THE QUESTION: "Please Help! My family and friends are all obsessed with 'The PSL' and I just don’t get it. I like pumpkins and nutmeg as much as anyone else, but would rather have actual pie if I’m going to take in that many calories...what can I do to not feel left out?"
First of all, don’t panic. You are not alone. As a fan of black drip coffee, made in my kitchen, in my PJs, I’ve never really understood the Pumpkin Spice Latte craze either (or any calorific flavored espresso drinks).
The fad has grown each year to include more and more ridiculous pumpkin spice branded items (see sign for haircuts here). BUT since your concern is about being included in the fun of the season, why not throw a “pumpkin spice” dinner party for your family and friends. It can be potluck, or not, depending on how much time and effort you want to spend, but I would suggest one rule: no packaged/store-bought items.
[NOTE: to readers who are not pumpkin spice fans, the seasoning is completely optional in all of my ideas for making autumnal squash dishes.]
During the paragraph break I changed my mind. Your dinner party should definitely be a potluck of sorts, a contest even. Everyone must devise some pumpkin spice themed thing to bring whether that's a cocktail, cheesecake, centerpiece, costume, cartoon, or carol. Everyone votes to crown a winner “The PSL: Pumpkin Spice Leader/Lord/Lady”. Or perhaps as host you give out many awards: “most addictive”, “most out-of-the-box”, “best dressed” etc.
While planning for such a party, one might ask, “What exactly IS pumpkin spice?”. Wikipedia would answer that it is the ground spice mixture commonly used to flavor pumpkin pies: 2 parts nutmeg to 1 part each of ginger, allspice, cinnamon, and clove. Whether you blend it yourself or buy a little pre-mixed shaker of it you can use this to add a hint of fall to pretty much anything you would normally season with spices. Replace half of the cumin in an enchilada sauce recipe with it and have pumpkin spice enchiladas, top with sour cream and toasted pumpkin seeds to step it up a notch. Or for a great fall snack add it, and a little candied ginger, to a granola bar recipe.
If you are not great at improvising in the kitchen the best way to create a pumpkin spice dish, sweet, savory, or anywhere in between, is to roast a winter squash or pie pumpkin mash it with some pumpkin spice mixture and add this mash to something simple...
I’ve unfortunately buried my best tip here in the middle of the post:
You don’t ever need to peel winter squash! Acorn, butternut, pumpkin, carnival (pictured), which ever you have just cut it in half, remove the seeds, roast at 375 for an hour or until the flesh is soft, let cool and the skin comes right off in your hands. Your thumbs may turn orange for an hour or so but you'll never nick them with a knife or peeler using this technique.
In a bowl, using a fork, mash the roasted squash flesh with the pumpkin spice mixture. Then a pinch of salt and tablespoon of oil if you want to create a savory dish or a couple tablespoons of melted butter and honey if you want to create a sweet dish.
Squash Dishes to Make Right Now (and all winter long):
- Pasta sauce. Add some of the starchy water after boiling noodles to your mashed squash along with extra olive oil and minced garlic then toss with your noodles ( I recommend fettuccine). A creamy sauce without any dairy...although if you are not vegan some parmesan and crumbled bacon would be perfect garnishes. You could also simply add some of the mash to your usual tomato or cream based sauce.
- Quesadillas. Stir a cheese blend into your mash and spread on a tortilla. Monterey, gruyere, fontina, and stilton would all be great choices. Or go full on Thanksgiving like the lunch I'm enjoying as I edit: squash, cold cut turkey, bacon, and havarti! Yum.
- Frittata. Whisk some eggs and cream together and pour into a greased pie pan or casserole dish. Place dollops of your mash into the egg mixture with a spoon. Top with grated parmesean. Bake at 350 for 30 minutes or until the eggs have set.
- Flatbread. Make or get store-bought pizza dough. Stretch it with plenty of olive oil on a sheet pan, cover and let rest for 20 mins then stretch again. Spread your mash over the surface, sprinkle with fresh rosemary and salt, bake at 475 for 15-25 minutes. To finish, drizzle with spicy honey right after it comes out of the oven (steep red pepper flakes in some honey).
- Muffins/Cupcakes. Substitute your sweet mash for the fruit in your favorite banana or zucchini bread recipe. OR add some mash to a cupcake recipie. Bake as usual.
- Dessert Dip aka Lazy Cheesecake. Blend sweet squash mash with goat cheese or cream cheese and sour cream, add some extra pumpkin spice for good measure. Bake in a casserole dish or individual ramekins at 350 for just a few minutes, until hot. Use graham crackers or shortbread cookies to scoop up your pumpkin-cheesecake-dip.
Filo Cigars. Get some store-bought filo dough. Place your sweet mash in a ziplock bag, snip off a tiny piece of a bottom corner and use the bag to pipe your mash onto the sheets. Roll the filo around your filling and bake as the package directs. Bonus points if you dip one end in some melted white chocolate after they come out of the oven.
By now you are probably confused about the title of this post since I have yet to mention lasagnas; if I were invited to a Pumpkin Spice Potluck Party, I would absolutely bring a '#PSL' or Pumpkin Spice Lasagna. There’s a slow roasted carrot recipe I love where you put the carrots on a bed of coffee beans and bake at a very low temperature so that while the sugars in the carrots intensify, they are also absorbing the aroma and oils from the beans. It's genius. To create a lasagna I would layer those carrots with homemade noodles infused with instant espresso powder and pumpkin pie spice, mascarpone cheese, and a bechamel sauce. Is it dinner or dessert?