Pumpkins more than lanterns
Don’t you just love the autumn harvest? The feeling of a crisp breeze in the air, the sound of rustling leaves in a rainbow of colours, and an array of gourds, squash, and pumpkins available at the produce counter!
Walking through suburban neighbourhoods on Halloween night and gazing at all the eerily lit creations sitting in windows and on front porches can make one hungry – at least, it does me!
As a food, pumpkin is quite neglected in our everyday diets. Although the bright orange fruit is about 90 per cent water, it is loaded with beta-carotene (an important antioxidant) and a list of nutritional elements that play an important role in a well-balanced diet.
Pumpkins, as members of the squash family, are fruits, just like melons, to which they are closely related.
There are two main general types of squash: summer and winter squash.
Summer squashes, such as the popular zucchini, cannot be stored for long periods of time.
Winter squash, on the other hand, can be stored for long periods of time, under ideal storage conditions. They should be kept away from light and in an area that is moderately cooler than room temperature. Good ventilation is also necessary.
Along with pumpkins, other winter squash are acorn, butternut, and autumn squash.
Pumpkins are most popularly used as jack-o-lanterns on Halloween night, as well as in various recipes of pies, cakes, and soups. Rarely does one see pumpkin served at the table on its own.
Pumpkin can be used in any application used for other winter squashes, and undeniably will offer more flavour to the dish.
Cubes of oven-roasted pumpkin, in a medley of other colourful vegetables, are a perfect accompaniment to an autumn meal. Alternatively, try using small chunks of pumpkin in your next stir-fry or pasta dish.
To make preparation easier, cut the pumpkin into workable pieces to aid in peeling and chopping.
Winter squashes should always be peeled before consuming. Their tougher skin is often challenging for the traditional vegetable peeler, and therefore a knife may be more effective.
Afterwards, chop the pumpkin into pieces best suited for the recipe planned.
Both the flesh and the seeds are edible.
The seeds are sometimes easily forgotten, and discarded along with the rest of the innards.
Roasted pumpkin seeds are easily prepared. Roasting transforms them into a nutritional snack.
Separate the seeds from the extracted inner filaments, and lightly coat the seeds with vegetable or olive oil. Toss with salt and pepper – or seasoning salt, if desired – and roast them on a baking sheet in a 450ºF oven, stirring occasionally, until golden brown and crispy, approximately 12 to 15 minutes. Be careful to watch them closely, as they burn quite easily.
Serve them in a bowl on their own or with a mixture of other seeds, nuts, and dried fruit.
Pumpkin seeds are credited with a number of medicinal properties, and are a great source of numerous minerals.
However, due to their high fat content, they should always be consumed in moderation. A serving size of nuts or seeds is equivalent to about the size of a golf ball.
Dear Chef Dez:
We always buy cans of pureed pumpkin this time of year, for different dessert recipes. Since pumpkins are available fresh, wouldn’t it be more economical to make it myself? How do I go about doing that?
John G., Chilliwack
It can be done quite easily. Cut a fresh pumpkin in half and remove the seeds and the stringy filaments. Place the cut sides down on a baking sheet and bake in a 350ºF oven until the flesh is very tender – approximately one hour.
Spoon the cooked flesh off the skin and into a food processor and puree until smooth. Transfer it to a large, fine-wire mesh strainer set over a bowl, cover, and let drain in the refrigerator overnight. Discard the liquid and use the drained puree in any fashion that you would the canned product.
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