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Pumpkin: beyond the pie and jack-o'-lantern

Pumpkin recipes, both sweet and savory, are plentiful for easy pumpkin-themed dinners.

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"An all-pumpkin menu?" asked my friend, incredulously. "That sounds like too much of a good thing, if you ask me."

Perhaps, but it's a short season, and many cooks delight in boldly celebrating the autumn harvest with a pumpkin-themed dinner, starring the bright-orange squash from start to finish, appetizer to dessert.

The humble gourd, which is more often carved than cooked, even stars on all-pumpkin menus at such upscale establishments as the Princess cruise ships every Thanksgiving. The Ritz-Carlton in Half Moon Bay, Calif., heralds the tiny coastal town's self-declared "Pumpkin Capital of the World" motto with an elegant six-course pumpkin dinner.

So the versatile pumpkin can be dressed up for fine dining, but it is also excellent when prepared simply, and recipes – both sweet and savory – are plentiful for home cooks who might want to host their own pumpkin-themed meal without too much fuss.

Dig for recipes at your local pumpkin festival, on the Internet from one of the many culinary sites or blogs that constantly sprout new crops of seasonal recipes (such as chocolateandzucchini.com and Kiplog.com/food) or best of all, from a pumpkin-themed cookbook by a reputable writer whose recipes you know you can count on. Cookbooks featuring pumpkins have become almost as numerous as jack-o'-lanterns on Halloween.

"Holiday Pumpkins," by Georgeanne Brennan and Jennifer Barry (Ten Speed Press), is a good place to start. Other cookbooks that will stimulate your creativity and arouse your passion for pumpkin are "The Great Little Pumpkin Cookbook," by Michael Krondl, (Celestial Arts), and "Pumpkin: A Super Food for All 12 Months of the Year," by DeeDee Stovel (Storey Publishing).

Whatever you're looking for, whether it's a simple soup, an exotic entree such as Moroccan Chicken and Pumpkin Stew, or a traditional pie, you'll find in one of these terrific recipe collections. Except for the pocket-size "Great Little Pumpkin Cookbook," which focuses only on recipes, these books also answer any questions about pumpkins ranging from their history to methods for cooking to preparing and storing.

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