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11/08/2013 10:53 am ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

Making the Most of Pumpkins: A Broke Kitchen Primer

Cooking on the cheap shouldn't mean minute rice and buttered pasta every night. With a little creativity and a little planning, you can make the most of a tight budget -- without sacrificing flavor or variety. 

Today: Gabriella Paiella makes peace with pumpkins. 

Pumpkin strikes me as the gastronomical equivalent of Jennifer Lawrence: colorful, shapely, versatile, and ubiquitously hyped. Much in the same way that I've avoided losing it over her acting, I've managed to steer clear of the pumpkin flavor that seems to be permeating every cup of coffee or bottle of beer that comes my way during the autumn months.

But I've recently realized that I'm approaching the vegetable, and perhaps even the actress, with an overly skeptical attitude. Maybe pumpkin really has earned all the praise that's been heaped on it. Maybe I'm just jealous of all the screen time it gets with Bradley Cooper. 

Here's how to make the most of this season's produce darling, with minimal preparation and cost. (And for all you broke overachievers -- here's how to make your own canned pumpkin first. For the rest of us, a can will only cost around $3.) 

Breakfast

I'm still not letting pumpkin spice anywhere near my coffee -- but I'll allow it to creep into the rest of my breakfast. That means Whole Baked Pumpkin Oatmeal for the weekends or bowls of Pumpkin Granola on rushed weekdays. Breakfast breads are also at their peak this time of year, from Pumpkin Christmas Bread to its spicier cousin, Ginger Molasses Pumpkin Bread.

Soups and Sides

Pumpkin is a natural alternative to butternut squash in fall soups. This basic, minimalist recipe gets a kick from smoked paprika and chili powder, while this one is subtly sweetened with pears. Meanwhile, both mashed potatoes and salad get elevated with the addition of pumpkin -- serve them up as dinner sides, then pack them as light lunches the following day. And I lose interest in pumpkin carving almost immediately after the seeds are roasted -- here"s how to perfect yours for effortless snacking. 

Mains

Merrill"s Pasta al Forno with Pumpkin and Pancetta is the ultimate fall dinner party main -- skip the pancetta to make it vegetarian, and slightly more budget-friendly. For vegans, Martha has a pumpkin pasta option that gets rid of the cheese and adds kale and sun-dried tomatoes for heft. For something deeper, coconut milk and hot peppers perfectly compliment the sweetness of the cooked squash in this curry recipe  -- add rice and chickpeas for a complete meal.  

Desserts

The easiest dessert you can make with pumpkin is a batch of these chocolate chip cookies -- though I whipped up this vegan pumpkin pie in record time a couple of weekends ago. Don't be daunted by the seemingly long ingredient list -- you'll be surprised how quickly it comes together. 

Tell us: What are your favorite easy, cheap pumpkin recipes?

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This article originally appeared on Food52.com: Pumpkins: A Broke Kitchen Primer