Ask A Seattle Chef: 5 Tasty Pumpkin Dishes

October 14, 2015 5:00 AM

(Photo credit: Thinkstock)

Lauren Thompson, who was named one of Seattle’s next hot chefs by Metropolitan Magazine, synthesizes novelty and familiarity into dishes that yield unexpected flavor profiles and unforgettable dining experiences. Thompson is a self-proclaimed “fanatic” about using fresh, seasonal ingredients — including pumpkin. Squat, round, orange and unassuming, pumpkins have taken the world by storm — and according to Smithsonian Magazine, pumpkin-spiced beverages and culinary dishes have increased by 234 percent in restaurants nationwide between 2008 and 2012. From soup to sformata and from salad to gnocchi, Thompson shares some of her favorite pumpkin dishes.
Lauren Thompson, Chef de Cuisine  
Cafe Juanita
9702 N.E. 120 Place
Kirkland, WA 98034
(425) 823-1505
www.cafejuanita.com

Chef Lauren Thompson was born in Zimbabwe and raised in Texas, but it’s here in Seattle where she has truly made her mark, marrying seasonal ingredients with longtime favorites and novel dishes alike. For Thompson, squash is a favorite ingredient because it’s a canvas for other elements. “Different squashes all have their own family of flavors and textures — they’re under the same umbrella, but can certainly be used for different dishes,” she explained. Thompson shares her favorite recipes for squash soup, salad, gnocchi, polenta and sformata.

Pumpkin Soup

Butternut squash soup is one of my favorite ways to use butternut squash when it first comes into season. In this recipe, the squash is boiled, but feel free to roast and puree the squash in a blender and then thicken out the puree with stock and heavy cream to make a very similar soup. Serves 4-6.

1 butternut squash
1 T olive oil
½ cup yellow onion, sliced
¼ t cayenne pepper
¼ t cumin
¼ cup white wine
4 cups chicken stock
1 T kosher salt
½ cup heavy cream
2 T roasted pumpkin seeds
1 t pumpkin seed oil

1.    Peel, deseed and cut the squash into pieces about 1 inch thick.
2.    Place a saucepan over medium heat and add the olive oil. Then add the sliced onions, cooking for about 5-7 minutes until translucent.
3.    Add the diced butternut squash and cook for about 2 minutes, moving the pieces around with a heatproof spatula or a spoon.
4.    Add the cayenne pepper and cumin and cook for another 30 seconds, stirring the pieces to coat them with the spices.
5.    Add the white wine and reduce by half.
6.    Add the chicken stock, ensuring the squash is just barely covered with the liquid and add the salt. Note: you may need to add a bit more stock.
7.    Bring to a boil, then turn the heat down until it is simmering. Cook until the squash is cooked all the way through.
8.    Using an immersion blender, blend the ingredients together, in the pot, until it is completely smooth.
9.    Add the heavy cream, stirring in thoroughly. Taste and add more salt, cayenne pepper, or cumin, as needed.
10.  Divide among the soup bowls and garnish each bowl with a few of the roasted pumpkin seeds and a drizzle of the pumpkin seed oil.

Pumpkin Salad 

Salads with warm elements are a great way to enjoy a light and refreshing dish in cooler months.Volkhorn bread is a lovely, dense whole grain bread that often has pumpkin seeds baked into the bread itself or as a part of the top crust. It’s a denser bread and makes a great toasted crouton that holds up to the sage vinaigrette in this salad. This recipes calls for butternut squash, but delicate squash, treated in the same way, would make a lovely substitute. Serves 4-6.

Sage and Lemon Juice Vinaigrette
1/3 cup lemon juice
¼ cup packed with sage leaves, middle stem removed
1 T honey
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
Kosher Salt
Black pepper, ground

1.    Place the sage leaves and lemon juice in a food processor.
2.    With the machine running, drizzle in the extra virgin olive oil.
3.    Season to taste with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.
4.    Remove from the food processor and refrigerate until ready to use.

