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Pumpkin Palooza

A Fall Favorite Returns

Pumpkin spice may conjure up visions of whip-topped lattes. But, when this classic autumnal ingredient is used in its unsweetened and unseasoned form, it can go many directions. Paired with apples, it can be a hearty, high-nutrition bread to tuck into packed lunches. Combined with savory ingredients such as tomatoes, onions or cheese, it can be the core of flavor-laden soups.

WHEELING — If the empty shelf left where tidy rows of canned pumpkin puree normally reside at the Woodsdale Kroger is any indication, one cook’s holiday excuse for a summery picnic blowout is another cook’s signal that fall has arrived.

It’s true. The annual pumpkin palooza has begun and, if you’d like to join the party, here are a handful of recipes — two sweet and two savory — from the Wheeling Newspapers’ test kitchen.

SPICED PUMPKIN-APPLE BREAD

Note: This is a naturally dairy-free recipe. It can be veganized by following recipe prompt for egg substitutes.

Generously coat two loaf pans with shortening (or butter for dairy eaters). Set aside. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

In large bowl, combine 3 cups flour, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 1/4 cup sugar, 2 teaspoons baking soda. Mix well.

In a smaller bowl, combine 1 15-ounce can pumpkin puree (the unsweetened, unspiced kind), 1 cup unsweetened apple sauce, 5 eggs (or egg substitute for vegans), 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg, 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, 1 teaspoon ground allspice, 1 teaspoon ground ginger, 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves. Mix well.

Add the wet ingredients to the dry and stir by hand until just mixed. Divide mix into two prepared loaf pans and bake 50-60 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted into the middle of each loaf comes out clean. Cool in pans five minutes, then turn out onto rack to cool to room temperature. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator or freeze by the loaf for later use. (It is normal for cooled pumpkin bread to have a somewhat gummy surface.)

This bread is great by the slice, but is even better turned into sandwiches with apple butter and/or cream cheese. Cut the sandwiches into strips for an unexpected addition to a packed lunch. Because pumpkin bread is a bit messy, it’s a nice touch to tuck in a damp paper towel sealed in a sandwich bag for cleaning the fingers.

RUSTIC PUMPKIN

GRIDDLE CAKES

Note: This recipe can easily be made gluten free and/or dairy free. Follow the recipe prompts.

In a medium bowl, mix together 1 cup buckwheat flour (does not contain gluten), 1 cup all-purpose flour (use brown rice flour for gluten free), 1 Tablespoon baking powder, 1 Tablespoon brown sugar, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves, 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg, 1/2 teaspoon allspice and one pinch salt.

Add 1 cup pumpkin puree (not seasoned or sweetened — freeze the rest to throw into soup later), two large eggs (or egg substitute for vegans), 1/2 cup milk (dairy or nut milk for vegans or the dairy free).Mix well. Add water as needed to get to a consistency that is thick but somewhat pourable.

Pre-heat as many iron skillets as you have on medium-low. (Four skillets makes for wonderful speed. Other types of skillets will work, but you won’t get the delectable golden-brown surface that cooking on iron provides.) Add 1 to 2 Tablespoons high-heat oil (like canola or coconut or, for dairy eaters, butter or ghee) to each skillet and swirl around to coat the bottom.

Spoon 1/4 cup rounds of batter into skillets. Working quickly, top each round with a sprinkling of raisins, apple bits, banana slices or walnut pieces if desired. Watch cakes carefully. When the air bubbles slow down and the edges start to lift from the skillet, slide a spatula carefully underneath. If the cake lifts off cleanly, flip it and finish the cooking.

Line a large plate with paper towels and pile up cakes as they are done, dividing batches with more paper towels to soak up excess oil. (If lack of skillets slows you down, store instead on an oven-proof plate in a low oven so cakes stay warm.) Add more oil to skillets as needed and keep frying and flipping until the batter is gone.

These cakes are much heartier than traditional pancakes. There will be enough to serve four to six as a side dish. Adjust the recipe up or down proportionally to fit your needs.

Pairs wonderfully with vegetable soup for a weekend lunch. Cakes are flavorful alone but are also good with a drizzle of real maple syrup.

NACHO PUMPKIN SOUP

Note: This wonderfully quick and simple recipe is naturally gluten free. It can be made dairy free and vegan by following recipe prompts.

In a large soup pot, combine 1 15-ounce can of pumpkin puree (not sweetened or spiced), 1 16-ounce jar of salsa (tomato- or pepper-based — not a fruit- or bean-based variety) and 4 cups vegetable stock.

Heat to a simmer. Add one 16-ounce jar prepared nacho cheese* if you are not vegan or dairy free and stir until thoroughly mixed.

* For an even better-tasting soup that will meet the needs of vegans and the dairy free – combine one cup unsalted cashews, 1 teaspoon salt, ½ teaspoon ground black pepper and 1 Tablespoon nutritional yeast (Bragg’s brand tastes the best) in a blender.

Add enough water to reach the 2 cup mark and puree for two full minutes.

Add the cashew mix to the soup and stir well.

Serve immediately with a bottle of hot sauce on the table so chili heads can season to taste. This soup is excellent over rice; with warm tortillas, homemade tortilla chips or fruit salad on the side; or as a side to grilled cheese (dairy or vegan) sandwiches. If there are leftovers, soup may need to be thinned with a bit of water or vegetable stock when it is reheated.

SAVORY-SWIRL PUMPKIN SOUP

Note: This recipe is naturally vegan, dairy free and gluten free.

For the swirl: Combine 1 teaspoon finely minced garlic, 2 Tablespoons olive oil, 1 teaspoon caraway seeds, 1/4 teaspoon hot sauce, the juice of one medium lemon, 2 Tablespoons dried or fresh cilantro and 1/8 teaspoon salt. Set aside to allow the flavors to blend.

In a large soup pot, sauté 2 cups of chopped onions in 2 tablespoons olive oil until translucent. Add 1 cup chopped carrots and 1 1/2 teaspoons salt and cook another five minutes.

Add 3 cups veggie stock, one peeled/chopped apple, 1/2 cup tomato juice or V-8 (the latter is better if you have it), 1 teaspoon ground cumin, 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg, 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon and 1/2 teaspoon paprika. Cover, bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Cook, still covered, until carrots are fork tender.

Turn off heat and add 1 15-ounce can pumpkin puree (not the kind that’s sweetened or seasoned). Use a blender or a blender wand (much easier) to purée the soup until smooth.

Ladle the soup into bowls (makes about 6-7 cups). Top each bowl with a teaspoon or so of the swirl — whisking the swirl with a fork first to remix the ingredients. If you’re artsy, use a fork to go for an actual spiral effect. Great with hearty bread and a light salad of greens and/or fruit.

Leftovers may need to be thinned with a small amount of water or vegetable stock as soup thickens upon standing.

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