Pumpkin specials all around town

All this week, people have been carving pumpkins. And over the next month, they'll be showing up in pies.

Just as Linus and Sally spent all night waiting for the Great Pumpkin to appear, you could spend all month eating pumpkin. In soups, on salads, pureed or roasted. It seems this versatile squash has a lot more going for it, than just being destined for the doorstep jack-o-lantern.

Chef Sarah Stegner loves working with squash this time of year, especially pumpkin. At her restaurant Prairie Grass Cafe in Northbrook, she's been known to use three different types.

"We use it as a garnish for some of our proteins, like the lamb sausage we have grilled pumpkin, and we also sell it as a side," said Segner.

Stegner likes rare, french pumpkins, which look odd, but taste amazing; she also likes a variety called long island cheese. But it's the deluxe pie pumpkin she relishes. Peeling away the hard shell, she cuts out some wedges, briefly grilling them over a hot flame. The pumpkins are roasted off in the oven, which both softens and sweetens them. As soon as they're removed, they're brushed with a bit of butter and honey just before serving. She says forget about pie, the squash on its own is something unique.

"When you take away the cinnamon and the clove and you just taste the bare pumpkin, it has a wonderful, rich, creamy flavor," said Stegner.

How about an Italian approach? At Antico Posto, inside the west suburban Oak Brook Mall, they frequently offer a pumpkin pizza.

"We actually have a lot of demand for pumpkins, squash, a lot of our guests. One of our most popular dishes is a squash ravioli. Well the pumpkin pizza has been one, it just sounds great, for one, but it represents fall," said Tony DiPaolo, Antico Posto.

The pumpkin is peeled, cut into small cubes, then roasted in the pizza oven until soft. It's generously draped over a thin pizza dough. Along with pancetta, caramelized onions. Plus mozzarella and parmesan cheese. It's slid into the hot oven, and then after a minute or so, some toasted pumpkin seeds are sprinkled over the top. The finished pizza is toothsome, with a sweet, earthy edge.

"It changes the traditional pizza. It's not tomato sauce, it's not sausage; it gives it a different texture, it gives it a different sweetness," said DiPaolo.

And for dessert, pumpkin ice cream of course. At Bobtail Ice Cream Shop, with locations in the city and Wilmette, the pumpkin-rich ice cream is also used to make sweet pies.

"Traditionally, people always have warm pies or apple pies and this gives it an extra little edge," said Christopher Liebelt, Bobtail Ice Cream.

Cinnamon, clove and nutmeg are added to the regular ice cream batch, along with a thick pumpkin puree. The resulting ice cream is frozen for a few hours and is then ready to be served in a cone, or in a glass, or in a pie with a base of either chocolate or marshmallow.

"People like that different kind of touch to bring to their table," said Liebelt.

Most of the restaurants we talked to plan on carrying their pumpkin specials right through the end of November.

Prairie Grass Cafe
601 Skokie Blvd., Northbrook

Antico Posto
118 Oak Brook Ctr., Oak Brook

Bobtail Ice Cream
2951 N. Broadway

Buckingham Fountain
SE and NE corner of Fountain

1114 Central Ave., Wilmette

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