Healthy Tastes Great! – The Great Pumpkin

It’s that time of year. Cool evenings, vibrant leaves, autumn festivals and harvests. For many a cook, it’s a favorite time of year. One of the greatest fall delicacies, of course, is the pumpkin. But if you’ve found yourself estranged from this beloved gourd because you think it’s only the stuff of pie and puddings, be heartened at the prospect of a happy reunion this season. Sure, pumpkin makes for a great dessert (some even Primal friendly), but we’re out to prove you can use it in every course!

And use it, you should. Pumpkin serves up an incredible punch of the antioxidant powerhouse, beta-carotene, as well as vitamins C and E, potassium, and a hefty dose of veggie fiber. As for those seeds, they offer some fun nostalgia (lightly toasted and salted anyone?) as well as a wallop of protein, fiber, iron and potassium. (The seeds alone make the gutting process worth it.)

“But what about canned pumpkin?” (We had the same question.) Ready for a possible revelation? According to a University of Illinois study, canned pumpkin packs some 20 times the amount of beta-carotene of fresh, cooked pumpkin! The reason? Canned foods are generally picked and quickly cooked and packaged at the peak of ripeness. In the particular case of pumpkin, the heating used in canning preparation enhances the beta-carotene content in a similar way that heating does the lycopene in tomatoes. While fresh pumpkin is thought to taste sweeter (and may offer nutritional advantages that aren’t studied), it appears that you don’t need to feel guilty for step-skipping when a recipe calls for puree. (But we’ll throw in a reminder to differentiate between canned pumpkin and pumpkin pie filling/mix. The latter, while tasty, is “pre-sweetened” with as much as 17 grams of sugar per serving size (1/3 cup))

Do you consider yourself a pumpkin purist who prefers fresh? Recommended varieties include Sugar, Connecticut Field, Dickenson, and Winter Luxury varieties, the fresher the better. (Source suggestions: pick-your-own pumpkin patches, farmers’ markets, and roadside stands). Also, shun the larger size pumpkins within the variety you choose. Provided the pumpkin is fully ripe, smaller pumpkins are generally richer tasting.

So, what are pumpkin’s possibilities? Think savory with sage, white onion, garlic, or coriander. Savory pumpkin complements meat/poultry dishes such as pork, turkey, and quail as well as shellfish like scallops and shrimp. For a sweeter side, pair pumpkin with apple, pear, figs, nutmeg, ginger, cinnamon, clove, and nuts.

We’re sure our good readers have many more to share, but we’ll throw out a few delectable ideas to get us all in the autumn spirit.

Basic Pumpkin Puree

Wash, scrub, and dry the pumpkin. Using a large, long knife, cut several air vents in the top of the pumpkin. Bake pumpkin at 375 degrees Fahrenheit on a baking sheet or dish to collect the juices that will run off. Small pumpkins may be done (soft when pierced) in less than an hour, but most will take between 1-2 hours.

After baking, cut the pumpkin in half and scrape out the fiber and seeds. Cut the remaining “pulp” of the pumpkin (omit the skin). With a mixer or vigorous stirring, blend the pulp with your desired seasoning and other ingredients.

Savory recipes can include 2-3 teaspoons of coconut oil or butter per cup of chopped pumpkin. Seasoning options for savory purees (per cup of chopped and baked pumpkin): 1 tsp. minced garlic, 2 tsp. sage or 1 tsp. coriander, 2 tsp. parsley, and/or 1 ½ tsp. minced shallot.

Sweeter recipes can also include 2-3 teaspoons of coconut oil or butter per cup as well as any of the following seasoning suggestions: ¼ or ½ tsp. ginger, ½ or ¾ tsp. nutmeg, ½ -1 tsp. cinnamon, ½ tsp. allspice, and ¼ tsp. crushed clove.

Pumpkin Soup

Begin with 3 cups of savory-seasoned or plain pumpkin puree (fresh or canned). Blend with 4 cups chicken broth, 1 Tbsp. fresh sage, and salt and pepper to taste. Add 1 ½ cups sautéed mushrooms (porcini recommended), 2/3 cup sautéed white onion, and 3 minced and sautéed cloves of garlic. Mix over medium heat and then allow to sit on low heat for 15-20 minutes. Add small amount of cream or butter if desired.

Pumpkin and Pear Salad

Peel a small pumpkin with paring knife or heavy duty peeler. Cut in half, and scrape out fibers and seeds. Cut the remaining flesh into small (1-2 inch chunks). Spread on baking sheet, and sprinkle with pepper, fresh sage, and a drizzle of your favorite cooking oil. Roast at 425 degrees for 30 minutes or until pieces are soft, turning pieces once or twice during cook time. After roasting, sprinkle with salt.

While the pumpkin is roasting, sauté pear pieces in butter or coconut oil just until softened and lightly caramelized. Add both warm pear and pumpkin to a bed of spinach, romaine, or seasonal greens. Drizzle with your favorite nut oil, and add a dash of salt and pepper. Top with pine nuts if desired.

Scallops with Pumpkin Sauce

This savory sauce is great with scallops, but can easily serve as a delicious flair for turkey or pork loin.

Sauté ½ minced large white onion and 2 cloves of garlic in small amount of cooking oil. Add 4 Tbsp. butter part way through. Once onion and garlic are nearly done, add 3 Tbsp. minced fresh parsley. Add 1 ½ cup savory or plain pumpkin puree and 1 cup chicken stock. Allow to warm and blend well.

Sear scallops (enough for 2 servings) in oiled fry pan until light golden brown and allow to cook through on low-medium heat. In individual serving bowls, pour sauce over scallops and top with your choice of garnish (e.g. fresh parsley, nuts, small bacon strips).

Pumpkin and Apple (Dessert)

Roast bite-sized chunks of pumpkin with a drizzle of cooking oil as you would for the salad recipe (without the savory seasonings.) Cook slices of apple in fry pan with butter, cinnamon, and raisins. Serve the fruits together, topped with a handful of pecans (with a dash of salt) and either an additional drizzle of butter or your favorite nut oil.

Have your own favorite pumpkin recipes or memories? Help us celebrate the beginning of fall and share your comments!

RobertFrancis, ianqui, moirabot, mrittenhouse, jaycross, computerjoe Flickr Photos (CC)

Further Reading:

Dear Mark: Best Fruits Choices

How to Eat Healthy and Save Money

9 Natural Cold and Flu Remedies

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