Although anything made with pumpkin tastes terrific all the year round, only at this particular time does the great orange gourd make its annual return to the shop shelves, produce displays, and restaurant menus.
Sure, the pumpkin’s planting cycle primarily dictates its own seasonal resurgence, but how funny that an October nip in the air, the NFL football season’s sixth week, and a street strewn with fallen leaves make us all smack our lips and suddenly jones for pumpkin-flavored anything.
Now is the time.
Like the return of cotton spider webs and tacky plastic gravestones in your neighbors’ yards, IHOP’s pumpkin spice pancakes are back. Bakeries are churning out pumpkin muffins and pumpkin scones. Restaurant specials feature pumpkin ravioli with crispy sage leaves drizzled in brown butter. Toasted pepitas are crunchy confetti sprinkled everywhere. Even pizzas are prepared with either pumpkin purée or charred slices for that fall flavor.
In October and November, pumpkin spice is one of the "Seasonal Super Premium Ice Creams" at Leopold’s, and Starbucks cannot brew pumpkin spice lattes fast enough for our collective gullets because we all know that it will be uncouth even to consider one come January.
I am not complaining in the least. Again, I love pumpkin and wish, along with its American autumnal partner the roast turkey, it had its day even when we all were not wearing sweaters. Alas, gather ye gourd buds while ye may and eat as many pumpkin provisions as possible for the next few months.
For Thanksgiving, my yearly rotation of desserts invariably includes pumpkin: pumpkin chocolate chip bundt cake, pumpkin cheesecake with salted caramel drizzle, marbled pumpkin-chocolate brownies. In the weeks leading up to and then following Turkey Day, I bake cinnamon-pumpkin scones at least three times and gargantuan pumpkin muffins with coffee glaze once.
Adding half a can of pumpkin purée to any baked good that already has butter, brown sugar, vanilla, and cinnamon is a no-brainer right now, but the vast majority of our favorite concoctions containing pumpkin are sweets, which is why I want to share this tried-and-true recipe for a pumpkin-centric appetizer or side dish.
THIS IS THE GREAT PUMPKIN, CHARLIE BROWN
For the last thirty years, The Helmand has held sway as one of Baltimore’s most beloved restaurants, serving authentic Afghan cuisine in the city’s historic Mount Vernon neighborhood. Before our first dinner there, more than twenty years ago now, I do not think that I had ever had Afghan food. Indian, yes. Mediterranean of all flags, sure. Just nothing west of Jerusalem or east of Karachi.
It was love at first bite. I love flatbreads. I love rice with spice. Give me a kabob of any kind with fire-roasted meat and veg. The Helmand never disappointed, but perhaps its most special and most oft-ordered dish has long been kaddo borawni (bourani), a sweet baked pumpkin shareable topped with garlicky yogurt.
A simply delish dish.
In its November 2005 issue, Baltimore Magazine printed The Helmand’s kaddo borawni recipe in the Local Flavor Dining Guide. I clipped it and have kept it secreted away in my wooden recipe box ever since, at the ready when I spot fall’s first Sugar Pie pumpkin in a grocery store.
Honestly, the two most difficult parts of this uncomplicated preparation are finding the proper pumpkin and then the peeling of said gourd. Once you are past those hurdles, though, you are less than an hour away from something special.
1 baby pumpkin (suitable for baking, about 3 pounds)
½ to ¾ cup white sugar (depending on size of pumpkin and taste)
¼ cup vegetable or canola oil
Pinch of cinnamon
1 cup plain yogurt
1 teaspoon minced garlic
Pinch(es) of salt
Preheat an oven to 350°
Slice the pumpkin and remove the seeds, perhaps saving them to roast as a separate snack
Peel the pumpkin’s outer skin and use a spoon to clean up any rough ‘hairs’
Cut the pumpkin slices into two-inch pieces
Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat
Add the pumpkin pieces and a pinch of salt
Cover and cook for 10 minutes, turning once
Remove the pumpkin and place in a small roasting pan or casserole dish
Sprinkle with the sugar and the cinnamon
Cover tightly with aluminum foil
Bake for 30 minutes (or until a pumpkin piece can be pressed through a fork’s tines)
While the pumpkin is roasting, make the yogurt sauce by whisking together the final three ingredients
Prior to serving, use a fork to mash the pumpkin pieces to your liking or leave whole; stir the baking juices in the casserole dish bake into the pumpkin
Those who are up for it can home-bake some naan loaves to consummate this fall classic.
Thus far this fall, I have not been able to find a sweet pie pumpkin, like they are all hidden in a Pokémon Gym or "The Good Place." If you are reading this column and have spotted one, do me a solid and let me know its whereabouts.
You know what they say: one gourd deed...