Contributing Monkie GreenChef Staff Monkies
Published on October 10, 2009
Pumpkins the quintessential Fall harvest. They always pop to mind when thinking about Halloween and the eerily glowing orange lanterns, or the traditional pumpkin pie served on Thanksgiving. However, pumpkins actually come in many shapes and colors with a tantalizing culinary versatility that takes on any flavor added to it — so it can be used in savory dishes just as well as sweet. You can incorporate pumpkin into everything from soups to ravioli, lasagna, risotto, pasta, salads, and tarts — to sweet pies, cheesecakes, breads and ice creams. Pumpkin marries well with warm spices like cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, allspice, and cloves – as well as savory herbs like rosemary, sage and basil.
This autumn fruit (really a berry if you want to get technical) is in season from September – March and can be stored up to a month on your counter or up to 3 months in the fridge. For cooking, skip past the oversized watery pumpkins that are best left to carving funny faces into. Look for the smaller sugar-pie orange pumpkins or one of the various colored heirloom pumpkins for an adventurous and exotic twist.
Some popular varieties:
Sugar Pie – small to medium in size with a sweet orange flesh. They are called sugar-pie pumpkins because they make the best filling for a sweet pie with their high sugar content that gently caramelizes when cooked releasing a rich creamy flavor.
Delicata – small, white pumpkin with green stripes and yellow flesh. With a dry texture and nutty flavor, it is best in heavily seasoned savory dishes.
Onion Squash – Orange and oval with a soft flesh that’s perfect for soups and pastas.
Baby Bear – Small, sweet and firm with a fine stem, this variety is very versatile and great for either savoury or sweet dishes.
Crown Prince – Blueish grey pumpkin, great for roasting or sautéing.
Other varieties to look for include Baby Pam, Spooktacular, Sugar Treat, Winter Luxury, Autumn Gold, Bushkin, Frosty, Aspen, and heirloom varieties like Jarrahdale, Long Island Cheese, Triamble, and Rouge Vif d’ Etampes.
Pumpkins are a member of the gourd family and native to the west. Native Indians in Mexico have been munching on them since at least 5500 BC. Native Americans ate both the flesh and seeds, but especially valued the medicinal power of the seeds to treat kidney and urinary tract problems. Pumpkin seeds are abundant in vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids, amino acids and phytosterols. They are also high in L-tryptophan, which has speculated them to be helpful remedy for depression, although studies are still needed to verify it.
The bright orange color of most of the pumpkin’s flesh indicates that they are rich in beta-carotene, a plant carotenoid that is converted in the body to Vitamin A. Beta-carotene is a powerful antioxidant that offers preventive protection to the heart and against premature aging. Pumpkin’s also a good source of magnesium, potassium, iron, and vitamins C,K, and E.
To make fresh Pumpkin Puree:
You can make pumpkin puree by either roasting the pumpkin until the flesh is soft and scoopable, or raw by cubing it and throwing it in a food processor. Roasted pumpkin puree has a richer and creamier texture, with a sweet caramelized flavor, perfect for pumpkin pie. Raw pumpkin puree though is loaded with powerful pumpkin enzymes and intact vitamins, for an intense nutritional punch. I love to use raw pumpkin puree as a natural pumpkin peel facial.
For a roasted pumpkin puree, grab a knife or sharp fork and jab your pumpkin a few times to vent the steam. Place the whole pumpkin on a baking sheet and bake at 350 F for an hour or until you can easily pierce the skin with a knife. Let it cool, then slice it in half and scoop the seeds and stringy pumpkin out with a large spoon. Then scoop the inside flesh out into a food processor. Process until smooth.
For a raw pumpkin puree, grab a vegetable peeler and peel the entire outside skin of the pumpkin. With a sharp knife, slice it in half and scoop out the seeds and stringy bits. With the knife, cube the remaining flesh. Add the cubes to a food processor and process until smooth and creamy. It will take longer to process and break down when it is raw, but it will, just keep going. If you have a high speed blender like a Vitamix or Blendtec, you can also try it in there.