The air is crisp, leaves are changing hue, and spiced lattes are all around. Pumpkin
season is upon us. Chefs around the city embrace the versatile ingredient each fall, and the dishes they create push the boundaries of New England tradition. We’re talking smoky ramen, zesty tacos, and even caramel-laced ice cream. Here are a dozen spots around town serving up good old pumpkin, every which way but your standard pie.
Alden & Harlow
Chef Michael Scelfo debuted his raw pumpkin salad ($13) nearly three years ago, when the dish was featured on the subterranean Harvard Square restaurant’s opening menu. It’s been a bit different each year, gradually transforming into its current form: raw spiralized pumpkin dressed in a brown butter vinaigrette and flavored with jalapenos, basil, and cotija cheese. Scelfo also throws in pepitas, or fried pumpkin seeds, for additional texture. “I used to love spaghetti squash as a kid that my mom used to make, and I wanted to get the shape and flavor and mouthfeel of spaghetti squash in a crunchy form,” Scelfo said of using raw pumpkin.
40 Brattle St., Harvard Square, Cambridge, 617-864-2100, www.aldenharlow.com.
Flan is a familiar dish to many, with its custard-like texture and light eggy flavor. But at Besito Mexican, executive chef Carlos Durazo mixes in a bit of New England flair. The best-selling flan de calabaza ($7) features pumpkin as its star ingredient, and is topped with caramelized pumpkin seeds. “[Pumpkin is] creamy, it adds some flavor, and it’s seasonal. When you have a bite of the flan, you can feel that October is here,” Durazo said.
199 Boylston St., Chestnut Hill, 617-527-1155, www.besitomexican.com. Additional location in Burlington.
Brass Union’s pumpkin mousse ($8) is quite straightforward. Executive chef Jonathan Kopacz takes pumpkin puree; cooks it down with cream, allspice, and cinnamon; and folds the mixture into whipped cream. Applesauce, shaved apple, and a dusting of cinnamon top it off. It’s essentially autumn in a cup. “The flavor of [pumpkin] is subtle. Sometimes with other desserts it can be lost, but here we’re focusing on pumpkin flavors. It’s not beaten down by pumpkin spice or any other flavors to battle with,” Kopacz said.
70 Union Square, Somerville, 617-623-9211, www.brassunion.com.
Empire Asian Restaurant & Lounge
This Seaport District hot spot is warming hearts with its sweet pumpkin dumplings ($12). Served alongside pumpkin ice cream, the dumplings are filled with the squash and covered with its seeds and a spiced pumpkin caramel drizzle. There are contrasting tastes and textures to keep things interesting bite after bite.
1 Marina Park Drive, Seaport District, Boston, 617-295-0001, www.empireboston.com.
The alternative ice cream shop offers coconut-based frozen treats sweetened with organic agave and unrefined cane sugar. In the spirit of fall, FoMu adds a pumpkin ice cream ($3.50-$5.95) laced with spiced caramel to its eclectic menu. But that’s not all. Stop by one of the shop’s many locations for pumpkin chai lattes ($4.15-$4.65), pumpkin cupcakes ($3.50), and pumpkin whoopie pies with salted caramel buttercream ($4.95). “Pumpkin and apple are just really great ingredients because they make delicate cakes, really flavor-packed fillings. . . . If we could use them all year long, we would,” said co-owner Deena Jalal.
655 Tremont St., South End, Boston, 617-982-7955, www.fomuicecream.com. Additional locations in Allston and Jamaica Plain.
Island Creek Oyster Bar
Island Creek, located at the Hotel Commonwealth in Kenmore Square, is all about eating locally. Squash, seemingly the region’s favorite produce, figures prominently across all of the restaurant’s menus. It is therefore no surprise that pastry chef Lauren Kroesser creates warm pumpkin doughnuts ($8), coated in a sticky pumpkin and honey glaze and topped with cinnamon-y pecans.
500 Commonwealth Ave., Kenmore Square, Boston, 617-532-5300, www.islandcreekoysterbar.com.
The team behind this homey South Boston tavern understands what the hard-working people need: classy comfort food. Before skipping to the main course, be sure to check out chef Nicholas Dixon’s crispy pumpkin fritters ($8), served with a rich sage and brown butter aioli.
425 W. Broadway, South Boston, 617-765-8636, www.lincolnsouthboston.com.
Little Big Diner
Chefs David Punch and Daniel Scott of Newton’s Little Big Diner offer creative interpretations of Asian dishes, and one of their most inventive is the pumpkin ramen ($14). Our star ingredient is found in the pumpkin coconut broth, which mingles with smoked maitake mushrooms, chile onions, crispy kale, pepitas, and doenjang, a Korean fermented soybean paste. “It more accentuates the pumpkin flavor, not that spice profile. The doenjang and pumpkin really complement each other. There’s a lot of natural umami in there,” Scott said.
1247 Centre St., Newton, 857-404-0068, www.littlebigdiner.com.
Loco Taqueria & Oyster Bar
Chef Matt Drummond recently added a pumpkin taco ($9) to the menu at this funky restaurant. The triple-threat dish features roasted pumpkin, pumpkin puree, and pumpkin seeds. It’s not as loco as it sounds. Pumpkin is used in many forms in Mexican cuisine.
412 W. Broadway, South Boston, 617-917-5626, www.locosouthboston.com.
Puritan & Company
This Inman Square restaurant’s pumpkin-heavy appetizer is the dish of every cheese connoisseur’s dreams. Chef Will Gilson offers burrata — mozzarella filled with cream — with roasted pumpkin, shaved raw pumpkin, and pumpkin seed hummus ($16). A bit of purslane and some toasty kale chips add contrasting texture and color.
1166 Cambridge St., Inman Square, Cambridge, 617-615-6195, www.puritancambridge.com.
Chef Lydia Shire’s sugar pumpkin agnolotti ($19-$29) embody the upcoming holiday season’s finest culinary qualities. The pasta, made using white truffle powder, is paired with a smooth puree of sugar pumpkin and butternut squash. Shire tops the pasta with candied chestnuts and toasted sage leaves, which add a nutty crunch. “I still think pasta is one of the top superstars for using pumpkin. Who doesn’t like a naturally sweet flavor in their mouth?” she said.
215 Charles St., Beacon Hill, Boston, 617-536-2100, www.scampoboston.com.
It’s the great pumpkin, Charlie Brown! Chef Meghann Ward’s stuffed pumpkin ($45) is large enough to feed four. A traditional farmhouse dish from Lyon, France, the pumpkin — occasionally replaced with red kuri squash, based on availability — is filled with smoked pork shoulder, wild mushrooms, Gruyere, and torn bread. Ward uses the entire vegetable, and even the lid is left on as the pumpkin caramelizes in the oven. “We’re always looking to use the whole animal, use the whole vegetable, not to have much waste. . . . We were thinking about this dish we saw in France, and what better thing to do in the fall?” Ward said.
69 Kilmarnock St., Fenway, Boston, 617-421-4470, www.tapestry.restaurant.
Sonia Rao can be reached at email@example.com.