100 Recipes to Encourage a Healthy Relationship With Food, Nourish Your Beautiful Body, and Celebrate Real Wellness for Life" by Maggie Battista

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This tender, moist pumpkin bread stands out from others we've tried thanks to a "swirl" of cinnamon sugar throughout the crumb.

Cinnamon-Swirl Pumpkin Bread

  • 2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 ¾ cups granulated sugar, divided use
  • ½ cup lightly packed light brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon PLUS 1 ½ teaspoons ground cinnamon, divided use
  • ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • ¼ teaspoon ground ginger
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 (15- or 16-ounce) can pure pumpkin
  • ¾ cup vegetable oil
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease or line a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, 1 ½ cups of the granulated sugar, the brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, 1 ½ teaspoons of the cinnamon, the nutmeg, ginger and cloves.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the pumpkin, oil, eggs and vanilla. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir until no streaks of flour remain. The batter will be thick.

In a small bowl, whisk together the remaining granulated sugar and the remaining ground cinnamon.

Spoon about a third of the batter into the prepared loaf pan. Smooth batter with a spatula making sure to get into the corners of the pan. Sprinkle 1 to 2 tablespoons of the cinnamon sugar evenly over the batter. Spoon half of the remaining into the pan, smooth with a spatula, and sprinkle with 1 to 2 tablespoons of the cinnamon sugar. Spoon the remaining batter into the pan and sprinkle lightly with the remaining cinnamon sugar. You may not use all of the cinnamon sugar.

Bake 70 to 80 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted near the center comes out with a few crumbs but no wet batter.

Cool in pan until cool enough to handle and then remove from pan. Store loaf wrapped in plastic wrap.

Make 1 loaf.

Recipe adapted from hostthetoast.com