10 Things to Know About Pumpkins

Put those pumpkins to work in the kitchen in no time with these tips. Because there is more to this squash than meets the eye.

Selecting A Pumpkin for Cooking

Photo: Randy Mayor

More Than Decoration

1. Beyond the jack-o’-lantern, dinner. Most pumpkins are carved or canned. They end up as ghouls or pies. But pumpkin is squash, squash is healthy and tasty, and this particular squash has a rich, sweet, fresh flavor that lends itself to soups, stews, risottos, or a simple mash—made sweet with butter, maple syrup, and nutmeg or savory with browned butter, sage, and grated Parmesan.

2. That said, carving pumpkins are not really eating pumpkins. Small, thinner-skinned eating varieties are grown for sweetness and flavor that the more fibrous jack-o'-lantern pumpkins lack. So if you're cooking fresh rather than canned, look for varieties like Small Sugar, New England Pie, and Long Island Cheese (which got its name from its wheel-of-curds shape and cooks beautifully). Sure, you can eat the carving kind, but it will taste more like potato than pumpkin.

Selecting a Cooking Pumpkin

Photo: Randy Mayor

Select and Prep Step 1

3. First, select a good one. Look for a deep, rich, uniform color—no green or light tan spot where it rested on the ground—and a healthy, stiff stem. Avoid any pumpkin with soft spots. Farmers' markets will usually yield the freshest options.

4. Then prep it. Keep clicking for cooking ideas.

Step 1: Place pumpkin on a steady surface, stem side up. Use a small knife to cut around the stem, about 2 inches out.

Pumpkin Cooking Preparation Cleaning Seeds

Photo: Randy Mayor

Pumpkin Prep, Step 2

Step 2: Scoop out stringy fibers and seeds; toss the fibers. Rinse and save the seeds to toast (see slide 5).

Pumpkin Cooking Preparation Halving

Photo: Randy Mayor

Pumpkin Prep, Step 3

Step 3: Cut the pumpkin in half using a heavy chef's knife. Scrape the flesh with a spoon to remove any remaining fibers.

Toasting Pumpkin Seeds

Photo: Randy Mayor

Toast the Seeds

5. Toast the seeds. Get the goop off by placing the seeds in a bowl of water and swishing them around: Goop sinks, seeds float. Blot the seeds dry, then spread evenly on a baking sheet coated with cooking spray. Sprinkle cumin, garlic powder, or other spices over the top; roast at 325° for 15 to 25 minutes or until dry and crunchy. Shell them or not; either way, pumpkin seeds (aka pepitas) make a great snack.

Benefits and Nutrients of Vitamin A in Pumpkin

Photo: Randy Mayor

Nutritious Benefits

6. Look here for vitamin A. Bright orange flesh signals rich amounts of beta-carotene, which translates into high vitamin A after eating: A ½-cup serving (mashed or cubed and roasted) has about half a day's vitamin A needs. Vitamin A helps keep your vision sharp.

How to Cook Pumpkin

Photo: Randy Mayor

Cooking Pumpkin: Methods 1 and 2

7. Four ways to cook your pumpkin. 

Method 1: Basic Baked: Place halved pumpkin, cut sides down, in a 350° oven for 1 to 2 hours or until tender. Cool, then scrape out the tender flesh with a spoon; discard rind.

Method 2: Boil: Halve and peel pumpkin, then cut the flesh into uniform cubes and boil until tender, 15 to 30 minutes, depending on size of cubes.

How to Cook Pumpkin by Microwaving or Roasting

Photo: Randy Mayor

Cooking Pumpkin: Methods 3 and 4

Method 3: Microwave: Place pumpkin pieces in a glass bowl; cover with microwave-safe plastic wrap. Cook on HIGH until tender, about 15 minutes. Move the pieces around twice during cooking. Cool, then scrape out the tender flesh with a spoon; discard rind.

Method 4: Roast Whole: Follow the first two prep steps on page 81 to hollow out the pumpkin. Roast in a preheated 350° oven for 1 to 2 hours or until tender. You can scoop out the flesh or use the pumpkin as a vessel for cooked rice or couscous stuffing.

Healthy Canned Pumpkin Recipes

Photo: Randy Mayor

Pumpkin for Every Meal

8. Eat it all day long. Breakfast: Stir ¼ cup of pumpkin puree into your morning oatmeal before cooking; season with cinnamon and sugar to taste. Lunch: Top a salad with 2 tablespoons pumpkinseeds for crunch and healthy fats, or have pumpkin seeds with an apple or pear for a snack. Dinner: Add peeled and cubed pumpkin to a stew. It adds nutrition, texture, and a hint of sweetness.

9. Try pure canned pumpkin. It's easy to accidentally buy sweet, spiced pie filling. Look for the can with one ingredient: pumpkin. Advantages include consistency (a poor fresh pumpkin can be stringy or watery) and, of course, it's precooked.

Pumpkin Pie Filling with No Crust Dessert

Photo: Randy Mayor

Lose the Crust

10. Pie joy, no crust. Place the filling of your favorite pumpkin pie recipe in individual ramekins. Bake until the pumpkin doesn't jiggle, then top with crystallized ginger or chopped walnuts (or both). The result: a nicely portioned fall dessert without the rich crust.

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