Native Americans used these hearty orange members of the gourd family as trade goods. The Pilgrims made pumpkin soup, pumpkin bread, and even pumpkin beer from them. But some of the best ideas we’ve heard lately come from pumpkin fanatic John Watt, the executive chef and co-owner of Houston restaurant Prego (2520 Amherst). Inspired by memories of the annual pumpkin harvest in his home state of Wisconsin as well as the traditional use of pumpkin in Italian cuisine, Watt creates several special dishes each year. This season he offers yummy pumpkin risotto with porcini mushrooms, roasted corn, and leeks. Another irresistible entrée is pumpkin-seed-crusted halibut with roasted-pumpkin purée. And Watt is especially fond of his pumpkin mezzaluna with walnuts and a light mascarpone-nutmeg sauce. He prefers to use fresh, not canned, pumpkin in his dishes and recommends choosing pumpkins that are smaller and denser, as they are easier to clean and yield more meat. The four- to five-pounders are also said to be sweeter, which makes us think that pumpkin pie is a pretty good idea too.
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