Pumpkin season is officially under way, which means that the tubby orange gourd and everything associated with it is once again crowding our field of vision (and smell, and taste). Love it or hate it, the return of the Starbucks pumpkin spice latte, now often handily abbreviated "PSL," may be the most reliable sign of the changing season. But, with no disrespect meant to the PSL's many fans, we'd like to make the return of pumpkin itself at least as much of a symbol of fall. The squash's earthy, mild sweetness makes it a versatile ingredient in all manner of dishes—perfect for pie and quick breads, of course, but just as effective as a pizza topping, tossed with pasta, puréed into soups, or even infused into cocktails, like this sweet and boozy Pumpkin Bourbon Cider Milkshake. Here are the 21 recipes you'll need to celebrate pumpkin season the old-fashioned way.*
If you're wondering what all this has to do with the popular '90s alternative band, the answer is, well, nothing. We just couldn't resist the pun...kin.**
The Best Pumpkin Pizza
Yes, the pumpkins you'll use for carving your face into a jack-o'-lantern this year are plump and pretty, but all that flesh they yield also tends to be bland and stringy; instead, look for smaller sugar pumpkins or kabocha squash to cook with. One of the best ways to prepare either is by roasting, which concentrates the sweet, earthy flavor—and one of the best ways to put it to use once you're done is this pizza. The name may sound like a gimmick, but the combination of ingredients—mashed roasted pumpkin and sautéed pumpkin cubes, apple, sage, and a trio of gooey melted cheeses—is balanced and perfectly appropriate for fall.
Roasted Pumpkin Soup With Brown Butter and Thyme
It takes a long time to roast a pumpkin until it's tender—this recipe calls for an hour and a half in the oven—but the rich, caramelized sweetness that the pumpkin develops as a result makes it all worthwhile. That deepening of flavor makes strong spices, like cinnamon and cloves, unnecessary in this warming, golden soup. We do add a little maple syrup, which complements the sautéed leeks and onions without turning the soup into a dessert.
Skillet Kale and Pumpkin Pasta
If you're short on time, sautéing cubed squash on the stovetop is a great way to add a little color and flavor without nearly as much effort as roasting entails. Once you've got the pumpkin cut up, this one-pot pasta dish is a breeze to make. The pasta goes straight into the skillet with the browned squash, followed by hearty lacinato kale, which cooks until wilted. To finish, just drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with Parmigiano-Reggiano right before serving.
If you have strong feelings about cornbread, you probably fall on one side of a very clear divide: sweet, Northern-style bread, or traditionally unsweetened Southern-style. This moist, lightly orange-hued bread manages to straddle that line: It leans a bit closer to Northern-style, with enough sugar to support the squashy sweetness of the pumpkin, but it isn't at all dessert-like. That makes it just as good for accompanying a main course, like a soup or chili, as it is spread with butter and jam for breakfast.
The Best Squash Lasagna
Though kabocha squash isn't the same as pumpkin, its flavor is so similar (and, as mentioned above, its texture often preferable) that it makes a totally adequate substitute. Like our pumpkin pizza, this lasagna incorporates both roasted and sautéed squash for lots of squash flavor and contrasting texture. The roasted batch is puréed with cream cheese, then layered with a squash and apple sauté, a thick béchamel, and no-bake lasagna noodles for the richest, creamiest fall casserole imaginable.
Basic Roasted Pumpkin Seeds
While the flesh of carving pumpkins isn't great for eating, the seeds are another story. Wash and dry them, toss them with a little oil and seasonings, then roast for an addictive, crunchy snack. You don't need anything beyond salt and pepper to flavor them, but we've got nine tasty variations, featuring such flavor combinations as browned butter and sage or soy sauce and furikake, if you want to spice them up.
Breakfast and Sweets
Pumpkin Streusel Muffins
Pillowy-soft and beautifully domed, these spice-laden muffins don't so much highlight the mild flavor of pumpkin as give you what we're all pretty much looking for when we eat a pumpkin muffin: the flavors of pumpkin pie for breakfast. But that doesn't mean they're as sweet as pie—a modest amount of sugar means they're really muffins, not cupcakes in disguise, while the abundant moisture in the pumpkin purée leaves them perfectly tender without a boatload of butter.
Extra-Smooth Pumpkin Pie
If you eat only one pumpkin dessert this year, it's probably going to be pumpkin pie. It's a classic for a reason, but here's one tip for making it even better: Add cream cheese to the filling, for a slight tangy flavor and a creamier, fuller-bodied texture. Though brown sugar is a common choice for sweetening pumpkin pie, we prefer white sugar so as not to overpower the delicate squash.
