Alright, so you it is a little on the early side to start talking about Jack-O-Lanterns and advanced carving techniques? You won’t find any arguments from me, but it’s never too early to talk about ways to make life more delicious! Pumpkins are an often overlooked member of the collection of fall and winter squash which comprise such an iconic aspect of seasonal eating this time of year. The fruit of the pumpkin is an abundant source of antioxidants, vitamins and micronutrients – and relatively low in calories. Pumpkin seeds are an excellent way to increase your intake of mono-unsaturated fats, protein and dietary fibre without any cholesterol. All of this is to say that pumpkins are a healthy and delicious food that we ought to show a little love beyond carving and lighting each year on Halloween.
Varieties for Eating
Pumpkins are versatile and delicious with literally dozens of different varieties – each best suited to different uses and treatments. I was surprised to learn that there are actually varieties of pumpkin, including Lakotas and Red Kuris which are delicious when eaten raw or served in salads. These varieties are celebrated for both their sweetness and tender non-fibrous texture which doesn’t require extended cooking to be made edible. Most of the pumpkins we see in shops and markets sport traditional orange skins, but like other varieties of squash, pumpkins come in a variety of colours and textures, including varieties like Jarrahdales (white skin), Cow (similar tone to butternut squash) and Pink Lady (with a pinkish green exterior). All three of these varieties yield meat which is well-suited to soups, stews or purees and are celebrated for their rich smooth texture when cooked. Finally, we come to varieties which tend to showcase somewhat less sweet and more starchy flavour, including Delicata, Caribbean and Peanut varieties of Pumpkin. These varieties are excellent substitutes for potato or sweet potato and strut their best stuff when baked, fried or stuffed.
Meat of the Issue
The meet of the pumpkin can be handled, processed and cooked in a variety of different ways, but share much in common with both other varieties of squash as well as potatoes and sweet potatoes. For starters, all the varieties of pumpkin I’ve cooked with have non-edible skins which are quite thick. If you’re planning on mashing the pumpkin, or serving it in bite sized pieces, you should remove the skin either before or after cooking. That said, if you’re planning on baking “wedges” of pumpkin or using the whole pumpkin itself as a vessel for soups, stews or stuffing, you’ll want to leave the pumpkin in tact to maintain its structural integrity. The meat of the pumpkin can be boiled, mashed, fried or baked depending on the final use, but in all cases should be cooked until its soft throughout. Typically, the meat of the pumpkin combines quite nicely with bold and flavourful fall spices and seasonings – a few of my favourites are coriander, ground anise and all-spice. I am also a big fan of using pumpkin in a variety of curry inspired dishes as I find it’s rich sweetness also helps to offset spice and heat.
Seeds + Oils
We all know that seeds and nuts are amongst the healthiest foods out there, yet many of us fail to eat enough of these vitamin and nutrient packed super foods. If you’re going to make the effort to clean and process a pumpkin – either for cooking or as a decoration on your step around Halloween – there is absolutely no excuse not to make full use of all the healthy stuff you scoop out of them! Processing the seeds and drying them is incredibly easy – simply rinse the fleshy tissue away from the seeds as best you can and spread them evenly across a baking sheet. Place them in a preheated 300 degree F oven and let them roast slowly for 45 minutes to an hour. Take them out and allow them to cool before placing them in a sealed container. Besides making a healthy and delicious seasonal treat packed with all the good stuff you want from a good slow-burn snack, pumpkin seeds are (as you’ll see from the perfect fall pumpkin recipes below) and terrific addition to soups, salads and braised dishes.
[ Recipes ]
Goat Cheese + Fall Greens w/ Maple-Pumpkin Vinaigrette: RECIPE
Wine Match: Sauvignon Blanc from California or Verdejo from Spain
White Bean + Sausage Stew Served in Pumpkins: RECIPE
Wine Match: Gewurztraminer from Alsace, Germany or New Zealand
Fresh Pumpkin + Pancetta Risotto: RECIPE
Wine Match: White Rioja or White Burgundy with a bit of bottle age
Pumpkin-Sage Baked Ziti: RECIPE
Wine Match: Cru Beaujolais (Gamay) or Lambrusco from Northern Italy
Slow Braised Beef, Pumpkin + Thyme: RECIPE
Wine Match: Southern Rhone reds like Gigondas or Chateauneuf-du-Pape