For the croutons
1 cup diced volkhorn bread
2 T extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt
Ground black pepper

1.    Preheat the oven to 300° F.
2.    Place the diced volkhorn bread in a bowl and mix thoroughly with the extra virgin olive oil.
3.    Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.
4.    Spread the seasoned volkhorn bread cubes onto a sheet tray and place in the oven.
5.    Cook until dry and crunchy all the way through.
6.    Remove from the oven and drain on paper towels to absorb the excess oil.
7.    Hold in an air tight container until ready to use.

For the Salad
2 T butter
8-10 sage leaves, middle stem removed
1 head Belgian Endive, leaves separated
1 head radicchio, core removed and leaves torn into bite sized pieces
1 cup arugula
2 T pumpkin seeds
½ cup volkhorn bread croutons, see recipe above
¼ cup toasted hazelnuts, roughly chopped
1 cup diced butternut squash, about ½ inch
1 T butter
1 T Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2 T of the sage and lemon juice vinaigrette, see recipe above.
3 T Goat Cheese
Kosher salt
Ground pepper, freshly ground

1.    In a small sauté pan, heat one tablespoon butter over medium high heat. Add a pinch of salt, then place the sage leaves in a single layer. The butter will foam and gradually start browning. As you see dark green specks appear on the sage leaves, using a pair of tongs, flip them over. When the sage leaves have turned almost completely dark brown, remove from the sauté pan and place on a plate.
2.    Place the Belgian endive, radicchio and arugula in a large mixing bowl. Add the pumpkin seeds, volkhorn bread croutons and hazelnuts.
3.    Heat a sauté pan over medium high heat. Add butter and extra virgin olive oil. Season with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Flip the pieces after a minute or two and cook until tender, 2-4 minutes.
4.    Remove from heat and place the hot squash in the bowl with the lettuces.
5.    Add the sage and lemon juice vinaigrette, season with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Gently mix the salad. Taste and adjust the seasoning as necessary. Place in a salad bowl, or on individual plates and garnish with the crispy sage leaves and crumbles of goat cheese.

Preserved Pumpkin With Goat Cheese Gnocchi, Bacon, And Salsa Verde

Goat cheese gnocchi is one of my favorite dishes and is a great canvas to showcase many flavors. This dish is lovely because it balances the sweetness of the preserved pumpkin with the smokiness and slight tartness from the goat cheese in the gnocchi. Sugar pumpkins are great because their texture holds up to gnocchi very well, butother pumpkin would also be delightful. Serves 4-6.

For the preserved pumpkin
1 Sugar Pumpkin
2 cups water
1 cup sugar

1.    Remove the stem. Cut the pumpkin in half, lengthwise and use a spoon to scrape out the seeds. Remove the skin.
2.    Combine the water and sugar in a medium sauce pan and bring to a boil over high heat. Turn off the heat as soon as it comes to a boil.
3.    Add the slices of sugar pumpkin. Turn the heat on medium low and cook the pumpkin slices until they are tender. Be careful not to overcook the pumpkin, or it will begin to fall apart.
4.    Once the pumpkin is tender, remove it from the liquid and place on a plate to cool.
5.    Once it is has cooled completely, using your fingers, break it into pieces about an inch long.
6.    When ready to use, re-warm in an oven.

For the goat cheese gnocchi
1 lb goat cheese
1 egg
1 t salt
¼ t black pepper, freshly ground
1 cup all purpose flour, plus extra for dusting

