Here are a dozen places to visit in Downtown/Strip District, East End, South Side and South Hills for the best tacos in Pittsburgh.
Like so many people, I eagerly await the arrival of Pumpkin Season the way a 5-year-old counts down the days to Christmas. It can't come fast enough each fall and, after all that waiting for local pumpkin patches to mature and send fruits to my local farmers market, whoosh! It seems like it's gone before you know it.
I didn't always used to be such a fan. For most of my life, in fact, I associated pumpkin with the dessert everyone and his cousin professes to love but I couldn't hate more -- pumpkin pie. Then a few years ago, my son's girlfriend, Carolann, had me try a Pumking pumpkin ale. Talk about your revelations.
One sip of the heavily spiced, slightly sweet pumpkin brew and I wasn't just in love, I was hooked. (Addicted, my husband likes to say.) And I suddenly realized: What other pumpkin-y delights had I been missing? Quite a few, it turns out -- everything from doughnuts and pasta dishes to soup, cookies and even jam.
I still wouldn't eat a slice of pumpkin pie if my life depended upon it, but I've discovered plenty of delicious and different uses for Libby's canned pure pumpkin, which is made from Dickinson pumpkins (a long, tan variety that looks more like a butternut squash than the big round orange carving pumpkin on the label). We offer a few of those recipes here, including one for making your own pumpkin puree from scratch. It's easier than you might think, and so much sweeter than canned. Plus, this year is shaping up to be a good year for Pennsylvania pumpkin growers, according to the folks at the Pennsylvania Vegetable Marketing and Research Program. So you should be able to find edible varieties in spades through the end of October at your farmers market or grocery.
To choose, look for a firm pumpkin that's free of any punctures or soft areas and has a good, solid stem. While it's possible to cook a large jack-o-lantern-type pumpkin for pies and other recipes, you probably don't want to because the flesh will be stringy and not particularly flavorful; smaller pie-types that weigh 5 to 8 pounds (called "sugar pumpkins" because of their sweetness) are a much better choice because they're bred specifically for cooking.
After the seeds and attached strings are removed, pumpkins can be cooked a number of different ways -- boiled, steamed or microwaved until tender. I prefer to roast one in a hot oven until its flesh is fragrant and tender, making sure to first prick it several times with a fork to allow steam to escape. Cooked, pureed pumpkin can be refrigerated up to three days, or packed in bags or plastic containers and frozen for several months.
Any way you prepare it, the fruit is good for you. Rich in antioxidants and high in fiber, a serving of pumpkin also is chock full of vitamin A, which is important for bone growth and eyesight.
Let the madness begin.
Pumpkin Parmesan Risotto
Pumpkin puree prepared from scratch takes some time and effort but it's so worth it, especially when you're making something as delicious as risotto. I roasted a blue Hubbard squash from Harvest Valley Farms at the Market Square Farmers Market. Prick it several times with a fork to allow steam to escape, and bake it in a 350-degree oven until tender (about 2 hours for a 4-pound pumpkin).
2 to 2 1/2 cups water
1 3/4 cups chicken broth
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup finely chopped onion (1 large)
1 clove garlic, minced
2 cups uncooked arborio rice
1 cup dry white wine
1 1/2 tablespoons snipped fresh sage
1 cup Pumpkin Puree (recipe at follows) or canned pureed pumpkin
1/2 cup finely shredded Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
Sage leaves and shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano for garnish
In large saucepan bring the water and broth to boil; reduce heat to maintain simmer.
In heavy 4-quart saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. add onion and garlic and cook for 3 minutes or until tender, stirring occasionally. Add rice; cook and stir for 2 minutes. Add wine; cook and stir until liquid is absorbed. Stir in snipped sage and a bout 1 cup of the broth mixture; stir until almost all of the liquid is absorbed.
Continue cooking and adding broth, 1 cup at a time, stirring until almost all of the liquid is absorbed before adding more. Continue cooking and adding broth until rice is tender but still firm to the bite and risotto is creamy.
Stir pumpkin puree and 1/2 cup cheese into risotto. Cook until heated through, about 1 minute. Serve in bowls. If desired, top with sage leaves and shaved cheese.
Serves 4 to 6.
-- "Better Homes & Gardens Fresh: Recipes for Enjoying Ingredients at Their Peak" (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, April 2013, $29.99)
2 1/2 pounds pie pumpkins
Cut pumpkin into 5-by-5-inch pieces. Remove seeds and strings. Arrange pieces in a single layer, skin sides up, in a foil-lined baking pan. Cover with foil. Bake about 1 hour or until tender. When cool enough to handle, scoop pulp from rind. Place pulp in food processor or blender. Process or blend until smooth. Transfer puree to an airtight container, and store for up to 3 days in the refrigerator or freeze up to 6 months. Thaw frozen puree in the refrigerator.
Makes 13/4 cups.
