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Calaveras and Jack O' Lanterns : Beyond Jack O' Lanterns

October 27, 1994|NICK MALGIERI

Most of us tend to think the principal use of pumpkins (apart from Halloween jack-o'-lanterns) is pumpkin pie. Even then, most people use pumpkin from a can, rather than from a fresh pumpkin. That's a pity, because fresh pumpkin is easy to prepare and certainly more tasty than the canned type.

"I always take advantage of the fresh-pumpkin season as soon as it starts," says Terrance Brennan, chef-owner of Manhattan's popular Picholine. "The pumpkin soup I prepared for our new menu is now a vegetarian dish--I stopped using chicken stock in the soup, first because that was the choice of many of our customers who avoid meat and meat products, and also because water does not obscure the delicate pumpkin flavor. We also serve pumpkin and wild mushroom-filled ravioli with brown butter and Parmesan cheese, and a delicious pumpkin bread pudding."

Sarabeth Levine, known to many for her Sarabeth's restaurants in New York and also for her line of homemade preserves, is wild about pumpkins too. "In my restaurants the pumpkin muffin has no special season. It has been my signature muffin and a year-round favorite since I opened."

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If you want to cook your own pumpkin for a pie, make sure to buy an orange-fleshed sugar pumpkin or pie pumpkin, usually available at farmers markets and at roadside stands in the fall. Don't under any circumstances use the jack-o'-lantern-type pumpkin (the most common kind in supermarkets), which is watery and insipid when cooked. You may also substitute cooked sweet potatoes or acorn squash for the pumpkin.

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This quickly made soup would be perfect as a first course for a fall or Thanksgiving dinner.

TERRANCE BRENNAN'S PUMPKIN SOUP

1 (1 1/2- to 2-pound) sugar pumpkin

1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1 ripe Bartlett pear, peeled, cored and chopped

1/2 cup chopped onion

1/2 cup chopped celery

6 leaves fresh sage, or 1/2 teaspoon dried

3 cups water

Salt

1/2 cup whipping cream

Pepper

2 tablespoons crumbled blue cheese, at room temperature

2 tablespoons chopped toasted walnuts

Rinse, quarter and scrape seeds from pumpkin. Place pieces, skin side down, on lightly oiled baking pan. Rub pieces with 2 tablespoons butter, then sprinkle with cinnamon and nutmeg. Bake at 350 degrees on middle oven rack until tender, about 30 minutes. Cool and scrape flesh from pumpkin into bowl with spoon.

Melt remaining 2 tablespoons butter in large saucepan. Add pear, onion, celery and sage. Cook over low heat until tender and transparent, about 15 minutes. Add pumpkin, 3 cups water and season lightly to taste with salt. Simmer about 15 minutes to blend flavors.

Cool soup slightly, then puree in blender or food processor. May be prepared to this point day before and refrigerated.

Before serving, reheat soup over low heat. Add whipping cream. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve in heated bowls sprinkled with cheese and walnuts. Makes about 4 servings.

Each serving contains about:

323 calories; 161 mg sodium; 75 mg cholesterol; 27 grams fat; 21 grams carbohydrates; 4 grams protein; 2.88 grams fiber.

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No one is undecided about pumpkin pie--people either love it or hate it. I often dream of the smooth, spicy filling in mid-summer, wishing that I had frozen some cooked pumpkin the previous fall.

HALLOWEEN PUMPKIN PIE

1 (2-pound) sugar pumpkin, or 1 1/2 cups canned pumpkin

2 eggs

2 egg yolks

2/3 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground ginger, or 1 teaspoon finely grated fresh ginger root

1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1 1/4 cups half and half

Pie Crust

Rinse, stem and halve pumpkin. Scrape away seeds and filaments. Cut pumpkin into 2-inch chunks. Remove skin, using paring knife.

Place pumpkin in large baking dish and add 1/2 cup water. Cover tightly with foil. Bake pumpkin at 350 degrees on middle oven rack until soft, about 1 hour, adding more water if needed. Cool and puree pumpkin in food processor.

Scrape pumpkin puree or canned pumpkin into bowl. Whisk in eggs and yolks. Add sugar, salt, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and half and half, whisking smooth between each addition.

Pour filling into prepared Pie Crust. Bake at 350 degrees on lowest oven rack until crust is baked through and filling is set, about 1 hour.

Cool pie on rack. If pie must sit more than 2 hours before serving, when cool, cover loosely with plastic wrap and refrigerate. Makes 8 servings.

Each serving contains about:

294 calories; 235 mg sodium; 177 mg cholesterol; 14 grams fat; 38 grams carbohydrates; 6 grams protein; 0.79 gram fiber.

Note : If there is more puree than needed, salt lightly and freeze up to several months in tightly sealed plastic food container.

Pumpkin seeds may be baked on jelly-roll pan with dash salt and eaten as snack.

Pie Crust

1 cup flour

3 tablespoons sugar

1/4 teaspoon baking powder

Dash salt

1/4 cup cold unsalted butter, cut into 12 pieces

1 large egg

Pumpkin Filling

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