1.    Bring a small sauce pan of water to a boil.
2.    Mix the goat cheese, egg, salt and black pepper until it is thoroughly combined.
3.    Add ¾ of the flour, ¼ cup at a time; using your hands, mix with the goat cheese mixture. Once the flour is incorporated, stop mixing so that the dough is not over mixed, which will make it tough. Once you have added ¾ of the flour, if the dough is still tacky and a bit sticky, add the rest. If it is not longer sticky, you are ready to test it.
4.    Take a small piece of the dough and roll it into a ball the size of a marble. Place it in the boiling water and boil for 2 minutes. Using a small strainer, remove the gnocchi from the water and place it on a plate and push down on it with your finger. If it smashes very easily, you will need to add more flour to the goat cheese mixture. If it does not smash easily and slides away from your finger, the dough is finished.
5.    Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30+ minutes.
6.    Remove the dough from the refrigerator.
7.    Dust a cutting board with flour and remove about an eighth of the dough. Roll the dough into a strip about half an inch in diameter. Cut the stip into pieces about half an inch thick. Once the whole strip has been cut, place the gnocchi on a sheet tray lined with parchment paper and dusted with flour. Repeat with another eighth of the dough until you have cut all the dough.
8.    Place sheet tray in the refrigerator until ready to use.

For the Salsa Verde
1 cup finely chopped parsley
¼ cup chopped capers
½ t finely chopped shallots
2 t lemon juice
3 T extra virgin olive oil
1 pinch cayenne pepper
1 t kosher salt

In a small bowl, combine all the ingredients and mix thoroughly. Taste and adjust the seasoning as necessary with kosher salt and cayenne pepper.

For the Goat Cheese Gnocchi with Bacon and Preserved Pumpkin
½ cup bacon, diced
1 t chopped garlic
2 t chopped shallots
½ cup white wine
1 cup chicken stock
2 T butter
Kosher salt
Black pepper, freshly ground
1 t sherry vinegar
4 slices of the preserved pumpkin, warmed
4 T salsa verde, see recipe above

1.    Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
2.    Add the bacon to a large sauté pan over medium heat. Cook the bacon until is has rendered off some fat and is starting to crisp.
3.    Once the bacon is crispy, add the garlic and shallots to the pan. Cook for another 2 minutes, stirring, and add the white wine, reducing by half.
4.    Add the chicken stock and reduce by half.
5.    Add the butter and season to taste with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.
6.    Add the goat cheese gnocchi to the pot of salted boiling water and cook until the gnocchi begins to float, about 2 minutes.
7.    Using a strainer, remove the gnocchi from the water, placing it directly into the pan with the bacon sauce.
8.    Gently stir the gnocchi around in the sauce, making sure it is completely coated in the sauce.
9.    Taste and add the sherry vinegar, salt or freshly ground black pepper to taste.
10.  Place on a large platter in a single layer or place on individual plate.
11.  Garnish with the warmed preserved pumpkin pieces and dollops of the salsa verde.

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Pumpkin Polenta 

This polenta makes a great side dish to a winter game meat. I like using red kuri squash because it’s a denser squash and I like to roast it to concentrate its flavors. The huckleberries in this dish help balance the richness of the polenta. Serves 4-6. 

For the squash puree
1 red kuri squash
1 t Kosher salt
½ t ground black pepper
1 T extra virgin olive oil

1.    Preheat oven to 350° F.
2.    Cut the red kuri squash in half and remove the seeds, using a spoon to scrape them out. Season the cut side with the salt and black pepper. Drizzle the extra virgin olive oil on the cut side. Place them cut side down onto a parchment-lined backing tray.
3.    Place them in the oven and roast until they are tender. Check them after an hour – if they’re not tender, cook until you can run a paring knife through the flesh with ease.
4.    Once the flesh is tender, remove them from the oven and let cool until you can handle them easily.
5.    Once you can easily handle the squash, using a spoon, scrape the flesh away from the skin with a spoon.
6.    Place the flesh in a blender, blending until smooth. You may have to add some water if the flesh is too thick to puree. Only add enough water until it is easy to puree.

