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Sweet Pumpkins

Cinderella pumpkin in a field of pumpkins with three people in the background.
Cinderella pumpkin. Photo by cpam_photography via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Last week we talked about using pumpkins for assorted savory dishes. This week I want to take the pumpkin pie as a point of departure and talk about some dessert ideas you can try at home. As Chef Jerry Pellegrino will tell you, the first place to start is with the filling.

First we will stipulate that any of the small round "sugar" pumpkins are great for this, but our personal favorite is the Cinderella pumpkin, which is quite a bit larger and oh, so sweet.

To make your pumpkin purée, you cut the gourd in half, top to bottom.

Scoop out the seeds and fibers, and brush the face of the pumpkin half with olive oil.

Put them on a baking pan, skin side up, and pop them into a 400° oven for about 50 minutes.

Take them out, let them cool, then you can scrape out the meat, very easily.

For all pumpkin pie related recipes, what you are making is essentially a pumpkin custard. That means lots of eggs and cream plus all your favorite spices.

Toss it all into a food processor and blitz away. Don't stop until you have a smooth creamy purée.

I did some brain-storming with my niece who is a promising cook. We came up with a few variations on the traditional pumpkin pie. The first idea was to blend a little coconut into the filling along with a sprinkling of butterscotch bits. I think this is a sure-fire temptation for kids.

On a more grown-up approach, how about adding some dried cranberries and crushed pecans into the filling. And here, my preference would be to re-hydrate the berries a bit.

Tarts are a great way to fool around with creative ideas. Several weeks ago we talked about a pie crust called pate sablé, a rich crumbly sweet crust that works exceptionally well for tarts.

For convenience, you can buy a whole bag of tin-foil tart pans that you use once and then throw away.

Whip up a big bowl of pumpkin purée and go through your cabinets for things you can throw in.

Here are a few ideas we came up with.

A simple idea is to make a pumpkin tart with blueberries thrown in. The flavors are quite compatible and the soft little berries will burst in your mouth.

For something almost semi-savory, add crumbled bacon bits and blue cheese into the purée along with a splash of maple syrup. These earthy flavors will certainly work together.

If you can find blackberries, put them into your pumpkin filling along with crushed hazelnuts. This will give you a sort of Pacific Northwest flavor.

If you are adept at making turnovers, you can also experiment with pumpkin purée and various jams and preserves. Apricot comes to mind as a not too crazy partner with the pumpkin.

All of these ideas would be great to prepare with kids, and you should encourage them to use their flavor imaginations. And remember, there are no bad ideas.

Al Spoler, well known to WYPR listeners as the wine-loving co-host of "Cellar Notes" has had a long-standing parallel interest in cooking as well. Al has said, the moment he started getting serious about Sunday night dinners was the same moment he started getting serious about wine. Over the years, he has benefited greatly from being a member of the Cork and Fork Society of Baltimore, a gentlemen's dining club that serves black tie meals cooked by the members themselves who are some of Baltimore's most accomplished amateur cooks.
Executive Chef Jerry Pellegrino of Corks restaurant is fascinated by food and wine, and the way they work in harmony on the palate. His understanding of the two goes all the way to the molecular level, drawing on his advanced education in molecular biology. His cuisine is simple and surprising, pairing unexpected ingredients together to work with Corks' extensive wine offerings.