Pumpkin for Dinner?

What moistens the lip and what brightens the eye? What calls back the past, like the rich pumpkin pie? --John Greenleaf Whittier

My boys love to grow pumpkins at home. There is something about watching the vines creep out of the garden and take over the backyard, seeing the orange flowers develop into the green fruit and waiting for the day when the pumpkins are finally ready to be picked. Although most of us grow pumpkins to be carved and lit for Halloween, they're also an important food source.

Consider these pumpkin recipes and ideas:

  • Pumpkin seeds can be roasted as a snack. (see below)
  • Pumpkins contain potassium and Vitamin A.
  • Pumpkins are used to make soups, pies and breads.
  • Pumpkins are an excellent source of beta-carotene (the source of their bright orange color), Vitamin C, and potassium.
  • One-half cup of canned pumpkin contains more than 500 percent of the daily RDI for Vitamin A. And you thought carrots helped improve your vision!
  • Pumpkins contain no fat or cholesterol and are high in fiber.
  • Pumpkin seeds are an excellent source of zinc, a mineral that is often lacking in our diet.

Pumpkin varieties grown specifically for cooking are called 'pie' or 'sugar' pumpkins. They have smaller seed cavities and more flesh, and are less stringy than jack-o-lantern types. They are also typically smaller but heavier, with thicker stems. If you've never used fresh pumpkin, you'll be delighted by its fantastic taste. Preparation is simple: To peel a raw pumpkin, simply cut off a portion that is easy to hold in your hand and peel the skin with a sharp paring knife. To prepare a puree, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cut the pumpkin in half and wash. Scrape out the seeds (save them to roast later!) and the stringy pulp. Bake skin-side up on a cookie sheet until the pumpkin is tender enough to pierce with a fork -- about 45 minutes. (To keep it from drying out, cover loosely with foil and add a small amount of water.) Cool and peel off skin with a paring knife. Use a food processor or a potato masher to puree. One pound of pumpkin will yield about one cup of puree.

Now that you're ready to do more with pumpkin than make the traditional November pie, try these delicious ideas:

  • Use canned pumpkin in breads, muffins, and even pancake batter.
  • Add chopped raw pumpkin to a vegetable stir-fry.
  • Stuff small sweet pumpkins with a mixture of hamburger, rice and seasonings, then bake in the oven.
  • Roast pumpkin seeds from your Halloween jack-o-lantern for a great take-along snack. Clean the seeds well, spread evenly on a cookie sheet and roast in a low oven. Stir often to prevent sticking or burning.
  • Use grated pumpkin in meatloaf or meatballs.
  • Add small chunks of raw pumpkin to your favorite soup or stew recipe.
  • Substitute pumpkin in any recipe that calls for winter squash.
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