As Halloween approaches, most people begin to ponder the great costume conundrum: should they be a good witch or a bad witch? A sexy devil or a ghoulish vampire? Foodies, however, know that October marks the beginning of squash season. The Greenmarket tables, only recently laden with peaches and berries, now groan beneath the weight of butternut, blue Hubbard and, of course, the most famous squash of them all: the pumpkin. For us, the question right now is not what to be, but what to eat.
Bored with the same muffins I bake every autumn, I decided to scour Brooklyn in search of inspiration. From sweet to savory, from Cobble Hill to Bay Ridge, where are the best pumpkin dishes? I wasn’t going to settle for just a hint of pumpkin, either. I wanted big, bold, spicy flavor — the kind of taste that would satisfy my craving for fall.
Could there be a more appropriate fall ice cream flavor than pumpkin? I headed to Brooklyn Heights on an exceptionally sunny afternoon to treat myself to a cone (with chocolate sprinkles) at Blue Pig. The ice cream ($2.50 for a generous single scoop) was a lovely, pastel orange color, and it was clear from the creamy appearance alone that it had a high percentage of butterfat. It tasted velvety and smooth, and the rich texture lingered on my tongue long after each lick. While the flavor was sweet, it was ultimately too mild; it definitely could have used a bit of clove or ginger to spice it up. It tasted a bit like canned pumpkin pie filling. I think a graham cracker topping would be just the thing to put it over the top!
A friend of mine said that Blue Sky of Park Slope bakes the best muffins in the entire world, and while I doubt that he’s done the research to support such a claim, I have a difficult time disagreeing. You’d be hard pressed to find anything better then their pumpkin-apple-walnut version ($1.85).
I splurged recently for breakfast, and my muffin was everything it should be: dense and moist, the inside full of chunky apples and crunchy nuts. The top was dusted lightly with sugar crystals, which provided a pleasantly crispy texture that contrasted nicely with the pillowy interior. While the muffin was super-sweet, it was saved from crossing the cupcake line by strong, spicy notes of cinnamon, clove and a hint of ginger. My muffin was weighty, warm and about the size of a baseball. A deep, burnt orange color, it looked — and tasted — just like a miniature pumpkin.
As a special this month, Bay Ridge restaurant Cebu is serving up pumpkin ravioli ($14). Five plump packets of pasta are served on a saucer-sized plate, surrounded by a generous ring of sage-cream sauce. The pumpkin filling tasted like a savory Thanksgiving pie. It was earthy and generously filled with actual chunks of pumpkin and creamy ricotta. Each bite began with a burst of sweet squash flavor, and finished with the mellow taste of nutmeg. The sage-cream sauce added a complimentary salty, herby note. My only caveat was that the pasta itself was a tad toothy and thick, and ever so slightly overpowered the delectable flavor of what it encased.
The smashed pumpkin with honey and chili at Smith Street’s Lunetta ($7) is suburb and will definitely satisfy your cravings for autumnal fare. On my visit, the squash was exceedingly fresh and mashed in a rough, rustic way so that each bite provided both creamy and chunky textures. The flavor was homey and straightforward. The honey added an understated sweetness, while the chili provided a surprising little burst of fire. It was just the sort of side that would steal the show at a simple fall meal.
The Halloween night meal at Pane e Vino in Cobble Hill starts off strong with a creamy, savory pumpkin soup. Bulked up with shrimp (and, at least for me, with a few pieces of the restaurant’s tasty grilled bread), a bowl is plenty for a snack, but why stop there? On Oct. 31, the restaurant will be serving a $30, four-course meal that’s got pumpkin all the way through. Start with the soup, then try the “Risotto alla Halloween,” which comes chock full of sauteed pumpkin, mushrooms, lobster and crab meat. Still not stuffed? Finish the night with pumpkin gelato served in a hollowed out gourd. This pumpkin is certainly smashing.
The Blue Pig (60 Henry St., between Cranberry and Orange streets, in Brooklyn Heights) is open daily, 11 am-11 pm. For information, call (718) 596-6301.
Blue Sky Bakery (53 Fifth Ave. at Bergen Street in Park Slope) is open Monday from 7:30 am to 1 pm, Tuesday through Friday from 7:30 am to 2 pm, and Saturday from 8:30 am to 2 pm. Closed Sundays. For information, call (718) 783-4123.
Cebu Bar & Bistro (8801 Third Ave. at 88th Street in Bay Ridge) is open daily, noon-3 am. For information, call (718) 492-5095.
Lunetta (116 Smith St., between Pacific and Dean streets, in Boerum Hill) is open Tuesday through Sunday, 5:30 pm-11 pm. Closed Mondays. For information, call (718) 488-6269 or visit www.lunetta-ny.com.
Pane e Vino (174 Smith St., between Wyckoff and Warren streets, in Cobble Hill) is open Monday through Thursday from 11 am to 11 pm, Friday and Saturday from 11 am to midnight, and Sundays from 11 am to 11 pm. For information, call (718) 501-1010.