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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43 thoughts on “Healthy Tastes Great! – The Great Pumpkin”

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  1. Timely post. I have been seeing these in supermarkets for the last week but have always wondered how to us them. This most will do me a load of favors! The basic pumpkin puree looks amazing!
    I use the canned stuff year round; mixed with some cinnamon, berries and nuts/flaxseed its absolutely delicious!

  2. I had not realised you could buy canned pumpkin in the UK, but Chris your comment tells me I should go looking! It sounds great. I have been a big fan of the seeds for a long time, consuming vast quantities as a snack when I feel I simply must take a break from nuts…

  3. By the way, for those at home keeping score, fitday tells me that one cup of fresh cooked mashed pumpkin has only 10 net grams of carbs. Once again, anyone complaining that the range of 100-150 as a “daily maintenance” carb budget on PB needn’t shy away from pumpkin. (Me, I slather it in butter, too, and of course it’s still only 10 net grams carbs!)

  4. Oh thank you so much for these ideas!!! I just love pumpkins in so many ways, but I’ve never really tried to cook with it. I collect pumpkins & jack-o-lanterns, and actively seek out places where I can take photos of them. Last week I spent an hour at a fruit stand taking pictures of pumpkins, haha.

    We’re planning to go back to the place where we got our pumpkins last year, and this time I’ll get more than decorations. Here’s my pics, if anyone else is a freak about pumpkins like me. =)

    Sorry for the tangent, I just can’t get enough of ’em. I’m so excited to try some of these recipes, especially the pumpkin & pear salad.

  5. @ Methuselah – Pay Now Live Later: for canned pumpkin in the UK check Waitrose they sell it in the canned/cooking section its libby’s brand (the famous american one) and goes for £1.19 a can great value as I get 2 servings from each one. Half a can runs at about 60 calories and 8g of carbs and loads of fiber!

  6. Great recipes! I’ve been intimidated by pumpkin in the past, but now I’m excited to try it. Thanks Mark!

    I wonder if it’s possible to find healthy (ie without lots of extra junk) chicken broth?

  7. Oh joy these are going to be tasty. Any thoughts on the Splenda pumpkin pie hat and pony?

  8. Puree looks delicious. What are the best storage methods for leftover puree? Can you freeze it and reheat?

  9. Fizzy, here’s a Splenda Pumpkin Pie recipe, though the problem with pie (as much as the sugar) is the crust. My suggestion is to simply replace the crust with nuts (almond slivers are good, or crushed walnuts).

  10. Andrew C. –

    Yes, pumpkin puree stands up to freezing just fine. Just make sure it is cooled before storing. Dividing the puree up into small amounts (maybe a cup or two) makes defrosting more manageable. I’ve read it will stay good frozen for up to a year.

  11. I’m looking forward to some pumpkin pie this Thanksgiving. Oh but that soup sounds great – I’d add a bit of cayenne to give it some kick. 😉

  12. Another great post! This comes handy for my family aroound Halloween. My son, especially, likes anything with pumpkin. We’ve got to try some recipes mentioned here. Thanks!

  13. I am always amused when I read articles from the USA about how to use pumpkin. The best way is to cut it into wedges and roast it with your meat roast. Traditionally in NZ that will be a leg of mutton. (and we are lucky because 99% of our meat is grass fed!! Put the pumpkin in the roasting dish about 40 min before meat is finished. Turn it after 20min. You will never want to eat it any other way.

  14. Pumpkin smoothie

    Canned pumpkin
    Pumpkin Spice
    Vanilla Protein Powder
    Ice (if desired)

    Mix to your desired consistency.

  15. I second JohnL’s rec.

    My favorite way to use pumpkin is to roast it with peppers, zucchini, and onions. Seasoned with cumin and turmaric and served with a leg of lamb.

  16. Dear Mark,
    I love pumpkin in all forms. Do you have a healthy variation to the traditional pumpkin pie? Something that to kids looks like a pie…

  17. I LOVE pumpkins. 😀

    And those are fantastic pictures, Heather! Thank you for sharing. 🙂

  18. I know that pumpkin seeds are edible, how about the closely related various squashes? Has anyone tried their seeds? Any recommendations?

  19. Does anyone here just eat canned pumpkin straight from the can? Or mix it with berries or whatever? Just being my curious and nosey self.

  20. Calabasa is carribean pumpkin. I have roasted the seeds just like pumpkin seeds. Here in Miami, Calabaza is easier to come by than regular pumpkins…

  21. Made the soup, it was awesome! Like Charlotte W above, I was also intimidated by pumpkin, but now it’s a great new arrow in the quiver, thanks!

  22. I love adding pumpkin to my almond nut muffin recipe. Throw in a few dried cranberries and it make for a great fall muffin. Even my non-primal husband devours them.

  23. We’re stuck in the house with the big snow storm going on here and I’m making the pumpkin soup – found that it needed more flavour so I’ve added cloves, nutmeg, allspice and sauteed apples to sweeten it – it’ll go great with the turkey I’ve got in the oven! Yum 🙂

  24. Great web site. Plenty of helpful information here. I’m sending it to some buddies ans additionally sharing in delicious. And of course, thanks for your effort!