Pumpkins: Not Just for Jack-O-Lanterns and Pies

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Neat row of 4 pumpkinsIf you associate pumpkins with the month of October, it’s for a good reason. Eighty percent of the pumpkin supply in the United States is available in October. At this time of year, fresh pumpkins are piled up in front of every grocery store in town, featured at road-side stands and farmer’s markets, and available at pick-your-own-pumpkin farms. By late November or early December, they’ll all be gone.

As you select your Halloween pumpkins this month, be sure to pick up some small pie or sugar pumpkins for cooking and baking. Pumpkins, a member of the squash family, can be substituted for winter squash or sweet potatoes in most recipes. Americans often limit their use of pumpkins to pies, breads and desserts that include pureed pumpkin. This is not the case in other parts of the world. For example, in Central America, where the pumpkin originated, cooks consider it a standard vegetable to be used as a side dish and in casseroles. Native Americans used pumpkins in a variety of ways. They roasted strips of pumpkin over an open fire as a fall treat. They dried the seeds for food and medicine, and dried long strips of the pulp for food or to weave into mats.

Besides being an excellent source of vitamin A, pumpkins and most other squash are surprisingly low in calories, if added fat and sugar are kept to a minimum. For example, a half a cup of cooked pumpkin or winter squash has only 40 calories. These hearty vegetables also are excellent sources of dietary fiber and potassium.

When selecting pumpkins for cooking, choose relatively small ones that feel hard, have no soft spots or cracks and seem heavy in relation to their size. Store them in a cool place until you are ready to use them.

If your recipe calls for pureed pumpkin or squash, the easiest way to prepare it—other then opening up a can—is to cut the pumpkin or squash in half, scoop out the seeds and stringy pulp, and cook them with the cut-side facing down in a conventional or microwave oven until the pulp is tender. A microwave reduces cooking time from nearly an hour to 6-7 minutes per pound. Small pumpkins and acorn squash can even be microwave-cooked whole if they are pierced with a few small holes which will allow steam to escape. After microwaving, let pumpkins or squash stand for five minutes before pureeing or serving it to allow heat within it to equalize.

Pies are just one way to use pureed pumpkin and squash. These veggies are also delicious in chilled or hot soups, or in place of mashed potatoes in a shepherd’s pie. Baked pumpkin and squash halves are tasty when stuffed with meat, rice or vegetable mixtures. And, if you’re tired of standard vegetable fair, try sautéing or stir-frying strips of fresh pumpkin or squash. Finally, for a different taste treat this holiday season, try grating raw pumpkin into stuffing served with chicken or turkey.

Try some of these serving suggestions:

  • Serve mashed or cubed cooked pumpkin as a side dish seasoned with ground cinnamon, butter and brown sugar.
  • Swirl pumpkin purée and maple syrup into a steaming bowl of hot cereal.
  • Add fresh pumpkin chunks to your favorite vegetable or beef stew.
  • Perk up ordinary mashed potatoes by mashing in some cooked   pumpkin an sour cream.
  • Turn puréed pumpkin into a savory soup by thinning it with chicken broth and seasoning with sage, curry powder or ground cinnamon.
  • Get creative with toasted pumpkin seeds. Season them with cinnamon-sugar for a sweet touch or use your favorite herb blend for savory seeds.

Double-Layer Pumpkin Pie

8oz cream cheese, softened
1 cup + 1 tablespoon milk
1 tablespoon sugar
8oz whipped topping
6oz. graham cracker crust
15oz can pumpkin
2 (3.4oz) vanilla instant pudding
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon cloves

Beat cream cheese, 1 tablespoon milk, and sugar in a large bowl with whisk until blended. Stir in half of the whipped topping. Spread into the crust. Whisk remaining milk, pumpkin, pudding mixes and spices 2 minutes. (Mixture will be thick). Spread over cream cheese layer. Refrigerate 4 hours or until set. Top with remaining whipping topping just before serving.

Glazed Chocolate-Pumpkin Bundt Cake

Cake

1 cup all-purpose, flour

3/4 cup whole-wheat pastry flour

1 cup granulated sugar

¾ cup unsweetened cocoa powder, (not Dutch-process)

1 ½ teaspoons baking powder

1 ½ teaspoons baking soda

1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice

¼ teaspoon salt

1 cup nonfat buttermilk

1 15-ounce can unsweetened pumpkin puree

3/4 cup dark brown sugar, packed

1 large egg, at room temperature (to warm, set out on countertop for 15 minutes)

1 large egg white, at room temperature (to warm, set out on countertop for 15 minutes)

1/4 cup canola oil

1/4 cup light corn syrup

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Topping

1/2 cup packed confectioners’ sugar

1 tablespoon nonfat buttermilk

2 tablespoons mini chocolate chips, or toasted chopped nuts

Preheat oven to 350°F. Coat a 12-cup Bundt pan with cooking spray. Whisk all-purpose flour, whole-wheat flour, granulated sugar, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, pumpkin pie spice and salt in a medium bowl. Blend 1 cup buttermilk, pumpkin puree and brown sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer on low speed. Beat in whole egg and egg white. Stir in oil, corn syrup and vanilla. Gradually add the dry ingredients, stirring until just combined. Transfer the batter to the prepared pan. Bake the cake until a wooden skewer inserted in the center comes out with only a few moist crumbs attached, 1 hour to 1 hour 15 minutes. Let cool on a wire rack for 15 minutes. Remove from the pan and let cool completely on the rack, about 2 hours.

To glaze and garnish cake: Combine confectioners’ sugar and 1 tablespoon buttermilk in a small bowl, stirring until completely smooth. Place the cake on a serving plate and drizzle the glaze over the top; garnish with chocolate chips (or chopped nuts) while the glaze is still moist.