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Pumpkin to talk about

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Creamy Pumpkin Polenta

SEASONAL For cozy fall gatherings, turn to pumpkin recipes, such as this Creamy Pumpkin Polenta from Peace Meals. (Photo: Photo courtesy of the Junior League of Houston)

Cooking Buzz is produced in partnership with the Junior League of Houston, a women’s charitable and education organization founded in 1925.

It may not feel much like traditional autumn here in Houston, but signs of fall are around: school, football and, of course, pumpkins.

Fall is all about pumpkins. Perfectly painted pumpkins and craggy-toothed jack o’ lanterns dot front steps. Hand-drawn pictures of pumpkins hang from refrigerators. Starbucks slings its iconic pumpkin spice latte. Every bakery has pumpkin sugar cookies, along with pumpkin muffins and pumpkin bread. Pumpkin Spice Oreos, anyone? 

Pumpkins are the quintessential fall ingredient. They entice our noses and palates with their creamy deliciousness, which pairs well with nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger and cloves.

Pumpkins have long been a symbol of family and community. Pumpkins helped the first Pilgrims survive those bitterly cold New England winters. They became an essential ingredient in settler cooking, in stews, mashes and pies. Pumpkins became the symbol of harvest time, symbolizing bonds that preserved the community as winter loomed and everyone pitched in for the greater good. 

Houston may not see too many of those blustery autumn nights, but that doesn’t mean you can’t create a cozy feeling for your fall gatherings. Incorporating pumpkin is easy with recipes from the Junior League of Houston’s Peace Meals. With Pumpkin Mushroom Soup, Creamy Pumpkin Polenta, and Pumpkin Bread Pudding, you’ll imbue your home with the snuggly, toasty warmth that makes autumn special.

The Pumpkin Mushroom Soup has a luxurious blend of flavors, but it’s also satisfying without being too heavy. In less than 30 minutes, you can craft a nutritious and luscious soup that will fill bellies and warm hearts. It is also a good choice for “Meatless Mondays,” if that’s on your fall agenda. 

The Creamy Pumpkin Polenta delivers rich and nuanced flavor. Whip this up on school nights to entice children to try new flavors and textures. You can also turn to this filling side to satisfy your appetite after a long day. Or, you can serve it at an office potluck or Friendsgiving. 

If you try only one of these recipes, try the Pumpkin Bread Pudding. This comforting yet sophisticated fall dessert is scrumptious, satisfying, and easy to throw together. Instead of Halloween candy, indulge with a warm serving while watching scary movies. Take advantage of how well it travels and serve it at football parties. And you can always create a new family tradition with pumpkin bread pudding at Thanksgiving dinner. 

Creamy Pumpkin Polenta

From Peace Meals

2½ cups milk
2 cups water or vegetable broth
¾ cup canned pure pumpkin
2 teaspoons coarse salt
1¼ cups instant dry polenta
1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
¼ cup mascarpone cheese
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh basil
¼ cup freshly shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Bring the milk and water to a boil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in the pumpkin and salt. Reduce heat to low and gradually whisk in the polenta. Cook for 1 minute or until thickened and remove from heat. Add the grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, mascarpone, cinnamon, and basil, stirring until the cheese melts. The consistency should be thick but creamy. Top with the shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano and serve. Serves 8.

Pumpkin Bread Pudding

From Peace Meals

1 loaf brioche or challah bread, cubed
4 eggs
4 cups (1 quart) heavy whipping cream
2 cups sugar 
3 cups canned pumpkin purée
1½ teaspoons cinnamon
1½ teaspoons ground allspice
1½ teaspoons ground ginger
¼ teaspoon salt

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly butter a 9- by 13-inch baking dish and set aside. Place the bread cubes on a rimmed baking sheet and toast until golden brown; set aside. In a large bowl, mix together the eggs, cream, sugar, pumpkin, and spices. Slowly add the bread to the mixture, allowing it to absorb the liquid (do not stir the bread into mush). When the bread is saturated, place the mixture into the prepared baking dish. Cover with foil and bake for 20 minutes. Uncover and bake for 10 to 15 more minutes until crisp and brown. Serves 8.

Pumpkin Mushroom Soup

From Peace Meals

4 Tablespoons (½ stick) butter
½ pound cremini (or other) mushrooms, thinly sliced
½ cup chopped onion
2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 Tablespoon curry powder
3 cups chicken broth
15 ounces canned pure pumpkin purée
2 Tablespoons honey
Dash of nutmeg
1 teaspoon coarse salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
2 cups (1 pint) half-and-half

Melt the butter in a stockpot over medium heat; add the mushrooms and onions, and sauté for 10 minutes. Stir in the flour and curry; add the broth and stir for 1 minute. Add the pumpkin, honey, and seasonings, and mix well. Stir over medium-high heat until the soup comes to a simmer. Reduce heat and continue to simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the half-and-half and heat through without boiling. Serve immediately. Serves 4.

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