Put time into dinner now, and you can make it last forever -- or at least the whole week. Welcome to Halfway to Dinner, where we show you how to stretch your staples -- or your seasonal produce -- every which way.
Pumpkins and squash are the epitome of autumn, with their various shades of yellow, red, and green spanning the whole range of the season's color palette. Kabocha, ambercup, butternut, Musquée de Provence (also know as Fairytale pumpkin), buttercup, and many more -- the list of winter squash is as long as the list of recipes I use them in.
Every week I buy different kinds of squash at the market and line them up on my kitchen windowsill. This is my kind of decoration -- the kind I can eat and the kind that changes every time I stock up for my next batch of recipe ideas.
Both my cooking and baking follows the seasons, and the transition to autumn brings back hearty food for cozy dinners at my long wooden table. To me, spices are to winter what fresh herbs are to summer. I have a big old metal box on my kitchen shelf filled with jam jars that I reuse for all the aromatic seeds and powders that refine our meals -- cinnamon, turmeric, cloves, nutmeg, allspice, juniper, cardamom, and many more. Apart from the pumpkin's beauty, its great quality is that it goes very well with the most exotic spice mixtures.
Here are some of the pumpkin classics that I come back to every autumn:
Pumpkin Gnocchi with Walnut Pesto
There's no doubt that homemade gnocchi taste so much better than the store-bought variety, and if you follow a few rules, they can also be fun to prepare. I learned to make gnocchi from my mother, a wonderful and experienced cook. It's crucial that the potato, butter, and egg yolk mixture be completely cool before you mix in the flour. Otherwise, the gnocchi will turn out too soft. If your dough is too stick to work with, add the flour in small increments to prevent against dry or tough gnocchi.
For the autumn version of my gnocchi recipe, I replace some of the potatoes with pumpkin, which makes the gnocchi smoother in texture and almost sweet in flavor. I like to top them with walnut-parsley pesto -- the nutty flavor of the pesto matches perfect with the gnocchi's sweetness.
More: Make any type of pesto you'd like, no recipe required.
Spicy Pumpkin Soup with Chili and Bittersweet Chocolate
This wonderfully warming soup, perfect for the cold nights ahead, gains depth and heat from bittersweet chocolate and hot chili peppers. I love the combination of sweet and spicy in chocolate bars, and it works just as well in soup.
I cook the pumpkin with chopped onions, leek, carrots, potatoes, dried chilies, and a bay leaf for about half an hour. After I season the vegetables with nutmeg, salt, and pepper, I purée the soup in a blender until it has a velvety texture. To finish the soup, I sprinkle it with finely chopped fresh red chili peppers and grated bittersweet chocolate.
Golden Pumpkin Spaghetti
This dish looks like Tuscany in autumn -- the golden spaghetti, orange pumpkin slices, and dark green roasted pumpkin seeds mimic the warm colors of the afternoon light in the soft Tuscan hills. I like to use Hokkaido pumpkin or kabocha squash for this recipe (as you can leave on its beautiful skin), but I've also made it with butternut squash and Musquée de Provence.
The recipe is really quick and easy. You do have to cut the pumpkin very thinly, so I recommend using a vegetable slicer. You’ll then sauté the slices in a splash of olive oil and some butter and sugar for a few minutes, until they're golden brown and soft. After you’ve seasoned them with salt and pepper, you mix them with the spaghetti, a few drops of the aromatic pumpkin seed oil, and a handful of roasted pumpkin seeds. The pasta should be al dente, and you’ll want to mix it with a splash of the cooking water (if you only use the pumpkin seed oil to glaze the pasta, the oil's taste will be too overpowering).
Pumpkin and Ginger Brack, an Irish Tea Cake
When we moved to Whitby in North Yorkshire, England a few years, it didn’t take me too long to fall in love with the locals, the food, and the dreamy village. It must have been the day after my arrival that I discovered the famous local bakery called Botham's, which soon became my second home. One of the many local delicacies I grew to love is brack: juicy, butter-free Irish teacakes made with dried fruits soaked in tea and lots of spices. In Ireland, this is a traditional Halloween cake, but in my kitchen, I bake various versions of it all year round.
This recipe is made with puréed pumpkin in addition to tea-soaked raisins, sultanas, grated fresh ginger, and candied ginger. I also added a traditional spice combination of cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, and cloves. The result is an aromatic and moist loaf, and the pumpkin makes it soft. It tastes divine with butter spread on top.
Pumpkin Pie with Coriander Caramel
My boyfriend's family is Maltese-American, and both cultures have had a big influence on my cooking and baking, especially on the sweet side. American pies and cookies soon became some of my favorites. For pumpkin pie, one of the fall classics, I came up with a recipe that combines the traditional version with a caramel and coriander seed topping. Coriander is very prominent in the cooking of the Maltese Islands in the Mediterranean, so this dish combines the best of both worlds.
For the walnut pesto:
3 1/2 ounces (100 grams) walnuts, plus a few for the topping
3 tablespoons chopped parsley
1/2 cup (110 millilters) olive oil
Salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste
For the pumpkin gnocchi:
21 ounces (600 grams) pumpkin, cut into 1-inch (2 1/2-centimeter) cubes
7 ounces (200 gram) potatoes, cut into 1-inch (2 1/2-centimeter) cubes
2 egg yolks
2 tablespoons butter
10 ounces (280 grams) plain flour
3 teaspoons (leveled) salt
Grated nutmeg, to taste
Pepper, to taste
Photos by Meike Peters