So what’ll the pumpkin be this year? Spider? Vampire? Donkey? Elephant? Whatever your predilection, it’s almost time to carve away. Just make sure you purée, roast, or bake as well.
Art and appetite serve different constituencies, but pumpkins are found on both sides of the aisle. There are pumpkins for decorating and pumpkins for dinner, and rarely the twain shall meet. The varieties bred for jack-o’-lanterns are thin-walled, more seeded than meaty, and often colossal. In fact, the largest one on record weighed 1,140 pounds. For eating and baking , or for breadbaskets or soup bowls, you want the small, fleshy sugar pumpkin or the flatter, tan cheese variety. At her family’s eponymous Dutchess County farm, Dykeman’s Farm (231 W Dover Rd, Pawling, New York 845-832-6068), Beth Dykeman grows and uses the sugar type for breads and pies. “They have more pulp and a sweet flavor,” she says. You can pick up some of her bread while scouting out pumpkins in the farm’s pick-your-own patch.
Closer to home in Irvington, at Red Hat on the River (1 Bridge St, Irvington 914-591-5888; redhatbistro.com), Chef Bruce Beaty offers a pumpkin patch of a menu. There’s pumpkin soup, of course, an autumnal ode perfumed with ginger and nutmeg. There’s a gratin lush with potato and goat cheese. And for dessert, a sweet reprise of pumpkin crème brûlée or rice pudding. “Pumpkin lends itself to both savory and sweet applications,” Chef Beaty explains. And then there’s that whole harbinger thing. “Pumpkin announces the arrival of fall,” he notes. In my book, there’s no better place to partake in that arrival than on Red Hat’s riverbank patio or rooftop deck.
Whether you’re eating or carving, when choosing your gourd the same rules apply. Look for firm, un-bruised specimens with no soft spots. Don’t pick them up by the stem; they break, as can your toddler’s toes! A greenish color is okay; it will ripen to orange. And if you are conservation-minded and want a use for your jack-o’-lantern’s stringy flesh, consider that pumpkins were once used to remove freckles and cure bites.
Pumpkin Créme Brûlée
Courtesy of Bruce Beaty, Red Hat Bistro
FOR BRÛLÉE TOPPING:
¼ cup granulated sugar
½ cup light brown sugar
Preheat oven to 300°F. Combine sugars and place on a baking sheet in flat layer. Bake until “dried,” about 50 minutes. Cool, and then grind in food processor or spice grinder to fine powder.
1 small sugar pumpkin
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup milk
5 Tbsp sugar
½ cinnamon stick
½ tsp ground cloves
¼ tsp ground allspice
5 egg yolks
Preheat oven to 400°F. Halve pumpkin crosswise, peel, and seed. Cut into 1-inch cubes. Place cubes on oiled baking sheet in single layer. Roast until tender and slightly browned, about 35 minutes. Cool and purée. You will need 6 tablespoons purée (reserve remainder for another use).
Reduce heat to 350°F. In small saucepan, combine cream, milk, cinnamon stick, sugar, cloves, and all spice. Bring to a simmer, turn off heat, cover, and let infuse for 30 minutes. Pass mixture through a fine meshed strainer into small bowl. In large bowl, whisk egg yolks into pumpkin purée, then slowly add cream mixture, whisking to combine.
Pour mixture into four 4-ounce ramekins and place in baking pan. Pour hot water into pan until halfway up the sides of ramekins. Place pan on middle rack in oven and bake until custards are set around the edges but wobbly in the center, about 30 minutes. Remove from oven and cool to room temperature. Refrigerate at least 6 hours or overnight.
Right before serving, heat broiler. Lightly sprinkle 1 tablespoon of sugar mixture on top of each custard. Broil until caramelized and serve immediately.