Local Chefs Serve Up Sweet and Savory Pumpkin Dishes

Did you know that Illinois is the top pumpkin-producing state in the country?

The vast majority is processed into canned pumpkin and pie mixes, although some become jack-o-lanterns. While the kids might be more interested in carving pumpkins than eating them, you will want to check out these dishes in which local chefs elevate autumn’s versatile orange squashes to new culinary heights.

Chicago

The Boarding House 

Roasted pumpkin is steeped in boiling water with black pepper, mace, cinnamon, clove and cardamom to make a pumpkin syrup, which is then blended with rye whiskey, Grand Marnier and orange juice over ice for a bold autumn cocktail. 720 N. Wells St., 312-280-0720

Travelle

The earthy sweetness of pumpkin is complemented by the funk of cumin seeds at chef Tim Graham’s Mediterranean-inspired restaurant. For fall, he’s puréeing pumpkin (Cinderella and peanut are his favorite varieties) with whole cumin seeds, broken just slightly for intensity. Sea bass is meaty enough to hold up to the strong flavors and feta and mint add salt and brightness. 330 N. Wabash Ave., 312-923-7705

dining-chef-pumpkin-dishes-Travelle-bass

Bread & Wine 

Pumpkin soup here is emboldened with chicken stock, whiskey and maple syrup, and then garnished with Granny Smith apples. The combination is inspired by chef Michael Dean Reynolds’ favorite fall treats, taffy apples and pumpkin. 3734 W. Irving Park Road, 773-866-5266

Filini 

Instead of simple melted butter, chef Carolina Diaz adds earthy fall flavor to her spiced pumpkin gnocchi with a red wine and brown butter reduction. A huge chunk of braised pork belly on top ensures you won’t go home hungry. 221 N. Columbus Drive, 312-477-0234

dining-chef-pumpkin-dishes-Filini-gnocchi

Piccolo Sogno Due

Chef Tony Priolo fell in love with Northern Italian pumpkin stuffed ravioli when he tried it for the first time in Emilia Romagna, and he strives to create an authentic version in Chicago with Green Acres Farm pumpkins, crushed amaretto cookie, toasted walnuts, sage and brown butter sauce. 340 N. Clark St., 312-822-0077

Mercadito

Flan was a holiday staple for chef Patricio Sandoval growing up in Acapulco. Here, his pumpkin flan, spiced with Mexican cinnamon nutmeg and ginger, is an elegant update on pumpkin pie. It’s baked in individual tin foil cups, so you don’t have to share. 108 W. Kinzie St., 312-329-9555

dining-chef-pumpkin-dishes-Mercadito-flan

Sepia

Crisp croquettes give way to creamy pumpkin and goat cheese, inspired by chef Andrew Zimmerman’s days making tapas at del Toro. Zimmerman uses a variety of pumpkins that he gets at Green City Market and garnishes the fried bites with Romesco sauce. 123 N. Jefferson St., 312-441-1920

North Shore

Bistro Bordeaux 

The coquilles Saint Jacques au syrop d’erable are a French homage to chef Aaron Brockwell’s father, who loved eating scallops each fall in Connecticut. Here, the mollusks are served with roasted pumpkin over parsnip purée with lardons, white beans, maple and a drizzle of pumpkin seed oil vinaigrette. 618 Church St., Evanston, 847-424-1483

dining-chef-pumpkin-dishes-Bistro-Bordeaux-scallops

Andy’s Frozen Custard 

A fresh slice of pumpkin pie is mashed up with two scoops of vanilla frozen custard for the fall seasonal special pumpkin pie concrete. The pumpkin flavor blends evenly throughout and shards of buttery, salty piecrust accent the creamy custard. 719 Church St., Evanston, 847-864-8009

Peckish Pig 

A smooth, creamy curried apple and pumpkin soup will warm you right up with a bit of heat and spice from curry powder and crunch from the toasted pumpkin seed garnish. Buttery grilled Stilton blue cheese sandwich on the side is perfect for dipping. 623 Howard St., Evanston, 847-491-6778

Prairie Grass Café 

Heirloom ‘”luxury pie” pumpkins are not only used in pies, but also grilled and glazed with honey butter, then topped with fresh crumbled goat cheese and toasted pumpkin seeds. 601 Skokie Blvd., Northbrook, 847-205-4433

Guildhall 

Chef Bradford Phillips livens up autumn risotto with coarsely pureed roasted sugar pumpkins. The puree adds a creamy richness to contrast with beech mushrooms and crunchy “granola” made with puffed rice, Parmesan, sunflower and pumpkin seeds. 694 Vernon Ave., Glencoe, 847-835-8100

Inovasi 

Leg of lamb egg rolls are served over a savory pumpkin hummus with Middle Eastern spices, fried capers and leeks at this adventurous Lake Bluff restaurant. The piquant hummus, made with chickpeas, roasted pumpkin, sesame, garlic, Turkish chile and limejuice perfectly complements the meaty crunch of fried egg rolls. 28. E. Center Ave., Lake Bluff, 847-295-1000

All photos courtesy of each restaurant.