From soups to seeds, pumpkin can add savory flavor to fall menus

If you have a fondness for pumpkin, now is the time to indulge. Beyond popular pumpkin pie, the season’s sugar pumpkins provide rich and savory fall flavor for a home dinner or Thanksgiving feast.

“Pumpkins aren’t just for pies anymore,” said Chef Marc Orfaly, who served a five-course pumpkin menu at Pigalle last week. “I think they’re just as good savory as they are sweet.”

For his inventive dinner, Orfaly prepared pumpkin risotto with duck confit and black truffle; pumpkin hash with boudin noir, a French charcuterie sausage; pumpkin flan with porchetta, a suckling pig; and pumpkin mousse with lobster-potato roll.

Home cooks can keep it simpler, of course, using pumpkin for soups, as additions to pasta sauce and risotto, and, of course, for pies. And the pumpkin itself can be an attractive presentation vessel.

“Pumpkin makes an interesting addition to recipes,” said Newton food writer Clara Silverstein, author of two new cook books: “The Boston Chef’s Table” and “The New England Soup Factory Cookbook.”

“It goes really well with traditional fall spices of nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves and ginger. And it adds a pretty color.”

Many chefs prefer fresh sugar pumpkins – small pumpkins that are sweeter and denser than the larger carving pumpkins, which tend to be watery and starchy – for their dishes. But others use canned pumpkin because the moisture content and texture is more consistent, said Silverstein, who spoke with dozens of chefs for “The Boston Chef’s Table.”

Whether you use fresh or canned pumpkin, pumpkin soup is a wonderful way to start a fall meal and lends itself to creative treatments. It can be seasoned with maple syrup, dressed up with fresh lobster, or dotted with dried cranberries.

“Some pumpkin soups are very basic, but these have more complex flavors,” said Silverstein, who includes in her cookbooks recipes for  pumpkin and butternut squash soup with maple syrup; pumpkin, lobster and ginger soup; and pumpkin and cranberry soup.

With sweet nuggets of fresh lobster, the pumpkin, lobster and ginger soup has a lobster stock base enriched with heavy cream, creme fraiche, cream sherry and white wine. Perfect for Thanksgiving, the pumpkin and cranberry is a creamy, dense soup with dried cranberries soaked in sherry floating on its bright orange surface like polka dots.

“These soups are really popular at Thanksgiving and give you a sense of autumn in New England,” Silverstein said.

With pureed pumpkin, you also can make a fall risotto or pasta sauce. Orfaly recommends roasting the pumpkins with a bit of butter and nutmeg and then scooping out the insides for an all-purpose puree. Combine the pumpkin with butternut and other winter squashes for added flavor. In general, the meat of a pumpkin is a little lighter and sweeter than that of a butternut squash, although sometimes the tastes are hard to distinguish, Orfaly said.

In fact, pie baker Andrea Taber, owner of Ever So Humble bakery in Walpole, experimented with pumpkin pie recipes and came up with a pie that blends sugar pumpkins and winter squashes.

“We get the best of both pumpkins and squash,” she said. “It’s a full-bodied, much better tasting pie.”

After trademarking the name Squmpkin, Taber guards the pie recipe, which includes
2 percent milk, spices and brown sugar. She uses only fresh sugar pumpkins, preferring their texture and flavor to canned pumpkin.

“We want you to taste the pumpkin and squash, so we don’t kill them  with sugar,” she said. “We don’t overly sweeten or spice the pies.”

During her childhood, Taber often ate pumpkin after Halloween, and she still prepares what she calls “a meal in a pumpkin.” Inside a halved sugar pumpkin, she bakes a mix of seasoned ground beef and rice.

“The juices from the meat flavor the pumpkin and it’s delicious,” she said.

The pumpkin as vessel gets creative treatment from Chef Todd English of Olives in his
pumpkin lasagna, featured in “Boston Chef’s Table.” For a seasonal twist, English replaces traditional red sauce with butternut squash sauce and bakes and serves the lasagna in a hollowed-out pumpkin.

“You bring out the pumpkin and everyone ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs,’” Silverstein said.

If you’re still hankering for pumpkin after the meal, toasted pumpkin seeds make a tasty snack.