Pumpkins are for more than just pie

October 13, 1998

Americans often limit their use of pumpkin to pies, breads and desserts calling for pureed pumpkin. This is not the case in other parts of the world. For example, Latin American cooks consider pumpkin a standard vegetable to be used as a side dish and in casseroles. In fact, pumpkin, a member of the squash family, can be substituted for winter squash or sweet potatoes in most recipes. The flesh of the pumpkin is slightly thicker and has a more pronounced flavor than other varieties of winter squash.

--cont. from lifestyle--

Besides being an excellent source of vitamin A, pumpkins and most other squash are low in calories, if added fat and sugar are kept to a minimum. One-half cup of cooked pumpkin or winter squash contains only 40 calories. These hearty vegetables also are excellent sources of dietary fiber and potassium.

When selecting pumpkin for cooking, choose relatively small ones that feel hard, have no soft spots or cracks and seem heavy in relation to their size. Give your pumpkin the fingernail test. If you can make a mark with gentle pressure from your nail, the pumpkin isn't ready for cooking. Store in a cool place until ready to use.


Winter squash is the hard-shelled cousin of the zucchini and summer squash. The large number of varieties available often derive their name from the shape, color or structure of the squash, such as acorn, butternut, buttercup, turban and spaghetti squash. Select whole squash as you do baking pumpkins. Again, choose ones that feel hard, have no soft spots or cracks, and seem heavy for their size.

If your recipe calls for pureed pumpkin or squash, the easiest way to prepare it, other than opening a can, is to cut the pumpkin or squash in half, scoop out the seeds and stringy pulp and cook cut-side down in a conventional or microwave oven until the pulp is tender.

Using the microwave reduces the cooking time from an hour to six to seven minutes per pound. Small pumpkins and acorn squash can be microwaved whole with just a few pierced holes for steam to escape.

After microwaving, let the pumpkin or squash stand five minutes to allow the heat within the squash to equalize before pureeing or serving.

No matter how proud your children are of the pumpkin they choose for their jack-o-lantern, don't give in to the temptation to use the pulp in a recipe after the holiday. The cut surface is an ideal breeding ground for bacteria.

Pies are just one way to use pureed pumpkin and squash. They also are delicious in chilled or hot soups or in place of mashed potatoes in shepherd's pie.

Baked pumpkin or squash halves are attractive and tasty when stuffed with meat, rice and vegetable mixtures. If you are tired of standard vegetable fare, try sauteing or stir-frying strips of fresh pumpkin or squash.

For a different, tasty treat this holiday season, try adding grated raw pumpkin to stuffing for chicken or turkey.

Pumpkin has a mildly distinctive and appealing flavor. For wonderful flavor and beautiful color this fall, give fresh pumpkin first consideration.

Maple-Pumpkin Saute

This is a side dish you can use in place of sweet potatoes.

  • 4 cups peeled, cubed fresh pumpkin, about 1 1/2 pounds
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped Red Delicious apples
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped onion
  • 1/3 cup raisins
  • vegetable cooking spray
  • 3 tablespoons maple syrup
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground ginger

Combine first 4 ingredients in a large, nonstick skillet coated with cooking spray. Cover and cook over medium-high heat 20 minutes or until tender, stirring occasionally. Stir in syrup, salt and ginger.

Serves 4.

Scalloped Pumpkin and Spinach

  • 6 cups, peeled, cubed fresh pumpkin, about 2 pounds
  • vegetable cooking spray
  • 1 1/2 cups thinly sliced onions
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 3/4 cup shredded Swiss Cheese, 3 ounces, divided
  • 10-ounce package frozen, chopped spinach, thawed, drained and squeezed dry

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Cook pumpkin in boiling water 8 minutes or until tender. Drain. In a large, nonstick skillet, coated with vegetable cooking spray, over medium heat, saute onions until golden. Remove from skillet.

Add flour to skillet, gradually add broth, stirring constantly until thick and bubbly, about 6 minutes.

Remove from heat, stir in salt, nutmeg and pepper. Combine pumpkin, onion, 1/4 cup cheese, and spinach.

Spoon into a 6-cup baking dish coated with cooking spray. Pour sauce over pumpkin mixture. Sprinkle with 1/2 cup cheese. Bake at 375 degrees for 30 minutes or until bubbly. Broil 3 minutes or until cheese is golden. Let stand 5 minutes.

Serves 4.

Maryland Cooperative Extension programs are open to all citizens without regard to race, color, sex, disability, age, religion or national origin.

Lynn F. Little is a family and consumer sciences extension educator for Maryland Cooperative Extension, Washington County.

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