Just in case Cheerios, Krispy Kreme, M&Ms, Ballast Point, Peanut Butter & Co, and every coffee shop on earth haven’t made it abundantly clear, we’re well into pumpkin season, people. But while sugar and spice are certainly nice (except on Pringles), there’s more to fall’s signature squash than lattes, baked goods, and beer. Of course, we see this annual passion for pumpkins as a spooktacular opportunity to teach children about inventive eating—we’re talking tasty dishes made with pumpkin from a pumpkin, not a can. Fresh pumpkins are ripe for creative kitchen projects with your kiddos—and dinner tonight. Find out what we’ve got cookin’ below.
Here’s how to get started:
Step 1: Select the proper squash.
Carving pumpkins are generally the largest variety, with a thin shell encasing copious amounts of slimy, stringy goop. The watery flesh cooks up bland, so don’t bother salvaging anything but the seeds for roasting. What you want for cooking are sugar pumpkins (also called pie pumpkins). These smaller fruit are packed with the rich, sweet flesh that yields the tender baked goods you know and love.
Step 2: Make your own purée.
You’ll use this purée just as you’d use that good ol’ can of Libby (a 3-pound pumpkin is roughly equivalent to a 15-ounce can), so consider it your gateway DIY pumpkin product. Cut the pumpkin into quarters, scoop out the innards, place the pieces on a sheet pan, bake at 350˚F for about 45 minutes or until fork tender, remove the skin, and food-processor it all up. Use the purée right away, or store it in the freezer for up to a year—we assure you, pumpkin cheesecake is just as delicious in July.
Step 3: Think outside the muffin box.
There are plenty of non-dessert pumpkin dishes that are kid-friendly to make and eat:
Pumpkin Mac ’n Cheese: Include 1/2–1 cup of homemade purée in the bechamel of your favorite mac ’n cheese recipe, adding more flour to thicken or milk to thin as needed (or try Betty Crocker’s version). The pumpkin provides a touch of sweetness and creamier texture. You’ll appreciate the low-cal boost of fiber, beta-carotene, potassium, and iron. Your kids will appreciate that their casserole has the same electric orange hue as mac-in-a-box.
Pumpkin Fries: Cut your pumpkin into quarters, scoop out the guts, peel off the rind, and slice the flesh into thin fries. Next, have your kid toss the fries with a little olive oil, about 1/2 teaspoon salt, and his preferred flavoring—Parmesan cheese, cinnamon, curry or chipotle powder, etc. Transfer the fries to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a Silpat liner, taking care not to crowd them. Bake at 425˚F for 15 minutes or until crispy.
Stuffed Pumpkins: This Dorie Greenspan staple is just plain fun (and easy). Chop the top off your pumpkin, gut it, and stuff the cavity with bread, cheese, cream, bacon, and more. Then you put the lid back on it, bake the whole thing, and serve.
Pumpkin Fritters: Fact: kids love to grate things. Cut the flesh of a pumpkin into large chunks and let your child go to town (safely—mind fingers and knuckles) using the large holes on a box grater. When you have about 3 cups of shreds, combine them with 2 1/2 cups flour, 1 1/2 teaspoons Kosher salt, 1 tablespoon baking powder, and 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg, and then mix in 1 cup milk and 2 beaten eggs. Form into patties and fry in oil until golden. Corn, bacon, Parmesan, and sage make great savory add-ins, or roll in cinnamon-sugar after frying for a sweet treat.