Pumpkin seeds, or the deshelled version, pepitas, can be so much more than tasty roasted snacks. Chefs are finding creative ways to cook with them, from grinding them up for a nutty crunch in salsa to coarsely chopping them for gremolata over pork loin.
“There might be rioting if we tried to take it off the menu,” says Anton’s head butcher and chef Brian Bromwell of the restaurant’s tacos, which include pepita salsa along with pickled jalapeños, cilantro, red onion and housemade queso fresco, as well as your choice of tilapia (raised on-site) or house-butchered beef or pork. The salsa blends roasted pepitas with oven-roasted tomatoes and a kick of heat with jalapeño vinegar and chile de árbol and is made in the style typical to Oaxacan cuisine. “Pepitas work very much as if you were using a nut, as in a mole or romesco sauce,” Bromwell says. “I think a lot of it is texture – it’s kind of like when you get fresh-ground peanut butter, it’s got creaminess and also graininess.” The tacos with pepita salsa are served year-round, as Anton’s sources pepitas from an organic grocer that always has them on hand.
Anton’s, 1610 Main St., Crossroads Arts District, Kansas City, Missouri, 816.888.8800, antonskc.com
The farm-to-table philosophy at Dressel’s Public House in St. Louis sometimes requires extra effort – for example, the kitchen crew deshells seeds from local pumpkins by hand for its candied pepitas. Last month, executive chef Derek Roe introduced a red wine-braised pork shank that was topped with a gremolata made with toasted breadcrumbs, orange zest, raw garlic, parsley and toasted and coarsely chopped pepitas – though the restaurant uses so many that it buys them deshelled for the gremolata. “The pepitas add to the earthy fall element of the dish,” Roe says. “We have a decent amount of pepitas in the gremolata so that it’ll lend a nuttiness that pairs well with the sweetness of the squash and adds a crispy-crunchiness to the braised pork.” In the past, Dressel’s fall menu has featured a pepita brittle with butternut squash risotto, a wood-fire roasted pumpkin with pepita mole, pepita vinaigrette and more.
Dressel’s Public House, 419 N. Euclid Ave., Central West End, St. Louis, Missouri, 314.361.1060, dresselspublichouse.com
When Glenn’s Cafe first returned to The Tiger Hotel in Columbia, Missouri, in summer 2013, there was a new addition to the menu that’s now a popular year-round staple: grilled Troutdale Farm trout over braised kale drizzled with a thick pepita vinaigrette alongside roasted fingerling potatoes garnished with diced tomatoes, green onion and whole pepitas. Pepitas aren’t the main flavor in the vinaigrette, which is also made with olive oil, apple cider vinegar, pumpkin purée, turmeric, salt and pepper, but they do add texture, according to chef Chris Pender, who has been with Glenn’s since 1997. “The pepitas not only give the vinaigrette some flavor, but also thicken it so when you drizzle it over the fish, it stays put,” he says. “They’re a good snack on their own, too; we always have to keep the employees out of them.”
Glenn’s Cafe, 29 S. Eighth St., Columbia, Missouri, 573.447.7100, glennscafe.com
“An easy way to candy whole pumpkin seeds is to simmer them in a simple syrup and then roast them in the oven until the outside gets crispy-crunchy. It’s a treat.” –Derek Roe, executive chef, Dressel’s Public House