For the polenta
6 cups water
2 cups dried polenta
1 t kosher salt
1 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano
1 cup red kuri squash puree
½ cup butter
¼ c mascarpone
¼ cup huckleberries

1.    Bring the water to a boil over high heat.
2.    Slowly drizzle the polenta into the boiling water being sure to thoroughly whisk as you go to ensure the polenta will not be lumpy.
3.    Bring to a boil and turn to a very low simmer. Stirring frequently, let the polenta cook for about an hour and half until it is completely tender.
4.    Once the polenta is tender, add the grated Parmigiano Reggiano, red kuri squash puree  and butter. Mix until it is completely combined.
5.    Season to taste with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.
6.    To plate, place a dollop the mascarpone in the center of the plate. Place the polenta over the mascarpone, add the polenta and garnish with the huckleberries.


Pumpkin Sformata With Chanterelles 

This dish is a great way to use squash to make a dish that’s a little more sophisticated, even though it has a very simple presentation. Both the concentration of the roasted squash puree in thesformata and the squash broth allow for a really impactful squash-flavored dish. The chanterelles complement the squash and this makes a great first course or accompaniment toa main course. Serves 4.

For the broth
1 wedge red kuri squash, seeded but with the skin on
3 cups filtered water
1 onion
3 parsley stems
2 slices bacon

1.    Place all the ingredients into a small sauce pan and bring to a simmer.
2.    Keep at a simmer for an hour.
3.    Strain through a fine mesh strainer.

For the sformata
1 red kuri squash
1 t Kosher salt
½ t ground black pepper
1 T Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 cup heavy cream
1 Egg
1 Egg yolk
1 t salt
2 T room temperature butter
1 c. chanterelle mushrooms
1 T Extra Virgin Olive Oil
½ t. Thyme leaves

Special equipment needed: 4 ramekins, at least 4 ounces each.

1.    Preheat the oven to 350° F.
2.    Cut the red kuri squash in half and remove the seeds. Use a spoon to scrape them out. Season the cut side with the salt and black pepper. Drizzle the extra virgin olive oil on the cut side. Place them cut side down onto a parchment lined backing tray.
3.    Place them in the oven and roast until they are tender. Check them after an hour and if they are not tender, cook them until you can run a paring knife through the flesh with ease.
4.    Once the flesh is tender, remove them from the oven and let cool until you can handle them easily.
5.    Once you can easily handle the squash, using a spoon, scrape the flesh away from the skin with a spoon.
6.    Place the flesh in a blender and blend until smooth. You may have to add a little water if the flesh is too thick to puree. Only add enough water until it is easy to puree.
7.    Measure 1 cup of the pureed squash and reserve the rest for another use. In a bowl combine the 1 cup of pureed squash with the heavy cream, egg and egg yolk. Mix thoroughly until the mixture is smooth. Add the salt.
8.    Using the room temperature butter, butter the inside of the ramekins.
9.    Divide the squash mixture among the ramekins, filling them almost all the way to the top.
10.  Place the ramekins into a small baking pan and put in the middle rack of the 350° F oven. Be very careful of the hot oven and fill the baking pan with water until it comes half way up the sides of the ramekins. Bake the squash sformatas until they have set, just over an hour. You will know they are done when they feel firm to the touch. If they are not firm to the touch after an hour, keep cooking them and check every 10 minutes.
11.  Remove the baking pan from the oven, being careful not to spill the hot water. Remove the ramekins from the baking pan, letting them cool to room temperature. This will help the sformata set all the way through.
12.  When ready to serve, place the sformatas back in a 350° F oven to reheat.
13.  While the sformata is in the oven reheating, place a small sauté pan over medium heat to heat up. When the pan is hot, add 1 t butter and the extra virgin olive oil. Add the chanterelles. Season with kosher salt and add the thyme. Cook until tender, about 2 minutes, and remove the pan from the heat.
14.  To serve: when the sformatas are hot, remove from the oven and place each ramekin on a plate. Add the chanterelles to the top. Serve with hot broth on the side. Break a whole in the top of the sformata and pour in some of the broth, a little at a time.

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Tracy Campion is a freelance writer covering all things Seattle. Her work can be found on Examiner.com.