A Pumpkin Recipe Nothing Short of Genius

Every week — often with your help — Food52's Executive Editor Kristen Miglore is unearthing recipes that are nothing short of genius.

Today: Turn any winter squash into this holiday season's go-to gift, breakfast, and dessert — an entertaining triple threat.

If you're unabashed about loving pumpkin spice lattes and all their weird progeny, you will really like this pumpkin butter recipe. It will be everything you love about the season, but twisted and intensified into a more ethereal version of the pumpkin spice you know. It will make the lattes pale, and the spinoffs irrelevant.But if you usually keep your distance from pumpkin spice everything, as I do — claiming to not get it, while still helping yourself to wide-cut slices of pumpkin cake and pie — this recipe will make a liar of you.

It comes from chef Paul Virant's The Preservation Kitchen, a book full of smart ways to preserve foods in season (and then cook with the preserves). As Food52er AntoniaJames told me when she sent over the recipe, "This pumpkin butter is kind of like the best-tasting, most intense, perfectly flavored pumpkin pie."

Kindly, Virant doesn't even pretend to make you find the right kind of sugar or cheese pumpkin. You can use any of the cute squashes you bought at the farmers market and aren't sure what to do with, even the wonky-shaped ones you don't know how to peel. Here I used a hodgepodge of kabocha, butternut, acorn, and delicata.

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Virant's technique for developing intensity quickly in any kind of squash is a lot like Judy Rodgers' genius roasted applesauce. While most fruit butters are cooked on the stovetop or in a slow cooker, "for the most concentrated flavor," Virant writes, "I roast the pumpkin in two stages:" First, it's simply halved and seeded, to cook the squash and make it scoopable; then the scooped pulp roasts a second time in an open roasting pan along with the spice half of the equation.

More: Get our tips for roasting the seeds — no recipe required.

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Roasting and stirring here and there exposes more of the surface to heat and helps it thicken and caramelize, rather than steam. And, while most pumpkin butters are butter in name only, this one roasts with bits of real, unsalted butter stirred in, which naturally makes it fuller and richer in flavor, but also helps the caramelizing process along.

The mix is also generously sweetened with brown sugar, balanced with salt and only enough spices to nudge the earthy flavors of the squash into the foreground, without inadvertently shoving them off the stage.

As you might expect, this packs well and makes a handsome gift at any scale you want to make it. It also keeps in the fridge for a few weeks and freezes well, so you can make it now to have on hand till the last guest leaves in January, with a few spoonfuls left for you.

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From here, Virant adds it to ice cream and pumpkin bars. So far, our Assistant Editor Sarah Jampel has put it on homemade focaccia and in plain yogurt. Associate Editor Marian Bull is talking about stirring it into oatmeal and slipping it into pumpkin breakfast parfaits like fiveandspice would. I've been doing my part too, and smearing the butter on a lot of toast and cake.

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Paul Virant's Pumpkin Butter

Adapted slightly from The Preservation Kitchen (Ten Speed Press, 2012)

Makes about 6 cups

Roasted Pumpkin or Winter Squash:

  • 5 pounds (2 to 3) pumpkin or winter squash, halved and seeded
  • Vegetable oil for coating

Pumpkin Butter:

  • 6 cups (3 pounds) roasted pumpkin or winter squash pulp
  • 2 cups (12 ounces) lightly packed brown sugar
  • 1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter, cubed
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon, ground
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg, freshly grated
  • 1/2 teaspoon ginger, ground
  • 1/4 teaspoon cloves, ground

See the full recipe (and save it and print it) here.

Got a genius recipe to share — from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at Thanks to AntoniaJames for this one!

The Genius Recipes cookbook is here! (Well, almost.) You can now pre-order it on Provisions to get a signed copy in April, plus 3 pretty recipe cards to wrap up in time for the holidays. Find out more about the book here!

Photos by James Ransom