How to make pumpkin soup and other fall comfort food favorites

With fall in full swing and winter on the horizon, there’s nothing like comfort food to make us all feel a little warmer on the inside.

And with canned pumpkin and fresh squash readily available, there’s no time like the fall and winter and the holiday season to serve up comfort food with these two fall favorites (and more) as the stars of a variety of dishes, from soups to desserts.

Here are several recipes from the team at America’s Test Kitchen to try in the cold months ahead. The dishes are featured in “Cook’s Kitchen: Vegetables Illustrated,” which features more than 700 recipes.

Braised Carrots and Parsnips with Dried Cranberries

Braised carrots and parsnips with dried cranberries.
Courtesy America’s Test Kitchen

Serves 4 to 6

For a vegetarian version, you can substitute vegetable stock or water for the chicken broth.

  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch pieces
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 1 cup apple cider
  • 6 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 2 bay leaves
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 pound carrots, peeled and sliced on bias ¼ inch thick
  • 1 pound parsnips, peeled and sliced on bias ¼ inch thick
  • ½ cup dried cranberries
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley

1. Melt 1 tablespoon butter in large Dutch oven over high heat. Add shallot and cook, stirring frequently, until softened and just beginning to brown, about 3 minutes. Add broth, cider, thyme sprigs, bay leaves, 1½ teaspoons salt, and ½ teaspoon pepper; bring to simmer and cook for 5 minutes. Add carrots and parsnips, stir to combine, and return to simmer. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are tender, 10 to 14 minutes.

2. Remove pot from heat. Discard thyme sprigs and bay leaves and stir in cranberries. Push vegetable mixture to sides of pot. Add mustard and remaining 2 tablespoons butter to center and whisk into cooking liquid. Stir to coat vegetable mixture with sauce, transfer to serving dish, sprinkle with parsley, and serve.

Pumpkin Jelly Roll Cake

Pumpkin roll

Pumpkin jelly roll cake.
Keller + Keller

Why This Recipe Works

Perhaps the most famous holiday cake is the Yule Log, which, for good reason, gets trotted out every holiday season. There’s much to be said for this classic, but we wanted to develop a unique variation for the holidays with a pumpkin jelly roll cake encasing a simple filling.

We initially thought incorporating pumpkin puree into a flexible sponge cake recipe would weigh down the batter, but happily we were wrong. Each additional ¼ cup of puree we introduced did not make the cake heavier; instead, the puree improved the cake’s flavor, gave it a moist texture, and made it more flexible.

Cream cheese frosting seemed like a natural filling, but it made our cake too dense to roll. We tweaked the ingredient proportions to lighten the texture and then considered whether or not the order in which the ingredients were being mixed together mattered. The answer was yes: The batches in which the butter was blended with the sugar before we added the cream cheese were far lighter because the creamed butter aerated the mix, making it the perfect filling for this festive cake.

Serves 8 to 10

Cake

  • 1 cup (4 ounces) cake flour, sifted
  • 2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 5 large eggs
  • 1 cup (7 ounces) granulated sugar
  • 1 cup canned unsweetened pumpkin puree

Filling

  • 8 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened but still cool
  • 2 cups (8 ounces) confectioners’ sugar
  • 8 ounces cream cheese, cut into 4 pieces and softened
  • teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 8 Spiced Pecans (recipe follows)
  • Confectioners’ sugar

1. For the cake: Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease 18 by 13-inch rimmed baking sheet, line with parchment paper, and grease parchment. Whisk flour, pie spice, baking soda, and salt together in bowl; set aside. Using stand mixer fitted with paddle, beat eggs and sugar on medium-high speed until pale yellow and thick, 6 to 10 minutes. Add pumpkin, reduce speed to low, and beat until incorporated, about 30 seconds. Fold in flour mixture until combined. Transfer batter to prepared sheet and spread into even layer. Bake until cake is firm and springs back when touched, about 15 minutes. Lay clean sheet of parchment on counter and dust with confectioners’ sugar.

2. Immediately run thin knife around edge of baking sheet to loosen cake, then flip hot cake out onto prepared parchment sheet, discarding parchment attached to cake. Starting from short side, roll cake and bottom parchment snugly into log. Let cake cool, seam side down, for 1 hour.

3. For the filling: Using clean, dry bowl and paddle attachment, beat butter and sugar on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add cream cheese, 1 piece at a time, beating thoroughly after each addition, about 1 minute. Add vanilla and mix until no lumps remain, about 30 seconds.

4. Gently unroll cake. Spread filling evenly over cake, leaving 1-inch border along edges. Reroll cake gently but snugly around filling, leaving parchment behind as you roll. Wrap cake firmly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to 2 days. Trim ends of cake, transfer cake to platter, dust with confectioners’ sugar, and garnish with Spiced Pecans. Serve. (Cake can be wrapped loosely in plastic and kept at room temperature for up to 8 hours before serving.)

