Pumpkin is one of the most nutritious vegetables you can ever serve to your family. It is low in calories but rich in digestion-friendly fiber. It is also rich in minerals, antioxidants, and vitamins. It’s not surprising that pumpkin is a mainstay in many healthy diets. And if you want to make the most of this vegetable, read this complete guide for preparing and serving pumpkin to your loved ones.
The World of Pumpkins
Different cuisines cook them in different ways. For instance, in France, pumpkin is a mainstay in breads and soups. People in the Middle East and the Mediterranean region prefer to have them as filo filling. Some also use the veggie as an accompaniment to stews and soups. Greeks love their pumpkin pies and preserves while Italians stuff them in their ravioli. Southeast Asian cuisine uses pumpkins in stews, curries, and soups. In the US, they love them roasted.
Choosing Your Pumpkin
There are many different varieties of pumpkins. It is important to use the right kind of pumpkin for your dish. Here are some of the more common types of this vegetable that you should know that are good for cooking.
A mainstay in many cuisines, the Butternut comes with a characteristic pear-shaped appearance. Its flesh is dry and dense but sweet. The butternut is one of the most versatile varieties of pumpkins.
- Golden Nugget
They call it the Golden Nugget because of its diminutive size. It also has a bright orange skin complete with a golden-yellow flesh. Because of its stunning looks, most chefs leave the skin on when cooking a Golden Nugget. This enhances the overall appeal of the dish.
- Queensland Blue
This pumpkin is very easy to distinguish because of its bluish-gray hue. It has a deeply-ribbed skin; albeit very smooth. The flesh has a golden orange color and is bursting with flavors. This type of pumpkin is perfect for turning into puree because of its full-flavored flesh.
Cooks use Dumpling pumpkins as a vessel for their flavorful fillings. They cook the filling and stuff it in the Dumpling. The vegetable then gets cooked. The Dumpling comes with a bright yellow and orange skin.
Chefs love the Jarrahdale because of its remarkable flavors. It is the perfect vegetable for turning into pumpkin pies. It has a mild sweetness that complements its dense and creamy texture. It comes with a deeply-ribbed, light bluish-gray skin. The flesh is also golden yellow.
In Japan, they call this pumpkin the “kabocha”. It has a nutty flavor, making it quite different from other types of pumpkin. Its skin is not that appealing, though. It often comes in greenish to grayish color with brown and yellow mottling. The flesh is yellowish orange. While this vegetable is easy to cut, its flesh is a little bit drier than other varieties of pumpkin.
Fans of Cinderella know the bright orange pumpkin that transformed into a carriage. The Cinderella got its name from that particular piece of children’s literature. It has a bright red orange color and a whimsical shape. Its flesh is moist and a bit sweet, perfect for pies.
Cheese pumpkins are called as such because of the pale cheese color of their skin. These are sweet varieties that make excellent pies. If you want something dense and creamy, you’d go for the Musee de Provence. If not, Long Island Cheese is sufficient.
This is a pumpkin that has a dark green skin when young. It also has a peach or orange blush. But as the vegetable ages, buff orange replaces the dark green color. Its flesh stays a bright orange, nevertheless. It has a very creamy, sweet, and meaty flesh that is perfect for baking and cooking.
Whenever you buy a pumpkin, be sure to inspect the skin. There should be no nicks or cuts on the skin. Try to press on the pumpkin to see if it is firm. Do not choose a pumpkin that will give in to your touch.
Preparing the Pumpkin
The main concern with raw or fresh pumpkin is that you will never know what kind of contaminants are present on the skin. It is for this reason that cleaning the pumpkin is one of the critical first steps you should do before cooking it.
Remove any dirt or debris that is visible on the pumpkin. Get a vegetable brush to scrub the veggie’s skin. It is often wise to do this under running water to wash off dirt, debris, and other surface contaminants from the pumpkin. Pat dry using a piece of clean towel.
Get your cutting board and a sharp kitchen knife. Cut off the vegetable’s stem. Depending on the size of your pumpkin, you can slice it straight in half. If the vegetable is too large for the length of your knife blade, try cutting it into sections.
First, insert the knife tip at the center of the vegetable where its stem was. Drive the knife towards the middle of the vegetable and pull the handle downwards until the knife blade is parallel to the cutting board. Continue cutting the pumpkin. Do the same maneuver in the side opposite the first cut. You should still be able to get two halves.
Use a spoon or an ice cream scoop to scrape the seeds and fibers in the center of the vegetable. You can also use a serrated grapefruit spoon if you have one. It is important to remove the fibrous material from the center as well as the seeds, unless you have a recipe that calls for such ingredients.
It is then up to you if you want to remove the skin or not. Some recipes call for the skin to be left intact, while others require their removal. If the dish requires only the flesh, then you can start peeling the skin off of the flesh. Since the pumpkin halves can be quite difficult to peel, you might want to slice them into quarters and then into eighths. This will make peeling a lot easier.
Cut the pumpkin into the desired sizes. Some dishes call for wedges while others may call for cubes.
