It’s Prime Time For Pumpkins

Post-Halloween, the great orange squash really comes into its own as a fabulous fall food.

Choc-O-Pain's pumpkin tart

Though the jack-o-lanterns are extinguished, the pumpkin is ready for its closeup. New Jersey chefs are adding the delicious and distinctive autumn gourd to their menus.

The five-course Thanksgiving menu at Restaurant Latour at the Crystal Springs Resort in Hamburg will include chef Anthony Bucco’s dessert of ash-roasted pumpkin with honey, milk skin and locally harvested spice bush berries.

It’s a take on an idea that colonists  borrowed from Native Americans, who removed the top of the pumpkin, scooped out the seeds, filled the hollow with milk, honey and spices and baked the pumpkin in the ashes of an open fire.

At Latour, they bring in a Japanese influence, cooking the pumpkin “on Japanese Binchotan charcoal, the same technique we use for many of our root vegetables and locally-foraged black walnuts,” says Bucco. “As the pumpkins cook, the charcoal breaks down and becomes ash. The idea is to cook them quickly to caramelize the flesh, but not over-soften.”

At Latour, the ash-roasted pumpkin will be served with aerated local honey, lightly sweetened milk that has been evaporated to a buttery consistency and steeped with spice bush berries, and some house-made pear butter.

Bucco has used Kabocha squash, Hubbard squash and Jack Be Little pumpkins in his recipe. “Those three do very well in high temperature roasting situations and all have desirable textures,” he says.

If you try it yourself, he recommends checking a pumpkin’s doneness with a cake tester to determine if it is tender enough.

At Shanghai 46 in Fairfield, the green-skinned Kabocha pumpkin is sautéed with a crisp skin of salty egg yolk. The time-consuming process begins with raw eggs in the shell marinating in salted water for 30 days, after which the eggs are hard boiled. The firm, salt-infused yolks are combined with cornstarch. Thin slices of pumpkin, skin on, are coated in the yolk mixture then sautéed, explains owner Kevin Lin. This traditional delicacy has a soft, creamy texture within the golden, crispy crust and an irresistible sweet and salty flavor.

For another international departure, Choc O Pain Bakery & Cafe in Hoboken and Jersey City creates a Tarte Potiron, owner Clemence Danko’s version of classic American pumpkin pie with “a French flair.” It can be made with freshly roasted pumpkin or canned pumpkin purée. Danko roasts.

“I like the caramelized taste it brings,” she says.

Instead of pie dough, she uses pate sucrée, a cookie-like French sweet dough. She presses the dough into a shallow fluted tart pan with a removable bottom. She makes a pumpkin custard, enhancing the flavor with orange and fresh ginger. She tops the finished tart with toasted pumpkin seeds.

At the Turning Point, a popular Jersey chain serving breakfast and lunch, canned pumpkin pie mix is used in their crispy pumpkin waffles, served with dollops of whipped pumpkin mascarpone, dried cranberries, candied walnuts and brown sugar rum sauce.

The Turning Point's pumpkin waffles

The Turning Point’s pumpkin waffles

If you decide to use fresh pumpkin and make your own purée, a five-pound pumpkin will yield about five cups of sweet purée. It’s best to find one that feels heavy for its size, indicating a wealth of juice and meat inside. If uncut, a fresh pumpkin will keep refrigerated for up to three months. Once cut, it should be cooked right away.

When steaming fresh pumpkin, it is best to cut it into wedges, removing the seeds and fibers, and placing the unpeeled meat in the top of a covered steamer over boiling water for about 15 minutes. When cool, the flesh can easily be scraped from the peel and worked in a blender or food processor until smooth.

Pumpkin can be roasted in a 350 degree oven by cutting it in half, seeding, and placing the cut side down on a greased cookie sheet. A small to medium-sized variety will be fork tender in about one hour. Once cooled, the skins can be removed.

Whether you start with a can opener or a carving knife, the flavor of pumpkin can easily enhance your autumn meals.


Pumpkin Waffle with Pumpkin Mascarpone Cream

Adapted from Turning Point Restaurants

Pumpkin Batter

2 eggs
2 cups flour
1¾ cup milk
1½ tablespoons white sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup canned pumpkin pie mix
½ teaspoon cinnamon

Beat eggs in a bowl until scrambled and fluffy.

Mix in all other ingredients until blended smooth.

Cook in waffle iron until golden brown.


Pumpkin Mascarpone

1 cup mascarpone
2 tablespoon canned pumpkin pie mix
½ teaspoon cinnamon

Cut waffle into 4 wedges.

Top with 2-3 dollops of pumpkin mascarpone, dried cranberries and glazed walnuts.

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