When crisp fall weather hits, I look forward to yellow and orange foliage, hot steaming mugs of apple cider, and some of my favorite autumn foods like pumpkin. Pumpkins belong to the family of vegetables known as Cucurbitaceae that also include cucumbers and melons. Called pepon by the Greek or “large melon”, the pumpkin is no ordinary gourd — especially when it comes to health.
Cooked pumpkin is a creamy satisfying superfood, bursting with anti-oxidants that reside in its rich orange pigments. One cup has about 75 calories and more than 100% of your daily needs for beta-carotene — a multifaceted compound that has many health benefits for your skin, eyes, liver — just to name a few (did you know it’s currently being studied for the prevention of Lou Gehrig’s disease?).
Beta-carotene is sometimes called a “pro-vitamin”, which means that the body changes it into vitamin A. Pumpkin is also high in manganese, vitamin B6, potassium, vitamin K and folate and delivers some omega-3 fats.
17 Ways to Prep Your Pumpkin
1. Try layering fresh sheets of pasta in between canned pumpkin and part-skim ricotta filling. Top with grated Parmesan or Romano cheese and sprinkle on a handful of walnuts.
2. Or make your own easy pumpkin ravioli.
3. Blend canned pure pumpkin with peanut butter for a unique savory dip to serve with vegetable sticks or whole grain crackers.
4. Make a fall-inspired smoothie. Mix 1/2 cup canned pumpkin, 1/2 cup milk or water, 1/2 cup plain yogurt, 4 ice cubes along with a tablespoon of brown sugar, honey, or maple syrup. For added flavor, add in 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon, pumpkin pie spice, or a little freshly grated ginger root. Two tablespoons chopped nuts, bittersweet chocolate chips, or 1/2 of a ripe banana are fun ways to shake it up.
4. Or try replacing butternut squash with pumpkin in this tempting risotto recipe.
5. Instead of using applesauce to lower fat content in desserts like cakes and brownies, just substitute the same amount of canned pumpkin.
6. Add some nutrition to your grilled cheese sandwich. Spread 2 tablespoons of canned pumpkin before you top with cheese. Then place it on your stove top grill, skillet, or toast in your toaster oven.
7. Try layering pumpkin with your favorite non-fat yogurt or mixing it into low-fat, vanilla frozen yogurt and refreezing.
8. Make an easy baked pumpkin casserole. Combine one 15-ounce can of pumpkin with a few tablespoons of maple syrup and two tablespoons softened, unsalted butter. Sprinkle with 2 tablespoons of chopped walnuts. Bake in a preheated 350°F oven for about 20 minutes until golden and serve immediately.
9. Swap 1/2 cup of milk for canned pumpkin into your instant pudding mix.
10. Pumpkin with chocolate will blow your mind, try this Pumpkin Bread Pudding, a sumptuous dessert for your holiday table.
11. Blend 1/4 cup softened low-fat cream cheese with 1/4 cup canned pumpkin for a new way to stuff your celery.
12. Make these festive soft pumpkin cookies for your next family get-together or take them to your next party as a hostess gift.
13. Or make a sweet dip for fresh fall fruits — like apples, pears, and figs. Mix 1/4 cup softened low-fat cream cheese with 1/4 cup canned pumpkin, stir in a tablespoon of maple syrup or honey, and add your favorite spice, cinnamon, allspice, or pumpkin pie spice.
14. Mix two tablespoons each of canned pumpkin and peanut butter, along with a few teaspoons of low-sodium soy sauce for a fast peanut noodle sauce that you can toss with vegetables and noodles.
15. Make a more nutritious (and faster) swap for mashed potatoes. Place 1 cup of canned or roasted pumpkin in a small saucepan along with a few tablespoons of grated Parmesan and 1 tablespoon of butter. Warm over low heat for 2 to 3 minutes, then serve immediately.
16. Stir a few tablespoons of canned pumpkin into your hot oats in the morning and top with raisins and a pinch of brown sugar and spice — like cinnamon, ground cardamom, or nutmeg.
17. Pumpkins and pomegranate put on a flashy show when presented on the same platter. Try roasting wedges of fresh pumpkin with sage and sprinkle with pomegranate arils for a lovely Thanksgiving day side dish.
Fast Pumpkin Soup
2 tablespoons unsalted butter or olive oil
½ small red onion or 2 shallots, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 15-ounce can 100% pumpkin
1 cup chicken, beef, or vegetable broth
Non-stick cooking spray
Handful of fresh sage leaves, any kind
¼ cup pumpkin seeds
Place a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the butter or olive oil. Add the onions and garlic. Reduce the heat to medium-low, and cook 4 to 5 minutes until the onions begin to brown.
Add the pumpkin and broth and cook 5 to 6 minutes more until the soup is thick. Coat a small skillet with cooking spray. Place over high heat and add the sage and pumpkin seeds. Cook 1 to 2 minutes, stirring often until the sage is crisp. Sprinkle over soup and serve immediately.
Nutritional Stats Per Serving (Serving size: 1 1/2 cup): 158 calories, 6 g protein, 12 g carbohydrates, 10g fat (4 g saturated), 17 mg cholesterol, 2g fiber, 223 mg sodium
Cooking Pumpkin from Scratch
If you’re an adventuresome cook, you can cook your pumpkin from scratch (but honestly, the canned pumpkin tasted great and is just as healthy). Keep in mind, if you cook it yourself, the texture will be vastly different than the thick, canned version. Strain it in a fine-mesh strainer over the sink for 1 hour or more if you plan on using it for pies or other baking projects.
My favorite method for cooking pumpkin is roasting. To roast, preheat the oven to 400°F. For a large pumpkin, coat two baking sheets with cooking spray or line with parchment paper. Cut the pumpkins into 5-inch wide chunks and scrape out the seeds and any loose membrane clinging to the inside of the pumpkin flesh. Place the pumpkin chunks, skin side down on the sheets. Drizzle with a few teaspoons of olive oil and bake 45 to 50 minutes or until fork-tender. Cool 30 minutes or until the pumpkin is cool to the touch. Use a spoon and scoop out the flesh. Transfer to an air-tight container and refrigerate or use immediately in your favorite recipe.
Since pumpkin seeds are very high in the hard-to-find mineral zinc (that happens to be critical for taste and smell functions in the body), they are of interest to the medical community. Zinc is currently being studied for its ability to stop cancer cell growth in animal tests and researchers are beginning to investigate it in connection with the fight against prostate cancer. Learn more about pumpkin seeds.