How to Cook Pumpkin
There are many ways you can cook pumpkin. Most turn it into a classic pumpkin pie. Others use it as a filling for their favorite pastries. Other home cooks use it in stews and soups. Most Americans prefer roasting pumpkin wedges as it is very easy to make. Others will boil and then mash it to include in other dishes.
Keep in mind the variety of pumpkin that you are using. Some are sweeter than most. Sweet varieties are perfect for pies. And if you want a creamier pie filling, you have to choose a pumpkin with a creamy flesh, such as the Cinderella and the Jarrahdale. These are also great choices for soups. If you want to retain the texture of the pumpkin, the Fairytale and the Butternut are good options.
If you wish to cook pumpkin for later use, you can steam it or broil it. Prepare the pumpkin by cleaning and removing the seeds and stringy core. Cut into your desired size. If you want to steam it, you can boil water in a saucepot. Once it is boiling, put a steamer basket and your pumpkin slices. Simmer for about 25 to 30 minutes or until the vegetable is tender. Drain the water and let the pumpkin cool down before you remove the skin. You can then mash it with cinnamon, brown sugar, and butter.
If you prefer broiling pumpkin, slice the vegetable into wedges. Place the wedges in a baking dish. Put in the oven at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for about 40 to 45 minutes, depending on the thickness of the wedges. Let it cool down before you cut the wedges into smaller sizes. Store for your other recipes.
2 Pumpkin Recipes to Try
There is no better way to show you how to cook pumpkin than to share a couple of recipes you can try at home.
Classic Pumpkin Pie
Most pumpkin pie recipes call for canned pumpkin puree. In this recipe, you will be making your own mashed pumpkin. You can use 1.5 pounds of pumpkin with its skin on. This will yield about 2 cups of mashed pumpkin. Prepare the vegetable and cut it up into small pieces. Boil and simmer the pumpkin for half an hour or until fork tender. Drain the water, cool the pumpkin, and remove its skin. Mash the cooked pumpkin.
2 cups of mashed cooked pumpkin
12 ounces of evaporated milk
¾ cup of brown sugar
2 whole eggs, beaten
½ teaspoon of ground ginger
½ teaspoon of ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon of ground nutmeg
½ teaspoon of salt
For the pie crust:
1 and 1/3 cups of all-purpose flour
½ cup of shortening
½ teaspoon of salt
3 and ½ tablespoons of cold water
- Get the oven ready by heating it up to 400°F.
- Mix the flour and salt for the pie crust. Add the shortening. Combine well. Add 1 tablespoon of cold water. Mix. Add another tablespoon of cold water. Continue mixing the dough and adding a tablespoon of water until you get the right pie crust consistency.
- Shape the dough into a ball and roll out on floured board. Roll it to about an eighth of an inch thick. Cut the dough so that it can fit into an 8- or 9-inch pie pan. Place the dough in the pan.
- Get a mixing bowl and pour the ingredients for the pie filling. Beat the ingredients using an immersion blender or an electric mixer. Make sure to blend all of the ingredients so you get to distribute the flavors.
- Pour the pumpkin filling into the pie crust and bake for about 40 minutes.
Stuffed Pumpkin Dinner
This recipe can be a surprising treat for your family. You might even entice your non-veggie-eating kids to try out the pumpkin. It is sumptuous and a complete meal in itself. There’s beef, ham, eggs, and other veggies to complement the natural creaminess and sweetness of pumpkin.
1 piece of large pumpkin, about 5.5 to 6 lbs
1.5 lbs of ground beef
½ cup of cooked ham, finely-chopped
2 whole eggs, beaten
¾ cup of onion, finely-chopped
1 clove of garlic, minced
1 piece of small green pepper, chopped
8 ounces of tomato sauce
1.5 cups of cooked rice
1 teaspoon of dried oregano
½ teaspoon of apple cider vinegar
½ teaspoon of pepper
- Prepare the pumpkin by washing it and cutting a 6-inch circle at the top. Remove the top and set it aside. Scoop out the seeds and stringy fibers from the core. Get a Dutch oven and place the prepared pumpkin. Fill the Dutch oven to about 6 inches of water. Add half a teaspoon of salt. Cover the Dutch oven and simmer for half an hour. It should be tender, but still be able to retain its shape. Remove from the Dutch oven and drain well.
- Prepare your oven and heat it up to 350 degrees.
- Cook the beef in a large skillet. Add the green pepper and onion and continue cooking until you no longer see pink in the meat. Make sure that the vegetables are tender. Drain and let it cool.
- Place the beef mixture in a bowl. Add the cooked rice, ham, tomato sauce, eggs, pepper, oregano, vinegar, and the rest of the salt. Mix well.
- Get the “cooked” pumpkin and place it in a baking pan. Put the beef mixture into the cooked pumpkin. Pack it well and cover with the pumpkin top.
- Bake for about an hour. Remove the stuffed pumpkin from the oven. Give 10 minutes to cool down. Remove the pumpkin top and slice the veggie into wedges.
Cooking pumpkin is easy. Always start with the right pumpkin to use, prepare it, and get cooking.