Recipes: Not Just Pumpkin Pies

You don't have to settle for pumpkin pies, says Chef Susan Goss, owner of West Town Tavern Pumpkins can be used in soups, shakes and other dishes, says the chef, who likes to make Sweet 'n Spicy Pork and Pumpkin Chili. She also creates serving containers out of this favorite fall ingredient.

There are many different types of pumpkins, Chef Susan explains. Some are green, some are warty and some are grey, not at all like the familiar orange globe we think of as a pumpkin. It is important to realize that pumpkin is a kind of edible squash, just as butternut, kabocha, and are edible squashes. Like any vegetable, the smaller fruit is usually sweeter than the larger, more mature specimen.

The big difference between a pie pumpkin and the kind used to make a grinning jack o' lantern is sweetness of the flesh. Pie pumpkins are generally small and have thick fleshy walls and a relatively small seed cavity. While a small pie pumpkin will certainly grow into a bigger, not so sweet squash, certain varieties are known to have sweeter flesh, or known to grow to outrageous sizes. Some good varieties for cooking in general include Little Bear, New England Pie Pumpkin, Small Sugar and Winter Luxury. All these grow to between 2 and 5 pounds

On the other hand, many pumpkin hybrids have been developed to grow and grow! Happy Jack, Jumpin' Jack and Ghost Rider all weigh between 25-50 pounds, while Big Max and Mammoth Gold can weigh 100 pounds or more. The longer the pumpkin stays on the vine the more sugar turns to starch and makes it less desirable for cooking.

Here are some of Susan's favorite pumpkin recipes. You can make them at home or try them at West Town Tavern, 1329 W Chicago Ave, Chicago, IL 60642 (312) 666-6175. For more information, visit

  • Sweet 'n Spicy Pork and Pumpkin Chili
  • Curried Pumpkin and Goat Cheese Gallette

    Susan Goss is the chef and co-owner of West Town Tavern with husband Drew, who manages the restaurant and directs its wine program. At age eight, Goss' culinary career started inauspiciously with the responsibility for placing her mother's meatloaf in the oven so it would be ready for the family dinner. After she received her Girl Scout cooking badge, her father sensed her culinary interest and announced that he would buy the ingredients for any dish she wanted to make. At first there were some very dry pork chops and other dinner disasters, but Susan had found her career.

    The Indianapolis native is a graduate of Lawrence University and the New York Restaurant School. She and Drew were high school sweethearts and after completing professional culinary training, they opened their first establishment in 1983. Something Different-Carryout Cuisine, a small retail carryout shop in Indianapolis, featured eclectic food to go. Six years later, the couple opened Something Different Restaurant and in 1991, added a "small plates" bar, Snax.

    From Indianapolis, Susan and Drew moved north to Chicago in 1993, where they founded Zinfandel, a restaurant celebrating Ethnic American Cooking. It received national accolades and coverage from Gourmet, Esquire and Wine Spectator. For nine years, the Wine Spectator gave it their prestigious Award of Excellence. Chicago Magazine named it one of the city's best restaurants, as did the restaurant critic for the ABC television affiliate. After a decade, however, Susan longed to have a different type of restaurant, especially one with a menu that showcased her favorite dishes. In 2002, West Town Tavern opened its doors in an historic brick building located in a cozy neighborhood setting. Susan's Contemporary Comfort Food has found a local and national following. Chicago Magazine selected the restaurant as one of their Best New Restaurants in 2003, Gourmet Magazine showcased it as a neighborhood gem in their 2003 "Guide to America's Best Restaurants," and Bon Appetit called it one of the city's best neighborhood restaurants.

    Susan is a firm believer in high standards for her cuisine and giving back to the community. Her awards for culinary achievements and humanitarian efforts certainly reflect this. She is a 2004 Mercedes Benz Mentor Award winner, a 2006 Chef of Grey Poupon, and a Celebrated Chef for the National Pork Board. Always active in anti-hunger advocacy groups, she was event chairperson of Share Our Strength's Taste of the Nation for four years in Chicago. Susan is one of the few chefs who have participated in Taste of the NFL, a hunger relief benefit, since its inception in 1992. Susan established the extremely popular "Girl Food Dinner" which she orchestrates with her female chef friends. Over the past decade, this dinner has generated $153,000 to hunger relief organizations. She is also on the Board of Directors for the Greater Chicago Food Depository.

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