The arrival of pumpkin-flavored foods has always seemed to signify the true start of fall, and in recent years, the pumpkin trend has really kicked into gear. Forget about coffee and lattes; these days you can buy everything from pumpkin-flavored cream cheese to pumpkin-infused potato chips. And while these processed, commercialized products may not seem like the most wholesome of food options, real pumpkin does offer a fair amount of nutritional value. In its natural form, it’s low in calories and sugar, rich in Vitamin A and amply packed with beta-carotene.
Of course, many associate pumpkin with baked goods and sweets — think pumpkin bread, muffins and of course, ice cream. But pumpkin also lends itself to a host of savory applications, from soups to sides to main courses.
If you’re willing to be hard-core about it, there’s nothing like fresh pumpkin to create a hearty, nutrient-rich dish. But cooking with fresh pumpkin takes work. Once you’ve managed to haul your pumpkins home from the local farm or supermarket, you have to clean them, peel them, cut them (no easy feat) and remove what could end up being a fair amount of gunk and seeds. In other words, if your recipe calls for pureed pumpkin, there’s no shame in opting for the stuff that comes out of a can — just don’t make the mistake of buying pumpkin pie filling, which is sweetened and far less healthy than its more natural counterpart. But, if your recipe calls for pumpkin chunks or wedges, you will have to go through the aforementioned routine. (Think of it as exercise.)
One final thing: Those supersize monster pumpkins you see at the farms and festivals might look appealing, but save them for carving or decoration. For cooking, go for the smaller sugar pumpkins, which are actually not very sweet despite their name. And remember, toasted pumpkin seeds make a wonderful garnish or healthy snack, so when you’re elbow deep in pumpkin grime, be sure to rescue and save them as a reward for all your hard work.
Curried Pumpkin Stew
A wholesome, filling meal that’s perfect for a chilly night
2 tablespoons olive oil 2 large onions, diced 2 tablespoons minced garlic
1 small sugar pumpkin, peeled, cleaned, and diced
1 red pepper, diced
2 medium zucchinis, diced
4 cups kale, finely chopped
2 cups okra, chopped (optional, and feel free to use frozen)
2 cups chickpeas, drained
1 can coconut milk
2 tablespoons cumin
1 tablespoon curry
1 tablespoon turmeric
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
Salt and pepper to taste
1) In a large pot, heat the oil and sauté onion until translucent, about 4-5 minutes. Add minced garlic and sauté 1-2 more minutes.
2) Stir in pumpkin, red pepper, zucchini, kale, okra (feel free to throw it in frozen) and chickpeas. Quickly stir in coconut milk followed by enough water to cover the mixture. Stir in spices (cumin, curry, turmeric, cinnamon, red pepper flakes, ginger, nutmeg, salt, and pepper) as you bring the mixture back up to a boil.
3) Let boil for 3-4 minutes, then reduce heat to medium-low, cover and let cook for 90 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Roasted Pumpkin Salad With Maple-Honey-Balsamic Dressing
A healthy side dish that makes the most of fresh pumpkin
3 cups roasted pumpkin chunks
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
2 tablespoons maple syrup 2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
6 cups baby spinach
1 cup toasted pumpkin seeds (store-bought or homemade — see note below)
1) Preheat your oven to 400˚ F.
2) In a medium-sized bowl, toss diced pumpkin with 3 tablespoons olive oil, salt, and pepper
3) Line or coat a baking sheet and arrange diced pumpkin evenly. Roast for 45-60 minutes, or until tender. Let pumpkin cool while you prepare your dressing.
4) In a small bowl or large measuring cup, whisk maple syrup, honey, vinegar and 1 tablespoon olive oil until well-combined.
5) Fill a large bowl with spinach and stir in the roasted pumpkin once cooled. Toss with dressing, then top with pumpkin seeds.
Note: If you’re making your own toasted pumpkin seeds, wash them thoroughly, drain, and pat dry using a paper towel. Try to get them as dry as possible. Then, in a small bowl, toss them with olive oil and a little salt and pepper, and stick them in the oven on a lined or coated baking sheet when you’ve got about 20 minutes left to go on the pumpkin. Use a spatula to turn them after 10 minutes, and keep checking them toward the end. You’ll want them to reach a nice golden brown.
A quick, easy take on comfort food
1 box pasta of your choice (recommended: penne, rotini, or bowties)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 15-ounce can of pureed pumpkin (or make your own from fresh pumpkin)
1 cup frozen peas, defrosted
1/2 cup half and half (substitute 2/3 cup coconut milk if you want to keep it pareve)
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
2 teaspoons sage
2 teaspoons rosemary
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
Grated Parmesan, Gruyère, or mozzarella cheese for topping, optional
1) Cook pasta according to instructions; drain, but reserve 1 cup of pasta water.
2) While pasta is cooking, heat the oil in a separate pot and sauté the onion until translucent, about 3-4 minutes. Add minced garlic and sauté 1-2 more minutes.
3) Reduce heat and carefully stir in pumpkin, peas, half and half, vinegar, spices (salt, pepper, sage, rosemary, cinnamon, nutmeg) and pasta water. Let the sauce simmer on medium-low for 4-7 minutes, stirring frequently.
4) Add pasta to sauce and mix well to coat. Add additional salt and pepper to taste and top with cheese if desired.
Maurie Backman is a writer and editor who loves to feed others and share her recipes with the world. You can check out some of her sweet concoctions at busybakingmama.com.