I think pumpkin is gross. But with pumpkin craft beer on grocery store end caps and pumpkin spice coffee everywhere you go, it can be surprising that actual gourds don't taste as good as they look. They're a festive fall decoration, sure, and they look great on the cover of food magazines, but when was the last time you actually cooked one? Or ate pumpkin in something other than pie?
For my family especially, which includes more than one picky eater, it's hard to get everyone to sit down together for a meal, let alone over something so seasonal and stigmatized. When it comes to embracing the season with their taste buds as well as with their eyes and noses, my family would rather stick to something simple like a flavored latte.
That's why I spent the last month in the kitchen, getting pumpkin in my hair and all over the house as I force-fed my family concoctions of all sorts. When I originally announced plans to test out different pumpkin recipes, I was met with a lot of skepticism. I tossed out ideas that yielded scrunched-up noses. Pumpkin salsa? Absolutely not. Pumpkin lasagna? Maybe, but probably not. Pumpkin frittata? No way. Pumpkin queso? They thought I'd lost my mind.
I ended up finding success with five recipes. They were all quick, simple and easy as, well, pie. The trick, I discovered, was introducing pumpkin to foods we already loved as a family. That way, the dishes were jazzed up without being too intimidating. Here is what we liked.
Carlynn Crosby, Times correspondent
Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls
My first success was cinnamon rolls. I've never met a person who doesn't like cinnamon rolls. And they're easy to make. I simply bought premade cinnamon roll dough and unrolled each roll with the cinnamon side up. To get the pumpkin in there, I spread about 1 teaspoon pumpkin puree on top of each roll, rolled them back up and baked them for the designated time.
Once the rolls came out, I drizzled them with icing, which I mixed with another tablespoon of pumpkin puree. Everyone looked at me as if I'd grown two heads when I served them orange icing, but the plate was empty in a matter of minutes.
Cinnamon and pumpkin go well together, but for this recipe I wanted to try something a little different. We're a chips-and-dip kind of family, and with football and hockey season upon us that's not likely to change. I decided to add pumpkin hummus to our typical spread of salsa, queso and guacamole, and it was a huge hit. I bought a family-sized 17-ounce container of classic hummus and mixed in 4 tablespoons pumpkin puree. I added about 1 teaspoon cumin, mixed it together and served it with pita chips. (I held off on spice because that would have been a deal-breaker for everyone, but it would be good with a chipotle kick.)
The hummus was a success because it was something we already liked and the pumpkin didn't overwhelm it. With the cumin and salt from the pita chips, the pumpkin flavor really came through as an aftertaste.
Whipped Pumpkin Spice Butter Spread
Another recipe that packed fall flavor without being too overwhelming was a whipped pumpkin spice butter spread. There's nothing I appreciate more than fresh biscuits for breakfast, and this spread was perfect for them, especially when they were still warm from the oven. After whipping 16 ounces softened, room-temperature salted butter in a bowl, I added 3 tablespoons pumpkin puree, 2 teaspoons pumpkin spice seasoning and 2 tablespoons sugar. I blended everything together and spooned it into mason jars, then let it sit for a few hours so everything could marry.
Using a pound of butter ensures we have enough spread to last us the season, and it's good on biscuits, toast or even on rice. I just stashed it in the fridge, but a fun way to store it is to scoop it onto parchment paper, roll it into a thick cylinder and pinch and twist the ends. Refrigerate overnight, and then you can slice the spread off for even portions.
Pumpkin Caramel Corn
We're big on snacking, and with some of us juggling busy schedules, it's helpful to have a few yummy nibbles ready around the house. Our easy go-to is chips or quick tapas-style plates like a simple caprese salad or cheese and crackers, so I wanted to change things up with something we usually have in our pantry: a stray bag of popcorn. First, I melted ¼ cup butter with ½ cup packed brown sugar, ¼ cup cornstarch and 2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice in a saucepan over medium heat. After the mixture bubbled, I let it cool and tossed it in a bowl with a full-sized bag of popped, nonbuttered popcorn. I spread the popcorn on a sheet pan and baked it at 250 degrees for an hour, turning it at about the 30-minute mark. This recipe killed two birds with one stone: We had snacks for days and the house smelled amazing.
Maple Pumpkin Nut Loaf
The biggest hit of the whole experiment was a pumpkin spice nut loaf, which is like banana bread but even easier. I purchased a box of spice cake mix from the grocery store, and after mixing in eggs, vegetable oil and water, blended in ¾ cup pumpkin puree and folded in 1 cup chopped walnuts. I baked it in a loaf pan according to package directions, then dusted it with powdered sugar and sliced it up.
It would have been a good dessert (or snack) by itself, but, unsatisfied, I made a glaze to go on top. I mixed 1 cup room-temperature water, ½ cup maple syrup and ⅓ cup confectioners' sugar together and drizzled a bit of it on each slice. It wasn't too thick so it sunk into the bread, making it moist and counteracting the woodiness of the walnuts.