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Pumpkins carve out new trend

SHAPE October 2016

Chefs, restaurateurs find myriad uses for pumpkin in a variety of creative preparations.


It's fall once again, a time when we're reminded of how the humble pumpkin has become such an iconic element of our culture.

Not only is it a season when we find countless gap-toothed jack o' lanterns grinning back at us from every darkened window or doorstep, but it's also time for chefs and restaurateurs to carve out some space on their menus to accommodate dishes made from those big orange gourds.

What is as remarkable, however, is how the pumpkin has grown even more popular as an ingredient over time, and has been thrust into a starring role in everything from pumpkin-flavored lattes to stuffed pastas. One reason for its increasing popularity is that Americans already tend to associate the pumpkin with positive values. “It conjures up ideas of home and comfort, of family, of the holidays,” says William Phillips, associate professor of culinary arts at The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York.

Amy Myrdal Miller, founder and president of Farmer's Daughter Consulting in Carmichael, California, agrees, saying, “It's familiar to most Americans. We're used to seeing it in pumpkin pie in traditional Thanksgiving meals, and now we're seeing it everywhere. A shopper at [the supermarket] this time of year can’t walk more than a few paces before seeing yet another new pumpkin sweet or savory food or beverage item.”

Yet, observes Joe Garber, marketing coordinator for Datassential, even though it seems as if the pumpkin is everywhere, “It still manages to find more room to grow each year. It continues to be among the most popular seasonal flavors used and shows steady, strong growth. In fact, there hasn’t been a dip in its use on menus over the past 10 years. Pumpkin is currently featured on 15 percent of U.S. menus, up 35 percent over the past four years.”

Beyond being a component of traditional desserts and hot beverages, pumpkin also is finding its way into soups, salads, stews, pastas and even cocktails, experts say.

In a recent study Datassential identified such current, pumpkin-centric restaurant selections as Pumpkin Chai Latte; Pumpkin Muffin; Squash Tortelletti with saba, pumpkin seeds and sage brown butter; Braised Lamb Shank with pumpkin, grilled kale, pepitas and citrus apple slaw; and Grilled Sea Scallops with pumpkin and chard risotto, fried pork belly, apple and golden raisin chutney and cranberry glaze.

Pumpkin also benefits from the consumer's growing interest in nutritious foods. Low in calories, pumpkin is nevertheless rich in dietary fiber, antioxidants, minerals and such vitamins as A, C and E. “A 1-cup serving of pumpkin contains just 30 calories and nearly twice the daily value for vitamin A,” says Myrdal Miller. Vitamin A is a natural antioxidant required by the body for maintaining the integrity of skin and the mucous membranes and also is necessary for good eyesight.

Pumpkin is a good source of B-complex group of vitamins like folates, niacin, vitamin B-6, thiamin and pantothenic acid, and is also rich in minerals like copper, calcium, potassium and phosphorus.

In addition, pumpkin seeds provide an excellent source of dietary fiber and mono-unsaturated fatty acids, which are good for heart health. The seeds are concentrated sources of protein, minerals and vitamins.

Working with fresh pumpkin requires some labor on the part of the kitchen staff, experts say. Pumpkins first need to be peeled with a stout peeler or a small chef's knife, says Phillips. Then they must be cut in sections or diced, boiled until tender and, generally, pureed or mashed. They also can be roasted in the oven with the skin on.

While some chefs and restaurateurs prefer to cook with fresh pumpkins, other look to save labor by opting for canned products. “Pumpkin is not easy to work with in the kitchen,” says Myrdal Miller. “Cutting a whole pumpkin takes a lot of effort and knife skills. A smart operator will use a value-added/fresh-cut product, or a processed/canned product.”

However pumpkin is handled in the kitchen, it can find a place in a wide variety of preparations, Phillips and Myrdal Miller say. Some of their recommendations follow:

• Pumpkin bread pudding topped with salted caramel sauce and served on a breakfast buffet.

• Ravioli filled with pumpkin puree and crumbled amaretti cookies, and served with brown butter and sage as an appetizer.

• French-style beef pumpkin ragout with veal stock, mirepoix, bay leaves and a cinnamon stick, and offered as a main dish.

• Pumpkin and potato gnocchi flavored with Parmesan cheese, nutmeg, cinnamon and cloves, and served with a cream sauce, either as an appetizer or entrée.

• Pumpkin and lobster risotto, made with a stock containing pumpkin and lobster shells, flavored with saffron and garnished with pieces of lobster and Parmesan cheese.

• Crème brûlée and pumpkin flan, made with pumpkin puree, cream, eggs and sugar, and served as a dessert item.

• Pumpkin seed  butter made with toasted pumpkin seeds, pumpkin oil and sea salt, ground into a paste and spread on whole wheat bread with chili peppers,  as a sandwich.

• Vegetable curry with pumpkin, cauliflower, caramelized onions, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, coriander and other spices, as an entrée.

• Pumpkin soup made with a puree of hickory smoked pumpkin flavored with hazelnut oil.

• Pumpkin martini with pumpkin pie spice and pumpkin puree, sugar, vodka, half and half and maple syrup.

As shown above, pumpkin can be a versatile ingredient — particularly during the fall when consumers expect to find it in some form on the menu. All it takes is a little creativity on the part of a chef or restaurateur, and you've got a perfect seasonal preparation tailor-made to help you scare up some new business. 




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