Special to The Sun
OKLA. CITY —
Most of us have a good eye for a pumpkin that might make a good-looking jack-o-lantern. But when it comes to pumpkins for cooking, the same rules simply don’t apply.
“When you’re choosing a pie pumpkin,” advises Amanda Horn, Family and Consumer Science Educator at Oklahoma County OSU Extension Service and registered dietitian, “you need a sweeter pumpkin usually the smaller they are the sweeter and the less watery.”
Also, it is important to look for pie pumpkins with a 1- to 2-inch stem. If the stem is cut down too low, the pumpkin will decay quickly and already may have started to decay when you buy it. Pumpkins that are going to be used for cooking also need to be free of blemishes and soft spots, but shape is unimportant.
“It doesn’t matter how lopsided the pumpkin is,” Horn specifies, “though you do want a pumpkin that’s fairly heavy.”
You can figure that for every pound of raw, untrimmed pumpkin, you’ll get a cup of pumpkin puree. And as far as nutrition is concerned, a cup of pumpkin accounts for over a day’s worth of Vitamin A, is packed with the anti-oxidant beta-carotene and also can add around 400 milligrams of Potassium to a person’s diet.
Pumpkins can be boiled or steamed, baked in the oven or even microwaved. After the pumpkin has been cleaned, Horn suggests boiling it in large chunks with about a cup of water until tender. If you choose to bake, place the pumpkin, cut side down, on a cookie sheet and bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit until tender. Pumpkins in the microwave should be cut in half and placed cut side down on a microwave-safe plate. After cooking on high for 15 minutes, check the pumpkin and continue cooking at 1 to 2 minute intervals until tender.
To puree cooked pumpkin, simply remove the skin and use a food processor, colander or potato masher.
“You can freeze puree to use throughout the holidays,” Horn said. “It freezes really well and can be stored for up to a year. Since 80 percent of pumpkins in the United States are available in October, you can’t always count on getting fresh ones around Thanksgiving.”
Horn emphasizes that pumpkins can be used for more than just pies. “Try adding pumpkin puree to your spaghetti sauce, mashed potatoes, chili or even macaroni and cheese to increase the fiber and vitamin A and reduce sodium.” You also can retain pumpkin seeds to roast for a nutritious snack.
CHECK OUT the Oklahoma County OSU Cooperative Extension Service blog at www.okcountyfcs.wordpress.com for some delicious pumpkin recipes.