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Tuesday, October 30, 2012

It’s The Great Pumpkin, Kathy Gunst!

A pyramid of pumpkins at Stonewall Kitchen in York, Maine. (Kathy Gunst/Here & Now)

With Halloween approaching, Here & Now resident chef Kathy Gunst is thinking pumpkins. And she’s not talking about cooking your jack-o’-lantern. As she tells Robin Young, “the cooking variety are very low in moisture. The jack-o’-lanterns have a lot of water.”

Kathy has discovered all sorts of cooking pumpkins, including the New England Pie Pumpkin, the Winter Luxury Pumpkin and the Cinderella Pumpkin.

As she tells Robin, pumpkins have “all kinds of great vitamin A, antioxidants, tons of fiber.”

Kathy has four recipes to share: Pumpkin Seed, Rosemary and Bacon Brittle; Pureed Pumpkin with Fresh Ginger and Maple Caramelized Walnuts; Pumpkin Wedges Roasted with Maple Syrup; and Roasted Pumpkin Seeds.

Pumpkin Seed, Rosemary and Bacon Brittle

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Chef Kathy Gunst’s pumpkin seed, rosemary and bacon brittle. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

From Notes from a Maine Kitchen (Down East Books 2011)
I was reviewing John Besh’s wonderful book My New Orleans, The Cookbook (Andrews McMeel Publishing) and discovered a recipe for Pumpkin Seed Brittle that is scattered over a green salad with blue cheese. I was intrigued. I tried it and was hooked—a combination of sweet and spicy with meaty pumpkin seeds. But I thought I could take it a step further.

I experimented by adding chopped fresh rosemary and loved the way the herb brought out the pumpkin seeds flavor. But, what else? Well the answer to almost everything is bacon. I cooked up a few strips of thick, country-style bacon and made another batch of brittle and crumbled the bacon in and it was exactly what I looking for. Imagine a savory brittle that is both sweet (from sugar) and hot (from a good sprinkle of cayenne pepper) and earthy (from the rosemary) and chewy (from the pumpkin seeds) and fabulous (from the bacon). I warn you: this stuff is truly addictive. I’ve made many batches and always crave more.

Serve the brittle with cheeses, crumble it up over winter salads (mixed greens with pomegranate seeds and crumbled local goat cheese is an amazing combination) or serve it with wine and cocktails. You can easily omit the bacon for a vegetarian version of the brittle.

2 to 3 strips thick country-style bacon*
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 ½ tablespoons fresh rosemary, finely chopped or 1 tablespoon dried and crumbled
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 cup pumpkin seeds
1 egg white

*You can use 2 or 3 strips of bacon depending on how meaty you want the brittle. I prefer 2 strips, making the bacon a more subtle presence but if you really love bacon go for the 3 strips.

Cook the bacon in a large skillet until crisp and cooked through, being careful not to let it burn. Drain on paper towels. Crumble the bacon into small (but not tiny) pieces and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking or cookie sheet with parchment paper or a silicon mat or aluminum foil.

In a medium bowl mix the sugar, salt, rosemary, cayenne and pumpkin seeds.

In another bowl whisk the egg white for just a few minutes until it is foamy, but not stiff. If you overbeat the egg white the brittle will puff and have too much air and will not be crunchy. You only need to beat the egg for a few minutes (I do it by hand with a whisk so I can control it) until the just starts to foam. Fold the egg white into the pumpkin seed mixture.

Spread the brittle mixture onto the prepared cookie sheet, spreading it thinly and evenly. Bake about 25 minutes, or until the brittle is a good golden brown color. Remove and let cool. Separate the brittle into pieces about 1 ½-inch big.

The brittle will keep, covered in a cookie tin or a tightly sealed plastic bag, for several days.

Pureed Pumpkin with Fresh Ginger and Maple Caramelized Walnuts (also known as ‘Robin Young Squash’)

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Pureed pumpkin with fresh ginger and maple caramelized walnuts, from Here & Now’s resident chef Kathy Gunst. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Kathy’s Note
You can make this puree a day ahead of time and top with the walnuts and heat it up 30 minutes before serving. This puree has no diary and the ginger gives it a clean, fresh flavor.

Puree Ingredients:
2 pounds peeled and cubed pumpkin or butternut squash
1/2 cup apple cider
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
2 tablespoons maple syrup
Salt and pepper to taste

Walnut Topping Ingredients:
1 tablespoon safflower or canola oil
3/4 cup coarsely chopped walnuts, or your favorite nut
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
2 tablespoons maple syrup

Place the pumpkin in a medium pot and cover with boiling water. Steam for about 10 minutes, or until tender when tested with a small, sharp knife. Drain thoroughly.

Place the cooked pumpkin in a food processor with the cider and puree until smooth. Add the ginger, maple syrup, and salt and pepper to taste and puree again. Place the puree in a small casserole.

Make the walnuts: in a medium skillet heat the oil over moderately low heat. Add the walnuts and cook for 5 minutes, stirring, until they being to turn golden brown. Add the cinnamon, ginger, and syrup and cook, stirring until the syrup thickens and coats the nuts, about 3 minutes. Remove from the heat. Place the caramelized walnuts on top of the pumpkin puree and heat in a 325 degree oven for 15 to 20 minutes, or until bubbling hot.

Serves: 4 to 6.

Pumpkin Wedges Roasted with Maple Syrup

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Take 1 small cooking pumpkin and cut in half. Scoop out the seeds (see above) and the stringy pulp. Cut the pumpkin in to 1 ½-inch wedges, with the skin on. Place on a shallow roasting pan or cookie sheet with edges, flesh side up and skin side down. Drizzle the pumpkin slices with maple syrup (about 3 tablespoons for a 4 pound pumpkin) and season with salt and pepper. You could also add 2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage, thyme or rosemary and a drizzle of olive oil. Add about 1/3 cup water to bottom of the pan and roast at 400 degrees for about 25 minutes, or until tender when tested with a small sharp knife. Serve hot.

Serves: 4.

Here & Now resident chef Kathy Gunst snapped this photo at the Union Square Greenmarket in New York City. (Kathy Gunst/Here & Now)

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

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Kathy’s Note
Pumpkin seeds are really rich in fiber, protein, iron, copper, and magnesium and they are full of Vitamins B and E! All in all, a healthy, delicious snack!

Pull the pumpkin seeds from inside the pumpkin and rinse them in a colander. Remove any pulp or strings from the seeds and rinse again. Blot the seeds dry.


1 1/2 cups pumpkin seeds
2 to 3 teaspoons olive oil
Sea salt, to taste
Freshly ground pepper, to taste
Spices, to taste (You can sprinkle the seeds with tamari or soy sauce, and omit the salt; you can sprinkle them with cayenne or red chile flakes; or you can sprinkle them with ginger, allspice and cinnamon to taste)

Preheat oven to 300° F.

Toss pumpkin seeds in a bowl with the olive oil, salt and any of the optional seasonings.
Spread pumpkin seeds in a single layer on baking sheet. Bake for about 30 to 40 minutes, stirring occasionally, until golden brown and crispy. Let cool.

Makes: 1 ½ cups.

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Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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