What To Eat Now: Pumpkins

The time to cook with pumpkin is now

By mid-September, just before the beginning of autumn, the entire country gets wrapped up in a pumpkin frenzy, descending upon pumpkin patches to scoop up the gorgeous gourds.

Americans have been obsessed with pumpkins for quite some time, considering they have been growing in North America for more than 5,000 years. (How do you like them apples, apples?) Perhaps we get starstruck by the different shapes and sizes, the twisty stems: There are the itty-bitty ornamental Jack-Be-Little variety to place festively around the dinner table. The melon-size ribbed gourds we carve every Halloween. The colossal giants at state fairs.

They're fun to look at and even more fun to eat. The best-tasting tend to belong to the heirloom varieties whose names are reminiscent of their ancestry: Galeux d'Eysines, Kikuza and Marina di Chioggia, to name a few. One of the more famous ones, the Long Island Cheese, hits close to home for us, seeing as it's a New York native.

Get the recipes for pumpkin pancakes and pumpkin brittle.

Its tan skin and flattened exterior are said to resemble a wheel of cheese, but if you take a step back and look at its slender, slightly curved woody stem, its almost as if you're staring at a Caravaggio still life. Inside, its smooth flesh is prized among pumpkin lovers, and its sweet, deeply orange interior makes it ideal for baking.

When at their peak and we've had our fill of carving jack-o'-lanterns, we scoop out the meat and rinse the seeds, leaving them out to dry before toasting them until lightly browned. We crack the white hull (yes, it's a bit of work) to unveil the light green, oval-shaped seed before stirring into a buttery, spicy brittle (see the recipe) with cinnamon and cayenne.

As for the flesh, we like to roast it until it's tender, much like we would with butternut squash, then pair slices of the warm, soft pumpkin with a simple vinaigrette, baby kale leaves, paper-thin radishes and whipped goat cheese (see the recipe). The salad brings out the squash's savory notes and is a lovely little side dish for fall dinner parties.

Of course, we're not against a shortcut now and again. So when we're really feeling a hankering for something sweet and pumpkin-y, we stir a dollop of canned purée into pancake batter flavored with warm spices like cinnamon and nutmeg (see the recipe). We add pecans for crunch, then douse the whole thing in butter and real maple syrup.

Your fall breakfast is served.

Get the recipes:
Pumpkin and Pecan Pancakes
Spicy Pumpkin-Seed Brittle

Pumpkin Salad with Whipped Goat Cheese, Kale and Radishes