Creamy Pumpkin-Chai Soup

Creamy Pumpkin-Chai Soup

Creamy pumpkin-chai soup.
Daniel J. van Ackere/Courtesy America’s Test Kitchen

Why This Recipe Works:

For a warming soup perfect for chilly fall days, we streamlined traditional spiced pumpkin soup in several ways.

Since fresh pumpkin is rarely in season and requires significant prep work, we kept things simple by using readily available canned pumpkin puree. Some softened onion and garlic provided a good base of aromatics, and a little brown sugar brought out the flavor of the pumpkin and added a touch of sweetness.

To give our soup a complex warmth that would complement the pumpkin flavor, we found that chai tea was a perfect one-stop source for a multitude of warm spices. We simply simmered a chai tea bag in the soup to infuse it with subtle chai flavor.

Pureeing the soup at the end gave it a velvety texture, and some heavy cream added just the right amount of richness. You can substitute ¼ teaspoon of ground cinnamon, ¼ teaspoon of ground ginger, ¼ teaspoon of ground cardamom, and ¼ teaspoon of ground cloves for the chai tea bag.

Serves 6

4 to 6 hours on low or 3 to 5 hours on high

4 to 7 quarts

  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 6 cups chicken broth, plus extra as needed
  • 1 (29-ounce) can unsweetened pumpkin puree
  • ½ cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 chai-flavored tea bag
  • ½ cup heavy cream
  • Salt and pepper

1. Combine onion, garlic, and oil in bowl and microwave, stirring occasionally, until onion is softened, about 5 minutes; transfer to slow cooker. Stir in broth, pumpkin, sugar, and tea bag. Cover and cook until flavors meld, 4 to 6 hours on low or 3 to 5 hours on high.

2. Discard tea bag. Working in batches, process soup in blender until smooth, about 2 minutes. Return soup to slow cooker, stir in cream, and let sit until heated through, about 5 minutes, adjusting consistency with extra hot broth as needed. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and serve.

Butternut Squash and White Bean Soup with Sage Pesto

Butternut Squash and White Bean Soup with Sage Pesto

Butternut squash and white bean soup with sage pesto.
Courtesy America’s Test Kitchen

Why This Recipe Works

This hearty version of butternut squash soup can stand on its own as a meal. Instead of the usual creamy, rich pureed style of butternut squash soup, we opted to feature chunks of squash paired with creamy cannellini beans to give our soup some heft.

Because the bulb portion of the squash is difficult to cut into cubes that will cook evenly, and because it naturally cooks faster than the dense neck portion, we cut the bulb into wedges, cooked them in the broth until they were soft, and then mashed them to make a “squash stock” that gave our soup base body and flavor.

We then cooked the neck portion, cut into chunks, in this stock. Adding butter to the stock at the start of its simmering time allowed it to fully emulsify, giving the soup base richness and a more velvety texture. A swirl of sage pesto, which we quickly made in the food processor, lent just the right bright, fresh finish.

Serves 6 to 8

Total time: 1 hour

Pesto

  • ½ cup walnuts, toasted
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 cup fresh parsley leaves
  • ½ cup fresh sage leaves
  • ¾ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 ounce Parmesan cheese, grated (½ cup), plus extra for serving
  • Salt and pepper

Soup

  • 1 (2- to 2½-pound) butternut squash, peeled
  • 4 cups chicken or vegetable broth
  • 3 cups water
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 pound leeks, white and light green parts only, halved lengthwise, sliced thin, and washed thoroughly
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • Salt and pepper
  • 3 (15-ounce) cans cannellini beans
  • 1 teaspoon white wine vinegar

1. For the pesto: Pulse walnuts and garlic in food processor until coarsely chopped, about 5 pulses. Add parsley and sage. With processor running, slowly add oil until incorporated. Transfer to bowl, stir in Parmesan, and season with salt and pepper to taste; set aside.

2. For the soup: Cut round bulb section off squash and cut in half lengthwise. Discard seeds, then cut each half into 4 wedges.

3. Bring squash wedges, broth, water, butter, and soy sauce to boil in medium saucepan over high heat. Reduce heat to medium, partially cover, and simmer vigorously until squash is very tender and starting to fall apart, about 20 minutes. Remove pot from heat and use potato masher to mash squash, still in broth, until completely broken down. Cover to keep warm; set aside.

4. While broth cooks, cut neck of squash into ½-inch pieces. Heat oil in Dutch oven over medium heat until shimmering. Add leeks and tomato paste and cook, stirring occasionally, until leeks are softened and tomato paste is darkened, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add squash pieces, ¾ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes. Add squash broth and bring to simmer. Partially cover and cook for 10 minutes.

5. Add beans and their liquid, partially cover, and cook, stirring occasionally, until squash is just tender, 15 to 20 minutes. Stir in vinegar and season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve, passing pesto and extra Parmesan separately.

