Autumn’s most eponymous squash, pumpkin, has much more to offer this season than a hurried rush of spicy latte in a green and white cup in one hand and the Instagram machine in the other.
There is reasonable certainty that what we like about pumpkin spice latte is not so much the latte, nor the pumpkin, but all the sugar, cinnamon, ginger, clove and vanilla that makes coffee devotees clench their fists in spasms of caffeinated angst.
Pumpkin is inexpensive, abundant and swollen with complex, deliberate flavor that is celebration-worthy rather than tucked under too much spice. Loaded with plenty of naturally occurring sweetness that can be coaxed with a long cook time, pumpkin flavor can be lost under the clove of darkness.
In the North End of Boston, for instance, Giacomo’s North End Ristorante lifts their pumpkin game with pumpkin tortellini in sage-mascarpone sauce. The subtle Italian cream cheese works as a velvet canvas for the pumpkin to be the star. Just around the corner, in the very same neighborhood, La Famiglia Giorgio gets all Italian with their pumpkin treatment, too. Pumpkin is tucked into pasta pillows and dressed with marsala in pumpkin ravioli.
Pierogi are raviolis’ older cousins, depending on whom you ask. In Pittsburgh, pierogi are as native as steel, as important as the Steelers, and are treated with equal vigor. At Cop Out Pierogies, pumpkin becomes a reality in the dessert variety of the filled dumpling-esque Polish staple.
Ema, Chicago’s hard-core Mediteranean presence, pumpkin hummus takes the best of two hipster delicacies and gets way beyond the coffee drink. Served chilled, the squashy texture wraps around cumin to get dipped and spread.
New York’s vegetable destination of all vegetable destinations, Dirt Candy, gets all Thailand with a pumpkin pad Thai. Pumpkin’s irony-sweet gusto goes long on versatility, using flavor reality - not the cinnamon kind - involving cilantro, finger limes, and pumpkin dumplings.
Think beyond the spice and zoom in on the pumpkin. This autumnal icon can be stuffed and baked. It can be roasted and have its guts ripped out for a filling. It can be pulsed and pureed into a whole lotta doughs, desserts, and dumplings.
If you must get spicy, at Weckerly’s Ice Cream in Philadelphia’s Fishtown neighborhood, pumpkin butter gets folded into ice cream and tucked between gingersnap cookies. You can successfully have your pumpkin and spice... just not in liquid form, but even more Instagram worthy.
By Jim Berman, Industry Expert