RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—This time of year, pumpkins are everywhere. But if all you do is make them into jack o' lanterns, you're missing out on a nutritional powerhouse. The versatile pumpkin is an excellent source of beta-carotene, which our bodies use to make the eye-protecting, disease-fighting antioxidant vitamin A. Just half a cup of pumpkin provides nearly 200 percent of our daily requirement of A. Pumpkin is also an excellent source of vitamin E and a good source of fiber, copper, manganese, potassium, riboflavin, and vitamin C. We've chosen some of our favorite easy pumpkin recipes for you to try—including everyone's favorite, pumpkin pie. But first, for expert tips on preparing pumpkins, we turned to Adriana King, the executive pastry chef at Jones, a Stephen Starr restaurant in Philadelphia, PA, who is serving up a different pumpkin dessert at the restaurant every day in November.
Choose the right pumpkins for cooking.
When picking pumpkins for kitchen use, skip those large "face pumpkins" and look for smaller pumpkins that feel heavy for their size. They’re sometimes called pie or sugar pumpkins. They contain more pulp than the larger, jack o' lantern-sized varieties. The flesh should be firm and on the lighter side of orange—never green. Also, the stem should be at least an inch long—any shorter and the pumpkin may decay more quickly.
Follow King’s prepping and cooking tips.
It's best with any type of squash, pumpkin included, to roast it whole in the oven. First, use a fork to prick a few holes all over the pumpkin, then place it on a sheet tray and bake at 350 degrees for about an hour or so, depending on the size. You'll know it's done when you can easily stick a knife into the side of the squash, Norman Bates–style (hey, it's that time of year). After the pumpkin is cooked, let it cool, slice it in half, and scoop the flesh away from the skin. If you wish, set aside the seeds for roasting (we have some pumpkin seed recipes coming your way tomorrow, BTW). When your pumpkin is cooked and cooled, puree the flesh in a food processor for recipe use. For extra smoothness, run the pumpkin through a food mill as well. King suggests making more than you need and saving the leftover pumpkin puree. It will stay fresh in the refrigerator for four to five days, and for four to six weeks in the freezer.
Try these ideas for cooking and baking with fresh pumpkin.
For King, pumpkin is all about the traditional spice flavors, cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, and ginger. Here are a few of her recipe ideas for using fresh pumpkin:
Pumpkin Cheesecake with a Pecan Crust and Caramel Sauce: This is so easy, says King. Just make a traditional cheesecake, sub some of the regular sugar with brown sugar, add cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, a pinch of ginger, and your freshly made pumpkin puree.
For a fun fall breakfast or brunch, bake fresh Pumpkin Crumb Cake Topped with Brown Sugar.
On the savory side of things, fresh pumpkin is so versatile that you can literally replace any winter squash with it. King suggests subbing pumpkin for butternut squash or acorn squash in your favorite winter recipe.
Inspired? Read on for pumpkin recipes from the Rodale Recipe Finder. Whether you cook your own pumpkin or use the canned variety for speed and convenience, these pumpkin-based treats are sure to be a hit.