Roasted Butternut Squash with Browned Butter and Hazelnuts

Roasted Butternut Squash with Browned Butter and Hazelnuts

Roasted butternut squash with browned butter and hazelnuts.
Daniel J. van Ackere/Courtesy America’s Test Kitchen

Why This Recipe Works

You may not immediately recognize this dish and its variations as the familiar roasted butternut squash, but actually, that’s the point. A recipe in London-based chef Yotam Ottolenghi’s book, “Plenty,” introduced us to an alternative squash universe.

He roasts thin skin-on half-moons of squash and then tosses them with savory ingredients, from chiles and lime to toasted nuts and spiced yogurt, which serve as a surprisingly successful foil to the squash’s natural sweetness. We decided to bring this approach into the test kitchen and put our own spin on it.

Tasters were equally smitten with Ottolenghi’s approach, but they also had a few suggestions. So our first move was to lose both the skin and the white layer of flesh underneath, both of which tasters found unappealing. (We could have bought pre-peeled squash, but we’ve found that the flavor of whole squash that you peel yourself is superior.)

To achieve deeper caramelization on the squash slices, we positioned the baking sheet on the lowest oven rack, where it would absorb more heat from the main heating element on the oven’s floor. We then flipped the squash (and rotated the baking sheet) partway through roasting so that both sides could caramelize.

Melted butter produced better browning than olive oil, thanks to its milk proteins that undergo the Maillard reaction, leading to more complex flavors and aromas. These slices emerged perfectly caramelized, wonderfully sweet, and tender.

The crowning touch was to come up with a few toppings that provided a mix of contrasting textures and bold flavors.

Serves 4 to 6

Total time: 1 hour

SQUASH

  • 1 large (2½- to 3-pound) butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and sliced crosswise ½ inch thick
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon pepper

TOPPING

  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 3 pieces
  • cup hazelnuts, toasted, skinned, and chopped
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • Pinch salt
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh chives

1. For the squash: Adjust oven rack to lowest position and heat oven to 425 degrees. Toss squash with melted butter, salt, and pepper in bowl to coat. Arrange squash in single layer on rimmed baking sheet. Roast squash until side touching sheet toward back of oven is well browned, 25 to 30 minutes. Rotate sheet and continue to bake until side touching sheet toward back of oven is well browned, 6 to 10 minutes. Remove squash from oven and use metal spatula to flip each piece. Return to oven and roast until squash is very tender and side touching sheet is browned, 10 to 15 minutes.

2. For the topping While squash roasts, melt butter with hazelnuts in 8-inch skillet over medium-low heat. Cook, stirring frequently, until butter and hazelnuts are brown and fragrant, about 2 minutes. Immediately remove skillet from heat and stir in water (butter will foam and sizzle). Let cool for 1 minute. Stir in lemon juice and salt.

3. Transfer squash to large serving platter. Drizzle butter mixture evenly over squash. Sprinkle with chives. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Roasted Spirallized Sweet Potatoes with Walnuts and Feta

Roasted Spiralized Sweet Potatoes with Walnuts and Feta

Roasted spiralized sweet potatoes with walnuts and feta.
Steve Klise/Courtesy America’s Test Kitchen

Why This Recipe Works

Roasted quickly in a hot oven, spiralized sweet potatoes make a fun, crowd-pleasing alternative to regular roasted white potatoes. We decided to use a spiralizer to cut the potatoes into beautiful ⅛-inch-thick noodles that would cook quickly.

We found that simply roasting the potatoes in a hot oven, uncovered, for about 12 minutes gave us the result we were after: sweet potatoes that were tender but not mushy, with just a bit of caramelization.

To finish the dish, we sprinkled on ¼ cup each of tangy feta and rich toasted walnuts, plus a generous sprinkle of fresh parsley.

Sweet potato noodles are quite delicate; be careful when tossing them with the oil and seasonings in step 2, and again when transferring them to the serving platter before serving.

If you do not have a spiralizer, you can use a mandoline or V-slicer fitted with a ⅛-inch julienne attachment. Make sure to position the vegetables on the mandoline so that the resulting noodles are as long as possible. We do not recommend cutting vegetable noodles by hand.

Serves 4 to 6

Total time: 30 minutes

  • 2 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and ends squared off
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for serving
  • Salt and pepper
  • ¼ cup walnuts, toasted and chopped
  • 1 ounce feta cheese, crumbled (¼ cup)
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 450 degrees. Using spiralizer, cut sweet potatoes into ⅛-inch-thick noodles, then cut noodles into 12-inch lengths.

2. Toss potato noodles, oil, ¼ teaspoon salt, and ⅛ teaspoon pepper together in bowl, then spread on rimmed baking sheet. Roast until just tender, 12 to 14 minutes, stirring once halfway through roasting.

3. Season potatoes with salt and pepper to taste, and transfer to serving platter. Sprinkle walnuts, feta, and parsley over top, then drizzle with extra oil to taste. Serve.