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Smashing pumpkins - Spinach Pumpkin Lasagna recipe
Time again to celebrate the spookiest squash

I get a kick out of newspaper photos of contest-winning pumpkins. Selected for their weight, the squash are typically the size and shape of stuffed furniture. They're fun to look at, but you wouldn't want to have to cut one up in your kitchen. Porch displays of giant jack-o'-lanterns are a hoot, too, but I line my own steps with pie pumpkins, the little, darker ones that are bred for their taste, not girth. That way, after Halloween is over, I can make pumpkin puree.

Here's how you do it: pierce pumpkins in several places with a fork and bake at 350 degrees until soft, around 2 hours. Split open and let them cool, then pull out the seeds (reserve these in a colander). Scrape out and puree the flesh; freeze it in airtight containers.

With your own pumpkin puree you're all set for Thanksgiving pie, plus it can be used in soups, pancakes, risottos and other constructions (or just add butter and maple syrup and you've got a side dish). Pumpkin's sweet blandness takes to assertive complements like curry blends and chilies, but it also duos nicely with quieter flavors: nuts, cream, small amounts of sage.

And the seeds? Rinse them with a hard spray of water and pull off the fibers, then soak the seeds an hour or so in salty water (2-3 teaspoons per cup). Dry them off, toss with olive oil (or not) and roast until golden brown and crunchy (at 350 degrees, tossing occasionally). For maximum joy, eat 'em while they're warm.

Kale crisp update

Thank you to the kale converts who relayed their pleasure at the recipe I ran in my last column (and welcome to the fan club). That recipes are more like maps than formulas hit home, however, when I heard from a neighbor whose son had tried making the crisps. The kale blackened and their kitchen filled with smoke, she said. We figured out that her oven runs about 20-25 degrees hot, which apparently was enough to send the leaves into overdrive before the cooking time was up. I also realized that the type of kale can affect results - I've used only a sturdy, curly variety, but more delicate-leaved types will cook faster than the recipe indicates. The upshot? Check 'em often as they bake.

Isn't cooking fascinating?

Spinach Pumpkin Lasagna

2 cups milk
3 tablespoons butter
3/4 cup finely chopped onion
3 tablespoons flour
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
1-1/2 cups homemade pumpkin puree
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1/16 teaspoon cayenne
salt and pepper to taste
10-16 ounces spinach
1 cup cottage cheese
1 large egg
3/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan, divided
1 package (12 ounces) RP's traditional egg pasta sheets

Heat milk in microwave 3 minutes. Melt butter in saucepan, add onions and cook until tender. Stir in flour and thyme; cook over low flame, stirring often, 5-10 minutes. Whisk in warm milk and cook, stirring occasionally, 10-12 minutes. Stir in pumpkin, nutmeg, cayenne, salt and pepper.

Boil spinach briefly in large pot of water; when it wilts, drain, rinse with cool water, squeeze out most of the liquid, and chop it. Combine with cottage cheese, egg and 1/2 cup Parmesan. Season with salt and pepper.

Place two (uncooked) sheets pasta in a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Spread 1/3 of the sauce over pasta. (Make sure sauce completely covers pasta.) Repeat. Spread spinach mixture over this. Finish with remaining sheets and sauce. Sprinkle with remaining Parmesan. Let stand 1/2 hour. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Bake 35-45 minutes. Let stand 10 minutes. Makes 9 servings.

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