Though pumpkins are purchased with the best seasonal intentions, they often end up as a predictable soup, pie or lopsided sculpture. This fall, enjoy your gourd as the culinary diva it was born to be with ideas from food historian Michael Krondl, author of The Great Little Pumpkin Book and the upcoming paperback The Taste of Conquest. A recipe follows the Q&A. The Great Little Pumpkin Book has been in print for almost 10 years. What's new about pumpkins today? Cooking pumpkins are more ubiquitous; they're all over the place. What does a cooking pumpkin look like? It's a beige pumpkin that's a little squatter, thick-fleshed and orange. They're known as cheese pumpkins because they vaguely resemble Gouda. How about a recipe for men cooking for a date? A pumpkin crème brulee would be really good. To make it easier, you could buy a pumpkin pie, sprinkle it with raw sugar and get out the blow torch. You'd definitely impress somebody. Which pumpkin dishes are tired? Pie is tired. So is pumpkin soup. It seems like people in this country can only think of two things to do with pumpkin: soup or pie. Are other pumpkins good for cooking? The Jack B. Littles are OK. You can hollow them out and bake things inside, like a savory bread pudding. An upscale pastry chef was recently hollowing them out and baking a cheesecake inside. Pumpkins can be used as serving dishes. Pie pumpkins are orange, about the size of a football or soccer ball. For cooking, avoid jack-o'-lanterns, which are specifically grown for decorative purposes. Which pumpkin dishes have you made this season? I roasted some pumpkin. I just took a cheese pumpkin, tossed it with olive oil, some chopped up sage, salt and pepper, and roasted it at 400 degrees. This evening, I'm going to fry some bacon and onions, throw in some pumpkin and toss it with bowtie pasta.
What's the difference between a squash and pumpkin? A pumpkin is a squash. It's a subcategory. Like cognac and brandy -- all cognac is brandy, but not vice versa. How do you peel a pumpkin? The best thing to do is cut it up into wedges, like a melon, put them on their sides and cut down with a chef's knife to remove the skin. It's not a good idea to use a vegetable peeler. Can you recommend any wines with pumpkin? For savory dishes, I'd choose white over red, something fruity from the Loire or a Chenin Blanc. Something with a hint of sweetness; a Sauvignon Blanc, maybe. Some white wine from Alto Adige. What made you write The Great Little Pumpkin Book? I had pitched a pumpkin cooking class, and the director of the program looked as if I had lost my mind, but humored me and let me do it. The class became relatively popular. The book came out of that. What inspired you to include so many international recipes? I found it ironic that a vegetable associated with the United States was virtually not eaten here. It's eaten widely in the rest of the world. While I was in the south of France and Belgium, there were pumpkins in all the markets. On restaurant menus, they're making them into tarts, gratins and soups. In Italy, there is a whole book devoted to Italian recipes for pumpkin. It was this kind of sad neglect that prompted me to write about them. Potiron rôti? Roasted pumpkin stuffed with bread and gruyère cheese, from The Great Little Pumpkin Book by Michael Krondl. I learned how to make this fabulous dish from Alain Senderens, one of France's renowned three-star chefs. If you can only find big pumpkins, increase the filling and cooking time proportionately.
Recipe1 cooking pumpkin of about 5 pounds 1/2 pound loaf of French or Italian country-style bread 1 cup crème fraîche 8 ounces grated Gruyère cheese 2 tablespoons vegetable oil Salt and black pepper Rinse the outside of the pumpkin and wipe dry. Using a sharp knife and cutting at a slight angle so the tip of the knife is angled down into the vegetable, cut off the top quarter of the pumpkin to form a lid. Use a large spoon scrape out the seeds. Cut the bread into thin slices and toast until golden brown. Set aside. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line the pumpkin cavity with one layer of the bread, spread with 4 tablespoons of the crème fraîche, a quarter of the cheese and a generous sprinkle of salt and freshly ground pepper. Continue layering (4 layers in all), finishing with the Gruyère. Set the top back on the pumpkin. Cut a piece of aluminum foil large enough to wrap the entire pumpkin. Brush the pumpkin lightly with the oil. Wrap the pumpkin with the foil and place on a baking pan. Set in the oven and bake about 1 hour, 40 minutes. The pumpkin will be done when the outside skin has softened and a very sharp knife can easily pierce through to the interior flesh. Remove from the oven, take off the foil and place the pumpkin on a serving platter. Carefully remove the lid and, using a large spoon, stir the interior mixture, making sure to incorporate the pumpkin into the other ingredients. Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper if necessary. Serve hot. Serves 4 to 6.