Pumpkin Layer Cake
If you always choose cake over pie but love genuine pumpkin flavor, this layered masterpiece will let you have your cake and...well, you know. Real pumpkin or butternut squash purée meets cinnamon, ginger, and cloves for a flavor that's like a cross between pumpkin pie and an autumnal spice cake, nicely complemented by tangy Cream Cheese Buttercream. A high volume of egg yolk gives the cake its rich hue (go organic for the best possible color), while the combination of bleached cake flour and a spoonful of potato flour keeps it fluffy and light, not dense and gummy.
Pumpkin Cheesecake With Gingersnap Crust
Topped with crunchy candied walnuts and ringed with a spicy gingersnap crust, this cheesecake makes a gorgeous alternative to the standard pumpkin pie. For the filling, we blend together pumpkin purée—not pumpkin pie filling!—cream cheese, and sour cream, and flavor it with cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and orange zest.
Gluten-Free Pumpkin Scones
These pretty golden scones are perfect for a make-ahead breakfast treat—mix up the wet and dry ingredients the night before and you'll have minimal work to do in the morning. That means you'll have extra time to whip up two (optional) glazes: one vanilla, one flavored with pumpkin and spice. A mixture of millet, sorghum, and white rice flours keeps these scones 100% gluten-free.
Pumpkin Sweet Swirl Buns
These sweet buns, cut with a swirl of crumbly hazelnut–graham cracker filling, take even less day-of prep: You can mix up the simple yeast dough with pumpkin purée, roll up the hazelnut–graham cracker mixture inside, and slice it into pieces the night before. All that's left to do when you wake up is move the buns from the fridge to the oven and bake until they're nicely browned.
Gluten-Free Pumpkin Spice Cupcakes With Cream Cheese Icing
These tender cupcakes are gluten-free thanks to a combination of white rice flour and cornstarch. Apart from its sweet flavor, the pumpkin purée blended in contributes plenty of moistness, while orange juice gives the cupcakes a little extra sweetness and a teaspoon of ground ginger provides a bit of a kick. And the cream cheese icing—well, you don't really need us to give you a reason for cream cheese icing, right?
Waffled Pumpkin Custard
It's not a pumpkin waffle (though those are tasty), but something much, much better: a pumpkin custard made with cream cheese and graham cracker crumbs, loaded into a waffle iron and pressed until warm and soft. The graham cracker crumbs give the dessert something of the flavor and texture of pie, without the trouble of making an actual crust. Serve with a scoop of vanilla ice cream or whipped cream for a delicious pumpkin pie stand-in.
Sticky Pumpkin Cake With Hard Cider Caramel
These light and fluffy individual steamed pumpkin cakes are just the right size for entertaining, but the rich, hard cider–spiked caramel sauce they're doused with is the real star here. Both the cakes and the sauce keep well in the refrigerator, another plus if you're having company. Bourbon works well as the alcohol component in the batter, though, if you happen to have a decent pumpkin spice vodka on hand, you can use that, too.
Gluten-Free Pumpkin Gingerbread
This gluten-free recipe draws on the best qualities of two classic fall baked goods: pumpkin bread and gingerbread. Canned pumpkin purée forms the base, contributing moistness and lightly sweetening the batter. Molasses adds extra depth, while a tablespoon of ground ginger gives the bread a serious bite.
Pumpkin Spice Ice Cream
If you're pumpkin-spice-positive, you'll want to drop all of your weekend plans to churn up a batch of this ice cream, flavored with cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, and just a teaspoon of bourbon. The extra-custardy vanilla base is robust enough that the dominant flavors are still fresh pumpkin and vanilla, with just a moderate level of spiciness. There's no coffee in the recipe, but then again, who drinks a PSL to taste the coffee?
Turkey and Sage Cocktail
For infusing into cocktails, pumpkin purée is generally too subtle an addition—you're better off with the concentrated flavor of pumpkin butter. Here, we combine it with a couple of other ubiquitous fall ingredients: sage and turkey (Wild Turkey 101, that is). We like the Wild Turkey's seasonal notes of vanilla and caramel, and its higher proof works well with the bold, woodsy sage.
The Great Calabaza
A margarita is a treat usually reserved for the summer months, but change up the ingredients a little and you can enjoy variations all year long. This one substitutes smoky mezcal for tequila and mixes in rich pumpkin butter, along with fresh-squeezed orange juice and just a dash of lime. For a warming touch, add five-spice powder to the salt on the rim.
The White Pumpkin
Thick and creamy White Russians make perfectly enjoyable cold-weather drinks, but blending pumpkin butter into the base of Kahlua, vodka, and cream brings a special autumnal note. The best part, though, is the addition of an amaro called Ramazzotti, which gives the cocktail orange and cinnamon flavors that pair beautifully with the pumpkin.
For a fall-themed nonalcoholic drink base, try this pleasantly tart shrub, made with roasted pumpkin, apple cider vinegar, and fresh ginger. It'll keep for several months in the refrigerator, and it's useful in all kinds of beverages—mix it with soda water or ginger beer to keep it booze-free, or add it to cocktails.