John Richardson, chef and owner of The Bearded Dogg Lounge in Gaylord, finds inspiration each fall in the abundance of fresh pumpkin available in Northern Michigan, crafting seasonal dishes like roasted pumpkin soup with grilled apple chutney, pumpkin risotto, and bronzed and grilled pumpkin (just to name a few). He shares some tips for cooking with pumpkin at home, as well as his gnocchi recipe, which is sure to be a staple on your seasonal menu.

How do you prepare a whole pumpkin prior to cooking?

When preparing a whole pumpkin, be sure to use a very sharp knife and work on a sturdy surface. You will want to slice from the top down and work in sections. Use two hands on the knife if you have to gain leverage; pumpkins can be pretty firm. Be patient and take your time.

What advice would you give someone who is cooking with fresh pumpkin for the first time?

Roasting is your friend. There is nothing better than the smell of a pumpkin roasting in the oven. Be sure to cut the pumpkin into similarly sized chunks. If it is cut evenly, it will cook evenly. Use your favorite oil to protect the flesh and skin, and season with plenty of salt, pepper and spices.

Photo by Dave Weidner

What techniques and dishes do you recommend starting out with?

For beginners, pumpkin is best roasted and pureed into a soup or sauce. It is a great way for you to get to know how the squash will react to different cooking techniques. You can always experiment with different flavorings in small batches until you get your seasoning and consistency just right. Just remember that you can always add more seasoning and liquid, but you can’t take it out. Take notes and use measurements, even if a pinch is your measurement.

What is your favorite savory dish to make with pumpkin?

My favorite dish is gnocchi. You can substitute the pumpkin puree for potato and, with very little experimentation, you can dynamically change someone’s dumpling experience. Toss the pumpkin gnocchi in a little sage brown butter and freshly grated Parmesan cheese, and enjoy.

Favorite pumpkin dessert?

Pumpkin crème brûlée is particularly good. Just be sure to use a few more egg yolks and some extra sugar in the recipe. Top it with homemade peanut butter whipped cream and you will be in for a treat.

What tips do you have for freezing and storing pumpkin after it’s cooked?

Squash tends to freeze pretty well when made into a sauce or soup. If you freeze it whole, it will become mushy. I always get excited when I rediscover some frozen pumpkin puree in the cold winter months. It is a great addition to most hearty soups.

John Richardson’s Pumpkin Gnocchi with Sage Brown Butter


  • 1 pound pumpkin puree
  • 1 pound all-purpose flour
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon ancho chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon smoked sweet paprika
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg


Cut your pumpkin into large chunks and coat with salt, pepper and olive oil. Roast the pumpkin pieces on a parchment-lined cookie sheet in a 400-degree oven until soft enough to cut with the side of a spoon (approximately 40 minutes). Once the pumpkin is soft, use a potato masher or ricer and mix until completely smooth. A food processor is also very helpful. Weigh out one pound of your puree and add your seasonings. Place the pumpkin puree in the refrigerator overnight to help it dry out.

Photo by Dave Weidner

On a large work surface, pour the flour into a mound and make a well in the center. Add your eggs in the center and use a fork to beat them slightly. Add your pumpkin puree and mix until it forms a shaggy dough. Work the mixture until it is slightly sticky to the touch. Roll it into a ball, being careful not to overwork the dough. Cover with plastic wrap and let it sit for 30 minutes.

Working with a quarter of the dough at a time, roll the dough into long snakes about half an inch wide. Using the back of a kitchen knife or a bench scraper, cut the dough into pieces about one-quarter-inch long and use a bit of flour to keep them from sticking together. Once you have cut all of your pieces, you can freeze them for later use or cook immediately.

To cook the dumplings, bring a gallon of salted water to a boil and drop your gnocchi in for 3 minutes or until they float. You may also sear the gnocchi in a little oil with some salt and pepper in a non-stick pan over medium-high heat. Be sure to transfer the gnocchi to a paper towel before adding the brown butter sage sauce, otherwise, they’ll be too greasy.

For the Brown Butter Sauce:Place one quarter-stick of salted butter per 6-8 ounce portion of gnocchi in a saucepan over medium heat with a sprig of sage per portion. Cook slowly until you see the butter turn amber and the sage starts to fry. Toss the hot gnocchi, sage sprigs and brown butter together, removing the sage stems before serving. Finish with freshly grated Parmesan cheese. Enjoy!

Photo(s) by Dave Weidner