Many uses of canned pumpkins
Tired of the same old pumpkin pie?

Take a tip from top chefs and grab a can opener. The contents of a can of pumpkin puree can also be used to produce a sweet Baked Pumpkin Brulee French Toast or a savory Chicken and Pumpkin Tagine.

The Star recently asked four chefs -- Beth Barden of Succotash, John and Sarah Williams of PotPie and Wendy Rudderforth of Pangea Cafe -- to share their favorite recipes using canned pumpkin.

Thumb through any food magazine, from Bon Appetit to the Food Network Magazine and Fine Cooking, and the recipes almost exclusively call for canned pumpkin thanks to a field-to-can freshness that chefs can count on.

Even if you prefer to make most of your feast from scratch, take a tip from these local chefs and put canned pumpkin on the shopping list.

Libby's grows its pumpkins on 4,000 acres of farm ground in Morton, Ill., the self-proclaimed Pumpkin Capital of the World. The fields are dedicated to growing the Select Dickinson pumpkin, a special variety the company developed for its "delicious taste, creamy texture and pleasing orange color," says Roz O'Hearn, manager of marketing communications.

Libby's has been canning pumpkins since 1929. Every pumpkin is canned the same day it is picked. That kind of consistency and convenience are primary reasons to reach for the can.

For starters, the water content of pumpkins varies; some are thick and creamy when baked and pureed while others are thin and watery. Sometimes the pulp purees into a silky pudding-like consistency, but sometimes the pulp remains fibrous.

Also, baking a pumpkin from scratch takes several hours. The fruit must be washed and cut and the seeds removed. It must be baked, then peeled and pureed. On a weekend day spent at home, it is a relatively easy -- and yes, fun -- process. But most cooks this time of year are busy making oodles of other dishes.

Versatility is an important reason chefs are drawn to the flavor of pumpkin in the first place. "It's a fabulous fall starch," Beth Barden says. "I use it in soups, curries, pancake batter, milkshakes, tapioca puddings, flavored butters for muffins. It keeps its color, helps keep dishes moist and is an additive to cut fat instead of butter or oil."

You can dress it down -- stirring it into hearty chilies, stews and soups. Or fancy it up, fashioning it into roulades, candies and pies, topped with a pearly dollop of whipped cream.

And now that the Thanksgiving holiday countdown has begun, to-do lists are getting longer and the stress-level is creeping up.

"There is so much other stuff to do around Thanksgiving, it makes your life so much easier," says Wendy Rudderforth, co-owner of Pangea Cafe. "With pumpkins, you have to find the right ones -- not the ones for decorating -- the ones for cooking."

PotPie executive chef John Williams likes to include pumpkin in ethnic dishes because the familiar flavor of pumpkin helps make unfamiliar ingredients or dishes seem more familiar.

Pumpkin pairs as well with savory spices such as sage and rosemary, crushed red pepper and cayenne as it does with sweet accompaniments such as brown sugar, molasses and rum.

When buying pumpkin puree, be sure the label says it is 100 percent pure -- no additives, no preservatives, no pumpkin pie spices.

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BAKED PUMPKIN BRULEE FRENCH TOAST

Makes 8 servings