Focus on Food: Pumpkin

It’s that time of year. Farm stands and grocery stores are downsizing their piles of pumpkins to make way for cranberry and turkey displays. Perhaps you bought a pumpkin or two to deck your place out for fall. Maybe you even carved something spooky into it for Halloween. Once you’re done decorating with them, don’t just toss that food in the dumpster though! There’s lots of tasty ways to make that pumpkin, and the money you’ve already paid for it, stretch to cover dinner too.

What kind of pumpkin can you eat?

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photo credit: Jim Capaldi

There are different varieties of pumpkin and all of them are edible. The standard type of pumpkin sold for carving in the U.S. isn’t the best for pies, but they’re perfectly good for less confectionary cooking. If you’re looking to make a pie, you’re better off seeking out a variety known as sugar pumpkins. Otherwise, more than the type, it’s the size that counts.

Tiny pumpkins are cute, but when cooking, they’re a lot of trouble for not a lot of squash meat. On the other end of the spectrum, an enormous, contest-winning pumpkin has a ton of meat, but it’s likely to be very stringy in its texture. When grabbing a pumpkin for cooking, look for one that’s somewhere in the middle.

Why people eat it

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Mantova pumpkin; photo credit: Ruby Slippers in Italy, https://www.flickr.com/people/rubber_slippers_in_italy/

There are two parts of the pumpkin that people generally eat: the flesh and the seeds. The skin, stem, and “guts” aren’t really something you want to eat, though some folks use the guts in broth.

The pumpkin flesh is a high fiber food, which makes it popular with weight loss folks. It’s also high in Vitamin A, C, and betacarotene—all of which help keep your immune system humming and your eyes and skin glowing. Add some speculation about cancer fighting properties and there are plenty of reasons to work that jack-o-lantern into the meal plan.

The seeds, also sometimes called pepitas, are a small-but-mighty source of protein and omega-3’s like many seeds and nuts. But their real claim to fame is their high levels of zinc and magnesium. Zinc is good for fighting off those fall colds. Magnesium helps convert food into energy, supports bone health, and even might help you sleep better.

The basics of how to use it

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First and most important: you don’t have to peel it! In fact, we’d recommend not trying, since it’s a great way to have an accident with your knife. Just cut the pumpkin in half and scoop out the guts and seeds (if you haven’t already done that part). Lay the pumpkin halves cut side down on a lined pan and roast them at 400 for 30-45 minutes depending on the size of your pumpkin. Once you let it cool, the flesh will just scoop right out of the skin with a spoon! Puree the flesh until it’s smooth and then pop it in the fridge or freezer. It should keep for a week or more in the fridge and up to a year in the freezer.

The seeds don’t have to be roasted right away if you don’t have time. Separate them from the guts and rinse them off, spreading them on a paper towel to dry off a bit, before putting them in a sealed container. When you’re ready to roast them, pull them back out of the fridge and toss them in a little salt and oil. Spread them out on a baking sheet and roast them at 300 degrees for 20-30 minutes, until they’re just barely golden brown. Once they’re cool, toss them in an airtight container and they should keep for a while—though they’ll have a better texture the sooner you eat them.

A few recipe ideas

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Our absolute favorite way of using pumpkin puree right now is the to make Pumpkin Sage Biscuits using the recipe from Jen Farley’s cookbook The Gourmet Kitchen. The trick to making fluffy biscuits is to mix the wet and dry ingredients together as little as possible—over mixing makes them dense! (Also: we use plain yogurt instead of buttermilk, since we never have buttermilk in the house.)

Sugar pumpkins are great for pies, quick breads, and cookies. My sister used to make Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies, which were a tasty fall twist on a baking favorite. You can even candy it, if you’ve got a real sweet tooth!

Pumpkin puree is also a fantastic soup base for any number of pumpkin soup recipes, from the more standard to the more adventurous. We’ve also heard it’s really good over pasta with some sausage. Here’s a recipe from Rachel Ray that we’re hoping to try—maybe with a few lower fat substitutions. 😉  You could even get super fancy and stuff and bake it whole!

Do you have a favorite pumpkin recipe? Share it with us in a comment below!

 

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