Cooking with Pumpkin
One can hardly think about the fall season without having pumpkin come to mind. Not only is it commonly used as a decorative piece, cooking with pumpkin is also very popular in the fall and winter months. Did you know that the seeds, flesh and leaves are all edible?
Part of the cucumber and melon plant family, pumpkin is a type of winter squash that is technically a fruit but is more nutritionally like a vegetable. It is incredibly nutrient-dense and low in calories, providing vitamins K, C, B6 and E, potassium, copper, thiamin, niacin, manganese riboflavin, iron, folate, beta-carotene, fiber, and protein. What do all of these vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants do for you? They support healthy immune systems, blood sugar levels, eyes, skin, liver, heart, and blood pressure. Pretty impressive from one ingredient!
While North Americans commonly associate pumpkin with the holidays of Halloween and Thanksgiving, it has a long and common history of gracing sweet and savory dishes across the world for centuries, originating in Central America. In fact, pumpkins are grown on every continent except for Antarctica.
Pumpkins come in many varieties and can vary in size, shape and color.
- The familiar Jack-o-lantern variety is really best used for decoration, not for eating.
- For cooking, look for “pie” or “sugar” pumpkins such as Autumn Gold, Baby Pam, Cinderella, Fairy Tale, Ghost Rider, Lumina, or New England Pie. These pumpkins are flavorful and have smoother, thinner skins. Don’t be surprised – some of these are beige or white rather than the traditional orange!
Farms or farmers’ markets usually have the freshest options. When choosing a pumpkin for cooking:
- Knock on the outside of the pumpkin to see if it sounds hollow or dense. A dense and heavy pumpkin will taste better.
- Look for uniform color, a firm feel, and free of soft spots.
- Select one in the 4 – 8 pound range.
- Find one with its stem fully attached. If the stem is detached, the pumpkin will not store well and will need to be eaten or processed soon after purchasing.
Canned pumpkin is also readily available in grocery stores; however, it generally contains more winter squash than pumpkin which changes the nutrition profile. Also of note, pumpkin pie filling contains added sugar and other seasonings which should be considered when preparing a sweet recipe, and may not be welcome in a savory dish.
Whole Pumpkins are fairly hearty and store well in a cool, dry place. If stored in a home pantry, they can last up to a month before using. If stored in a cool basement or garage with temperatures around 50 – 60 degrees, they can last up to 3 months. Place pumpkins on a piece of porous cardboard, wood or straw. Avoid storing pumpkins directly on solid surfaces such as linoleum or concrete. Moisture can collect underneath and lead to rapid decay.
Cooked Pumpkin can be stored in an airtight container –
- in the refrigerator for up to 7 days
- in the freezer for up to 12 months
How to Peel and Cut a Cooking Pumpkin
1. WASH AND DRY the pumpkin before cutting.
2. CUT off the top and bottom
Secure your cutting board by placing a silicone mat or damp towel under it. Use a sharp chef’s knife to cut top and bottom off the pumpkin. Work carefully, applying gentle, back-and-forth pressure with the knife.
3. PEEL the pumpkin
Use a very sharp vegetable peeler or paring knife to remove the skin of the pie pumpkin. If using a paring knife, stabilize the pumpkin by setting one of the flat edges on to the cutting board, then cut down the sides away from you.
4. CUT in half
Set the pumpkin on one of the flat sides on the cutting board. Cut through the middle (top to bottom) with the chef’s knife.
4. REMOVE the seeds
Use a spoon to scoop out the seeds and stringy center of the pumpkin. Save the seeds for roasting if you wish.
Place the pumpkin with the hollowed-out center resting on the cutting board. Slice it into approximately 1-inch half-moon slices.
7. DICE each half-moon slice into 1-inch pieces of diced pumpkin.
COOKING and USE
Think of pumpkin just as you would any other winter squash. Moving beyond desserts, muffins and bars, it is a tasty and beneficial addition to –
- soups, stews and chili
- pasta and gnocchi
- whole grains
- egg bakes, omelets and quiche
- potato dishes
- mac and cheese
- bean and lentil dishes
- roasted veggies
Not as difficult to prepare as it may appear, pumpkin can be roasted, baked, steamed or microwaved. To cook cut-up pumpkin, here are some general guidelines:
- ROAST – halved or sliced
Preheat the oven to 425°F. Place sliced pumpkin (seeds removed; skin attached) onto a prepared baking sheet. Season with salt and pepper, if desired. Roast in the oven until soft when tested with a fork or knife, 35 – 50 minutes depending on size.
- BAKE – halved or sliced
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Place sliced pumpkin (seeds removed; skin attached) onto a prepared baking sheet. Season with salt and pepper, if desired. Roast in the oven until soft when tested with a fork or knife, 1 – 1 ½ hours depending on size.
- STEAM – diced
Place seeded and peeled pumpkin cubes into a steamer basket over simmering water. Cover and steam for 15 – 30 minutes depending on size, until soft when tested with a fork or knife, but still holds shape.
- MICROWAVE – diced
Place seeded and peeled pumpkin cubes into a glass, microwave-safe bowl. Cover, and cook on HIGH for about 5 – 10 minutes depending on size, until tender when tested with a fork or knife, but still holds shape.
To make pumpkin puree, check out –
And, don’t forget about the seeds! They are not only tasty but filled with nutritional goodness. Eat them as a snack or add them to salads, soups, stews, baked goods and desserts.
What is your favorite way to cook with pumpkin? Share it with us in the comments section.
Photos: Love + Craft Kitchen
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