Fall is homecoming season in America, and that means harvest time, football games, high school dances and a homecoming court. If for a minute we imagine the fall harvest foods coming together for that vote, there’s no doubt that pumpkin would be this year’s homecoming queen.
No offense to apples, but this portly, orange member of the squash family is riding a wave of popularity the likes of which only a handful of food items have ever enjoyed. Like bacon and cupcakes before it, the pumpkin is the hands-down favorite food item for fall.
Once relegated to a traditional Thanksgiving dessert, pumpkin was propelled to the upper-echelon of the food world’s popular crowd by the ubiquitous Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte, more than 200 million of which have been sold since 2003. Pumpkin’s popularity is now undisputed – and perhaps a bit excessive: Americans spent $308 million on pumpkin-flavored products in 2013.
It’s easy to see how. A quick walk through your local grocery store will reveal pumpkin-flavored everything, from Pringles and Pop Tarts, to English muffins, yogurt, oatmeal, almonds and gum. Bagels, cream cheese, donuts, chocolate chips and marshmallows have received a pumpkin-flavored makeover, too.
Restaurants have gamely jumped on the pumpkin bandwagon as well and have found plenty of fun ways to incorporate this fall squash into menu items, from appetizers to dessert. Here are a few of our favorite ways to order up autumn’s flavor-darling.
One of the most common pumpkin dishes in restaurants is pumpkin soup, which makes for the perfect start to a comfort food-filled fall meal. Restaurants offer many unique varieties of pumpkin soup, but we suggest looking for cream of pumpkin, roasted pumpkin and Thai pumpkin soup, which features curry and coconut flavors.
Another great way to find pumpkin in the first-course section of your menu is in a dip. Look for pumpkin hummus, chipotle pumpkin salsa or guacamole with pepitas (pumpkin seeds.) Pumpkin fritters can be found at some southern-style restaurants, while pumpkin bruschetta with goat cheese and a balsamic drizzle is a great option at an Italian spot.
Pumpkin takes center stage in a host of entrees at restaurants every autumn as its flavor works in both sweet and savory dishes. If you’re looking for something lighter, pumpkin plays wells in entrée salads, both roasted and chopped and as a garnish in the form of pepitas, or pumpkin seeds.
One of our favorite pumpkin salads includes roasted pumpkin on a bed or spinach or arugula, paired with pine nuts, goat cheese, fresh pepper and a touch of maple syrup.
If you’re heading to an Italian restaurant, you’re sure to find pumpkin pastas aplenty this fall. We like the rich, hearty taste of a pumpkin ravioli or tortellini in brown butter sauce. Some restaurants make pumpkin lasagna too!
If pizza is your go-to, you can find pumpkin there too. Most restaurants will forego the traditional tomato sauce here, instead pairing pumpkin with a light brushing of olive oil and a cheese like feta or goat cheese to compliment its rich flavors.
The oldest known pumpkin seeds were found in Mexico, where this member of the squash family is said to have originated. So, it’s not surprise that pumpkins occasionally appear in Mexican cuisine. Here, you’ll find pumpkin used as a base for sauces like enchilada sauce and mole and as filling for empanadas or vegetable tacos.
The dessert menu is where pumpkin has most commonly been found prior to its current spike in popularity, but these days pumpkin desserts go way beyond just pumpkin pie.
The sweet, rich flavor of pumpkin complements both chocolate and caramel, and pumpkin puree makes it easy to add a hint of this orange super food into just about any regular dessert recipe. We’ve seen lots of pumpkin cheesecakes on menus this fall, as well as chocolate-pumpkin cake, pumpkin flan and pumpkin bread pudding.
If you’re looking for something a bit lighter, there’s a pumpkin dish for that too! Some restaurants serve pumpkin ice cream, pumpkin hot chocolate, pumpkin cookies, pumpkin macaroons and even pumpkin milkshakes.
At the Bar
If you haven’t turned into a pumpkin after all of that, you can keep your pumpkin-love going at the bar. Dozens of pumpkin beers debut during the fall months and are carried by restaurants of all types. And creative bartenders have plenty of pumpkin-themed cocktails in store, such as the “Drunken Pumpkin Pie” martini, pumpkin pie white Russian and the apple pumpkintini.
If you’re ready to get your pumpkin party started at your favorite local restaurant, visit Restaurant.com to grab a deal and start browsing menus!