THE BLOG

How To Enjoy Pumpkins All Year Round

10/01/2014 04:51 EDT | Updated 12/01/2014 05:59 EST

When you think of pumpkins, you probably envision jack-o-lanterns or holiday pies! You're not alone. However, pumpkins are more than just fun Halloween decorations or fall desserts. Let's start with nutrition. Pumpkin is high in fibre, vitamin A, and antioxidant compounds called carotenoids, which give pumpkin its deep orange color. Pumpkin seeds, also known as pepitas (which I feature in my upcoming book, The Need for Seeds) are packed full of nutrition, including good fats, antioxidants, and vitamin E. They also contain many minerals, including zinc, selenium and iron. Pumpkin, with all its nutrients, promotes digestive, eye, immune and skin health.

The pumpkin has too much to offer to eat it only as a festive food! What I like about pumpkin is it lends itself to both sweet and savory recipes. So how do you get started with it? There are many varieties of pumpkins for baking and cooking. The jack-o-lantern pumpkins are perfect to carve, but are not the best variety for eating. Ask your local farmer or grocer for sugar pie, baby bear (good for seeds too) and cheese pumpkins, which are all varieties used for cooking and baking. The kakai variety is known for its hull-less seeds, but not its cooking qualities. Once you pick your pumpkin, it can be cooked in any number of ways: baked, boiled, steamed, microwaved, or grilled.

The basic baking method is simple. Wash the pumpkin, then cut it in half and discard the stem section and stringy pulp. Save the seeds to dry and roast. Preheat the oven to 325°F. Then cut the halves into smaller pieces. In a shallow baking dish, place the pieces peel side up and cover with foil. Bake for about one hour or until tender. The baking time will vary depending on the size of the pieces. Let it cool, and then either cut off the peel or scoop out the flesh. Canned pumpkin puree is nutritious and may be more convenient than tackling a whole pumpkin. If you choose that option (which I often do!), make sure you purchase pumpkin puree and not pumpkin pie filling.

Let's celebrate the changing seasons with autumn's classic, versatile ingredient beyond the pie. Here are my favorite ways to eat pumpkin year round!

Appetizers

Add pumpkin to appetizers? You bet! A favorite appetizer of mine is hummus. Simply add one cup of pumpkin puree to your hummus recipe and blend well in a food processor. Top with a few roasted pumpkin seeds, and voila, you have pumpkin hummus! Serve with toasted whole wheat pitas for a delicious, healthy appetizer that works as a weekend snack, too. Roasting pumpkin seeds is straight forward with a drizzle of vegetable oil and a dash of seasoning. Set your oven to 300°F and bake on a sheet for about 15 minutes or until golden brown.

Breads and Muffins

Adding pumpkin puree to both breads and muffins will punch up the nutrition; give a wonderful orange-caramel color while reducing the amount of fat needed in the recipe. I love this olive oil pumpkin bread recipe by Ellie Krieger because it uses both the pumpkin and the seeds for an extra dose of goodness. As you experiment with pumpkin, try adding it to your favorite bran muffin recipe. When you add one cup of pumpkin puree to the recipe, you can usually cut the fat by half and still enjoy moist, scrumptious muffins.

Entrées

When I ask people what ingredients they use when making pasta, pumpkin doesn't immediately come to mind. However, there are a couple of good options here. You can spice up pumpkin puree with nutmeg and cloves for a not-so-typical filling for ravioli. For convenience during the week, I use the fresh pasta sheets for ravioli. Another option for pasta is swapping the go-to tomato sauce with a creamy pumpkin sauce. Take your typical cream sauce ingredients and add between ½ to 1 cup of pumpkin puree, sautéed garlic and onions, and a dash of allspice. And if pasta isn't on the menu, then cooked, cubed pumpkin is an easy addition to stews, chilies and curries.

Enjoy this iconic food of the season and then capture some of these ideas to continue the nutritious and delicious, sweet and savory flavors year round!