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This time of year, there is no more popular or trendy ingredient than pumpkin. It is everywhere you look, from muffins to salads (all those pumpkin spice lattes don’t count, as there’s no actual squash in them, just pie spices). With such ubiquitous distribution comes the inevitable backlash. Some folks are truly dead-tired of all the pumpkin.
Let me take a moment to intervene on behalf of pumpkin (and all the rest of the sweet, orange-fleshed winter squash). I beg you: Don’t dismiss it just because it’s going through a period of oversaturation.
Instead, think of all its virtues. It’s a great source of beta carotene. It’s full of healthy fiber. And with just a little roasting, the flesh becomes intensely sweet and creamy. Truly, what’s not to like?
Right now one of my favorite sweet applications for pumpkin is Anne Burrell’s Pumpkin-Ginger Bread Pudding. You tear or cube some tender bread like challah or brioche, and saturate it with a custard made from eggs, cream, lots of spices, and goodly amounts of roasted and pureed pumpkin. When you bake it, the custard puffs gloriously; then, as the pudding cools, it settles into a sweet, squashy, eggy dessert that is good both warm and chilled.
It makes a perfect autumn dish for The Weekender. It’s truly a glorious, pumpkin-y treat.
Before you start cooking, read these tips:
— The recipe starts with roasting a 4-pound pumpkin or kabocha squash. If you’re pinched for time, you can also sub in 2 1/2 cups canned pumpkin puree.
— If your custard seems too thick, use a little extra milk to thin it down. If it’s too dense, it won’t soak into the bread appropriately.
— Bread pudding is the perfect make-ahead dessert. You can prep the whole thing, then stash it in the fridge. When dinner is on the table, slide your dessert into the oven.
— This is a recipe that could be transformed easily into a savory dish. Skip the sugar and pie spices, add some minced sage and black pepper, then top with some grated Gruyère just before baking.
Marisa McClellan is a food writer and canning teacher who lives in Center City Philadelphia. Find more of her food (all cooked up in her 80-square-foot kitchen) at her blog, Food in Jars. Her first cookbook, Food in Jars: Preserving in Small Batches Year-Round, is now available.