Thursday, October 2, 2008

Pumpkins Part II -- Recipes and Cooking Tips

Yesterday we explored carving pumpkins, today we look at the culinary side of this fall favorite.

There's more to pumpkins than great taste. This humble, inexpensive food is also nutritious, being rich in beta carotene, potassium, Vitamin C, calcium and fiber. Pumpkins are a dieter's best friend as well. They are very low in fat and only about 180 calories per cup.

You can get pumpkin puree in cans at the supermarket, which is an easy way to get pumpkin for any recipes you might want to make. It's one of the few cases where the quality of the canned product is about equal to fresh (with a whole lot less hassle). You can also make your own puree by roasting fresh pumpkins.

When buying fresh pumpkins, check for soft spots. This is a sure sign that the pumpkin is too old and is starting to go bad. If you do want to cook fresh pumpkins, look for smaller varieties, especially the "sugar pumpkin" or Kabocha Squash. Those big old monsters used for making Jack o lanterns do not make for the best eating.

In order to cook fresh pumpkin, heat the oven to 350° F. Split the pumpkin in half and remove the seeds and stringy pulp. Place pumpkin halves, cut side down on a baking sheet and bake for about one hour or until very tender when pierced with a fork. Spoon the soft pulp out of the shell and use it in recipes.

Unique Serving Idea
Miniature pumpkins, like the ones pictured above, make impressive individual baking and serving dishes. Cut a circle out around the stem (as you would when carving a Jack-O-Lantern) and scrape out the seeds and pulp. Scrape out some of the flesh from the sides of the pumpkin as well, in order to make room for your stuffing. Keep the lids in tact. Place pumpkins and lids in a baking dish and add about an inch of water. Bake at 350°F for about 30 minutes. You want the pumpkins to be somewhat cooked, but still firm. Carefully stuff the pumpkins with corn pudding, vegetables, such as green beans or peas or even corn bread stuffing. Return stuffed pumpkins to the oven and bake until stuffing is cooked. Serve each guest their own stuffed mini-pumpkin.

You can also hollow out a large pumpkin to use a soup tureen (as shown in the photo of Mexicali Beef Stew in a Pumpkin Tureen above). This makes a spectacular presentation, and best of all, no dishes when you're done.

Favorite Pumpkin Recipes from

  • Ultra Easy Pumpkin Pie Squares (pictured) -- This recipe has been floating around the ladies at my sister Bambi's church for years, so we're not sure who came up with it, but it's fast, easy, (almost foolproof) and delicious.
  • Mollie Katzen's Pumpkin Muffins -- You don't need to wait for autumn - create your own holiday season any time of year with these golden muffins.
  • Lorna Sass' Pumpkin Tart with Pecan Crust -- This recipe, suitable for a healthy Thanksgiving feast, is vegan and lightened from the original, yet still has great flavor.
  • Pumpkin Creme Caramel -- You might consider a change in your Thanksgiving menu after tasting this luscious caramel-drenched pumpkin custard.
  • Elegant Pumpkin Cheesecake -- This rich dessert is so special it would make an elegant finale for Thanksgiving dinner.
  • Pumpkin Bread Pudding -- This Thanksgiving worthy recipe comes to us courtesy of Beverly Hills' fabulous L'Ermitage Hotel.
  • Tofu Pumpkin Custard with Gingersnap Crumble -- his recipe makes an outstanding snack and a great introduction to tofu, which is undetectable!
  • Pumpkin Pancakes -- Here's the prefect thing for nippy autumn breakfasts. Canned pumpkin works fine in this recipe, making it easy to make anytime.
  • Pumpkin Banana Bread -- This quick bread is very moist and flavorful thanks to the pumpkin, bananas ,and yogurt. It's great for breakfast, coffee breaks, a brown bag lunch addition, or a simple dessert.
  • West Indies Style Pumpkin Soup -- This version of pumpkin soup is popular in the West Indies.
  • Roasted Pumpkin Risotto -- This unusual autumn risotto from L'Ermitage Hotel in Beverly Hills, would be perfect for a change of pace at Thanksgiving.
  • Creamy Pumpkin Polenta -- This rich polenta makes a unique side dish. Use it instead of the typical potatoes or rice.
  • Rachel Ray's Pasta with Pumpkin and Sausage -- This hearty autumn pasta dish is one of Rachael's famous 30 Minute Meals.

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