Enjoy the Rich, Earthy Flavor of Pumpkin!
As Halloween approaches, pumpkins perk up every doorstep. A staple for both trick-or-treating fun and cozy Thanksgiving dinners, pumpkins truly celebrate the fall season. While they make a fun holiday decoration, pumpkins are too delicious to relegate exclusively to our front porches or pies. A diet staple in America for centuries before the arrival of European settlers, pumpkins have a rich flavor that tastes great in stews, soups, and baked goods. Boasting loads of vitamin A, potassium, and fiber, pumpkins are proof that good things often come in attractive packages.
Select the Perfect Pumpkin
When choosing a pumpkin, look for a firm fruit with a deep orange color. (Although a pumpkin is botanically a fruit, and in fact is the state fruit of New Hampshire, in the culinary world it's generally considered to be a vegetable.) Test for ripeness by pressing the pumpkin's skin with your fingernail--if it's ripe your nail shouldn't leave a mark. When picking out a pumpkin to eat, bigger isn't better. Choose small, heavy pumpkins, which tend to have more flesh and a richer flavor than their large, decorative cousins.
Store Your Squash
According to the University of Missouri Extension Office, mature pumpkins can be stored whole for several months in a dry, well-ventilated spot around 50°F; or 55 °F with humidity levels from 60-75%. Take care not to bruise or otherwise damage the skin of pumpkins you hope to store, because this can lead to decay. If you'd like to enjoy the flavor of pumpkin next spring, try freezing, canning, or drying pumpkin flesh.
Handling and Cooking Pumpkins
When you're ready to cook this fall treat, you have a few options. For the best flavor, baking is the way to go. Small pumpkins can be baked whole, just be sure to make a few incisions in the skin to allow steam to escape during cooking. Large pumpkins should be halved before baking. Put the halves facedown on an oiled oven tray or cookie sheet and bake at 325° F until soft, usually an hour or more.
Once baked, peel off the pumpkin's outer skin and scoop out the seeds (which you can save and roast for a healthy, protein-rich snack). The pieces of baked pumpkin can be thrown into soups and stews, or puréed and used in baked goods. This purée freezes well, too, so save time by cooking a few pumpkins at once--you'll be glad you did when you're enjoying pumpkin chocolate chip cookies on a February afternoon!
Pumpkins can also be cooked on the stovetop or in the microwave if you're in a rush. Simply cut the fruit into quarters, removing the stem, and cook in a few inches of water until the flesh is soft enough to remove with a spoon.
Pumpkin's Not Just for Pies
Of course Thanksgiving dinner wouldn't be complete without a pumpkin pie, but there's no need to wait until November to eat pumpkin. Enjoy its fall flavor on the grill, with a little garlic, rosemary, and olive oil. Add an unexpected (but surprisingly complementary) flavor to a chili by throwing in a cup or two of cubed pumpkin. Combine pureed pumpkin and grated Romano cheese as a stuffing for homemade ravioli. Pumpkin flesh also makes a delicious and satisfying fall stew, which, when paired with hearty bread, is the perfect dinner for a cool autumn evening.
However you choose to prepare the palate-pleasing pumpkin, enjoy!