Pumpkin Spice Drop Doughnuts
What's great about this gently spiced dough is that it's purposefully loose and sticky, so you don't have to roll and cut it. Instead, scoop the chilled batter into small balls and fry it free form.
The original recipe includes a simple cream cheese frosting, but a liberal sprinkling of confectioners' sugar tastes great, too.
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
1 1/3 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
1 cup pumpkin puree
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
, melted and cooled
Vegetable oil, for frying
For cream cheese frosting
4 tablespoons ( 1/2 stick) unsalted butter, softened
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
In bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine flour, sugars, baking powder and soda, salt and pie spice and mix well. Add pumpkin, buttermilk, egg and egg yolk and mix until just barely combined. Add melted, cooled butter and mix until just combined. Put dough in refrigerator and chill for 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat at least 2 inches of oil in a heavy-bottomed pot fitted with a deep-fry thermometer until oil reaches 350 degrees. Prepare a baking sheet by lining it with paper towels.
Using a 3/4-ounce (11/4-inch) ice cream scoop, gently drop balls of batter into oil, taking care not to crowd the pot. Fry for 2 to 3 minutes, until golden brown all over. The balls tend to bob in the oil and rotate on their own, but it doesn't hurt to nudge here and there so they cook evenly on all sides. Drain on paper towels.
Prepare frosting: Cream together butter, cream cheese and sugar until smooth. Add vanilla and mix well. Use immediately or store in refrigerator for up to 1 week.
Spread each doughnut ball with a smear of cream cheese frosting and serve immediately.
Makes 2 dozen doughnuts.
-- "Glazed, Filled, Sugared & Dipped: Easy Doughnut Recipes to Fry or Bake at Home" by Stephen Collucci (Clarkson Potter, Aug. 2013, $17.99)
Marmelade de Citrouille (Pumpkin Jam)
Boy, was this easy! Delicious on toast, muffins or pancakes.
6 1/2 pounds sugar pumpkins (about 2 small)
1 1/2 pounds caster (super fine) sugar
Juice of 2 lemons
Cook pumpkin with a little water until soft, then dice. (I quartered the pumpkins and roasted them for about a half hour in a 400-degree oven; the skin comes right off.) Add sugar and cook for another hour, stirring frequently. Add lemon juice, put the hot jam into sterilized jars, cool and seal.
Makes about 1 cup.
-- "Memories of Gascony" by Pierre Koffmann (Mitchell Beazley, Oct. 2013, $34.99)
Gratin de Citrouille (Gratin of Pumpkin)
This is a rich dish, so a little goes a long way. You can find duck fat at Crested Duck Charcuterie in Beechview ($12 a pint) as well as at Giant Eagle Market District stores.
1 3/4 pound pumpkin, diced
1 ounce duck fat
4 ounces cooked rice
4 ounces double cream
Salt and freshly ground pepper
3 ounces Gruyere
Heat the fat in a saucepan, then put in the pumpkin and cook slowly until soft, stirring occasionally so that it does not stick. Add a little water if necessary.
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Mash the pumpkin with a potato masher, then add cooked rice and cream. Season with salt and pepper and pour the pumpkin into a gratin dish. Sprinkle the cheese on top and bake in the preheated oven for 15 minutes. Serve at once.
---- "Memories of Gascony" by Pierre Koffmann (Mitchell Beazley, Oct. 2013, $34.99)
Pumpkin and Tomato Soup with Cheese
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup chopped celery
1 garlic clove, grated
2 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 can whole plum tomatoes with juice or 2 1/2 pounds ripe, juicy tomatoes, cored and coarsely chopped
2 15-ounce cans pureed pumpkin
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 tablespoons fresh lime or lemon juice
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup coarsely shredded comte, pecorino Romano or sharp cheddar, or plain yogurt or creme fraiche
Heat oil in a soup pot until it is hot enough to sizzle a piece of onion. Add onion and celery and cook, stirring occasionally, over medium-low heat until the onion is golden, about 10 minutes. Add garlic and cumin and cook, stirring, for 1 minute.
Add tomatoes, pumpkin, 21/2 cups water, tomato paste and 1 teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil and cook, covered, over medium-low heat for 10 minutes. Uncover and cool slightly. Puree the soup with an immersion blender, or in a blender or food processor (in batches, if necessary) until smooth. Return soup to the pot. Add additional water to thin soup is necessary.
Cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Stir in lime juice. Add more salt, if needed, and black pepper to taste. Ladle soup into bowls and divide cheese among the bowls, mounding it in the center of each serving. Or, add a dollop of yogurt or creme fraiche. Serve at once.
Serves 6 to 8.
-- "Fresh & Fast Vegetarian" by Marie Simmons (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011, $17.95)
Gretchen McKay: email@example.com, 412-263-1419 or on Twitter @gtmckay. First Published October 9, 2013 8:00 PM