Both elegant and homey, pumpkin spoon bread can be served as a vegetarian main or as a side with roasted meat or poultry. (Photo by Tom McCorkle for The Washington Post)

Both elegant and homey, pumpkin spoon bread can be served as a vegetarian main or as a side with roasted meat or poultry. (Photo by Tom McCorkle for The Washington Post)

This creamy pumpkin spoon bread flirts with sweet and savory

The souffle-like dish proves that pumpkin can bring so much more to the table than pie.

I’m not quite sure why pumpkin has been mostly relegated to the sweets category in the United States, but like its winter squash cousins, it happily goes savory, too. Pumpkin is delicious simply roasted, just as you would a butternut or kabocha squash: halved and seeded, brushed with a little oil, drizzled with honey or maple syrup, sprinkled with salt and oven-roasted until fork tender. Just be sure to buy the smaller “sugar” pumpkins for cooking, which are creamier than their watery, fibrous carving cousins.

Canned pumpkin, which, ironically, is often made with a variety of different winter squashes, goes beyond pie as well, conveniently bringing orange seasonal essence to savory dishes. This souffle-like spoon bread showcases that quality beautifully. In it, pumpkin puree is stirred into a creamy cornmeal porridge along with familiar pumpkin spices — cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg. But it takes a turn toward savory with the addition of chopped fresh thyme leaves and has just enough maple syrup to give it a hint of sweetness.

Once enriched with egg yolk and folded with fluffy beaten egg whites, the mixture is poured into a souffle dish and baked. It emerges from the oven resplendent with autumnal color and aroma, elegantly puffed yet still homey, ready to grace your table as a vegetarian main course along soup or salad, or as a side for roasted meat or poultry.

Pumpkin spoon bread

This souffle-like dish is resplendent with autumnal color and flavor, proving how pumpkin puree can bring so much more to the table than pie. Both elegant and homey, it can be served as a vegetarian main or as a side with roasted meat or poultry.

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for the pan

2 cups low-fat milk

¾ cup yellow cornmeal

1 cup canned pumpkin puree

3 tablespoons maple syrup

2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme leaves

¾ teaspoon kosher salt

½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

¼ teaspoon ground ginger

¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg

3 large eggs, separated

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees with the rack in the middle. Lightly coat a 2-quart high-sided baking dish, such as a souffle dish, with butter.

In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, combine the milk and butter. Bring to a simmer, then reduce the heat to medium and, stirring all the while, gradually whisk in the cornmeal. Simmer, stirring frequently with a whisk, until the mixture thickens, about 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the pumpkin puree, maple syrup, thyme, salt, cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg. Let the mixture cool for 15 minutes. Whisk the egg yolks into the cornmeal mixture until incorporated.

In a stand mixer, or using a handheld electric mixer, beat the egg whites until soft peaks form, 1 to 2 minutes. Fold the egg whites into the pumpkin mixture until just incorporated, then pour the mixture into the prepared dish. Bake until golden brown on top and set in the middle, 40 to 45 minutes. Let rest for 5 minutes before serving.

Makes 6 servings. Nutrition per serving: 220 calories; 8 grams total fat; 5 grams saturated fat; 125 miligrams cholesterol; 220 miligrams sodium; 29 grams carbohydrates; 2 grams dietary fiber; 10 grams sugars; 8 grams protein.

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