Behold the bounty of fall—apples, pears, root vegetables, squash, and pumpkin. Yes, pumpkin. Pumpkins are emblematic of fall, yet they rarely make it to the table. But pumpkins are for more than carving and pies—they deserve to hold a larger role in the fall kitchen. If you haven’t experimented with this versatile vegetable, you’re missing out on one of the most delicious treats of autumn.
Pumpkins are considered the “king of squash” and they are loaded with nutrients. Their bright orange color should have been your first clue that they are an excellent source of beta-carotene, a powerful antioxidant. They’re also full of vitamins A, C, K, and E and several minerals, including magnesium, potassium, and iron. Pumpkin flesh is also a good source of fiber. This vegetable is a low-fat, low-calorie treat.
Pumpkin seeds hold their own place in the nutritional arena. They are loaded with zinc, protein, and minerals. Some research indicates that they may have anti-inflammatory effects and could protect against prostate cancer and osteoporosis.
The large pumpkins that occupy the bins outside your grocery store are intended for decorative use and carving. Instead, look for the smaller variety of pumpkin, sometimes referred to as “pie” pumpkins or “sugar” pumpkins. Choose a pumpkin that feels heavy for its size.
Pumpkins can be intimidating because they seem labor intensive, but they are actually quite the opposite. Most pumpkin recipes will call for pumpkin puree, but some require pumpkin chunks.
Puree: Making pumpkin puree is easier than it looks. Don’t bother with peeling, chopping, or scooping seeds. Just stick the whole pumpkin in a baking dish and pop it into the oven at 350 degrees for about an hour. The pumpkin is done when you can easily insert a knife into it. Allow the pumpkin to cool and then scoop the seeds and stringy parts out with a spoon. (You’ll be surprised and delighted at how much easier this is to do when the pumpkin is cooked rather than raw.) Next, scrape the flesh from the skin and run it through a food processor or blender. Voila! You have pumpkin puree without all of the unnecessary and unhealthy additions found in canned pumpkin.
Chunks: If your recipe calls for pumpkin chunks, you will need to carefully cut into the raw pumpkin. (Sometimes this process can be made easier with a very short period of roasting to soften the squash.) Remove the seeds and stringy parts and then carefully slice the flesh away from the peel.
Seeds: If you want to roast the pumpkin seeds, first rinse them and allow them to dry on paper towels. Toss them with oil, salt, and any other spices that sound appealing and then roast them in a 250-degree oven for about 45-60 minutes. You’ll know they’re done when they start to smell delicious.
The Joy of Pumpkins
Pumpkins are delicious in everything from soups to soufflés. They can be used in any recipe that calls for squash, though they have a more distinctive flavor than most squashes. The Internet abounds with recipes for pumpkin soup, pumpkin bread, pumpkin pancakes, pumpkin pie, pumpkin ravioli, pumpkin cheesecake, and more. You can even grill pumpkin, just as you would any other squash. Get creative and think beyond dessert. The king of squash deserves a place at the main table. It’s delicious and nutritious. Enjoy!