News

Pumpkin flesh, seeds add nutrition to your diet

Friday, October 21, 2011

By HALEY BARBOUR

Fall is in full swing, and pumpkins are ready to be picked at your local farm stands.

The variety that trumps all is the Giant Pumpkin – colossal vegetables that are popular attractions at local fairs and fall festivals. At this year’s Hillsborough County Fair, the largest pumpkin weighed in at 1,173 pounds.

But it’s more likely that you’re looking for a pumpkin to enter in a carving contest or simply decorating your front porch, and you’re advised to act fast, as this year’s crop weathered some extreme conditions.

The early summer drought slowed growth and pressured growers to irrigate their pumpkins. Then, Hurricane Irene dumped inches of rain on the fields, producing mold diseases that cause pumpkins to rot more quickly, pressuring local growers to pick early. So, once you find the pumpkin that’s right for you, buy it before it’s too late.

Whether you’ll be carving your pumpkin in the classic jack-o’-lantern style or using a fancy template to mark out an intricate design, be sure to give some thought to selecting the right pumpkin for the job.

Typically, the Magic Lantern, Wolfe, Gladiator and Big Moose varieties are used for carving, but choose whatever inspires you. Many new varieties, such as The Red Warty Thing and the Cinderella, are attractive for their decorative and cooking qualities.

The Lumina’s ghostly white exterior contrasts with the deep orange interior when carved and lit with a candle. And the small, softball-size Ironsides is the perfect pumpkin for the kids to carry.

Choose a pumpkin that’s firm, but whose shell isn’t too hard to cut with a serrated knife. Tap the pumpkin and listen for a hollow sound. A dense pumpkin is good, but too dense, and the walls will be too thick and block the candlelight, and any carving details may be lost. Also, make sure your pumpkin can balance on its base.

For information about where to go in Greater Nashua for fresh pumpkins and pumpkin picking, visit www.pumpkinpatchesandmore.org/NHpumpkins.php and scroll down to Hillsborough County.

What will you do with your pumpkin the day after Halloween? Consider baking a pumpkin pie or yummy pumpkin soup, as pumpkins are extremely healthy and one of the most nutritious offerings of the fall season.

The bright orange of a pumpkin’s skin and woody flesh is a dead giveaway to its heavy concentration of beta-carotene, which is believed to reduce the risk of certain cancers and help fight heart disease. Pumpkin is also high in fiber, delivering 3-5 grams per serving.

For cooking, choose smaller to medium-size pumpkins, as large pumpkins tend to have a higher moisture content and mild flavor and may disappoint. The Cinderella, the Lumina or any sugar pumpkin will taste wonderful in a pie or pot of soup.

Be sure that your pumpkin is free of blemishes, feels heavy for its size and still has its stem attached. Store your cooking pumpkin in a cool, dry place or your refrigerator.

Pumpkin puree (not pie filling) has the highest concentration of fiber, as the puree is thickened by cooking it down, thereby concentrating the nutritional content.

To make puree for use in soups and baking, place your pumpkin whole on a pie plate and roast at 400 degrees for 60-90 minutes or until a fork pierces the flesh easily.

On smaller pumpkins, the skin is often thin and can be peeled away from the flesh after roasting. Remove the seeds and place the cooked pumpkin in a food processor to puree. If the puree is too wet, strain with a fine mesh strainer or cheesecloth to remove extra water.

Don’t forget about roasting your pumpkin seeds, as they’re also full of antioxidants, high in fiber and protein and easy to prepare. Rinse the seeds and dry with paper towels. Season them with a little olive oil and kosher salt, and cook in a 250-degree oven for about 45 minutes, turning occasionally.

Boost the nutrition of any meal by adding pumpkin. Place a scoop of fresh pumpkin puree on oatmeal and drizzle with maple syrup. Include pumpkin with any fruit pie or any pureed soup for added flavor and health benefits.

And, it’s easy to incorporate shelled pumpkin seeds purchased at the grocery store into your daily diet by substituting them for almonds or adding them to granola, salads or cookies.

PUMPKIN AND WHITE BEAN SOUP

Serves 6-8

1 3- to 4-pound sugar pumpkin

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 medium onion, diced

1 celery stalk, diced

1 carrot, diced

4 cloves garlic, chopped

6-8 cups vegetable or chicken stock

1 teaspoon dried thyme or 2 teaspoons fresh

Pinch of crushed red pepper

1 15-ounce can of cannellini beans, drained and rinsed

¼ cup heavy cream

¼ cup fresh flat leaf parsley, chopped

Kosher salt

Freshly ground pepper

1 cup cooked barley (optional)

¼ cup cilantro, chopped

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cover a baking pan with tinfoil.

Cut the pumpkin in half lengthwise and remove the seeds.

Place the pumpkin halves cut side down on the baking pan. Bake until the pumpkin can be pierced easily with a fork, about 30-40 minutes. When done, remove the skin and discard.

While the pumpkin is roasting, heat the oil, onions, celery, carrot and garlic in a heavy-bottomed soup pot over low heat. Cook covered until the vegetables are soft, about eight to 10 minutes.

When the vegetables are cooked, add the stock, thyme, crushed red pepper, beans and cooked pumpkin. Bring to a simmer and cook for 30 minutes.

Finish the soup by adding the heavy cream and chopped parsley, and season with salt and pepper to taste.

If using the optional cooked barley and cilantro, add just before serving.

This article was written by Haley Barbour based on information provided by the Hollis Agricultural Commission. The mission of the commission is to promote local agriculture. For more information, visit www.hollisagriculture.org.

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