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Pumpkin - a colorful, nutritious fall vegetable

November 14, 2007|By LYNN LITTLE

The most popular use of pumpkins might be for jack-o'-lanterns and fall decorations, but there is much more to a pumpkin than its looks. When eaten, pumpkin provides vitamin A, potassium, protein and vitamin C. Pumpkin is also low in calories.

When choosing a pumpkin for cooking, choose a small pumpkin that weighs between 2 and 6 pounds. Look for one that has one or two inches of stem left. Pumpkins with shorter stems decay more quickly. Choose a pumpkin that has a rich orange color with skin that cannot be easily broken or scratched by your fingernail.

When selecting a pumpkin for cooking, "pie pumpkin" or "sweet pumpkin" is a good choice, but the jack-o'-lantern variety also will work just fine. For every pound of whole pumpkin, you can expect to get one cup of pumpkin pure.

Before cutting, wash the outer surface of the pumpkin thoroughly with cool tap water to remove any surface dirt that could be transferred to the inside of the pumpkin during cutting. Be certain you are working on a clean surface.

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Start by removing the stem with a sharp knife. Cut the pumpkin in half and scoop out the seeds and scrape the stringy part away. Wash the seeds in warm water and spread them out to dry. To roast the seeds, spray pan with oil and spread seeds thinly on the pan. Salt, or any seasoning that appeals to you (cheesy popcorn or Cajun seasoning) can be sprinkled on. Bake in a 250-degree oven 15 to 20 minutes.

For pumpkin pure, you can prepare the pumpkin in one of three ways:

· To bake it, place the pumpkin (stringy part and seeds removed), cut side down on a cookie sheet and bake at 350 degrees until fork tender or about an hour.

· To microwave it, place the cut side of half of the pumpkin (stringy part and seeds removed) on a microwave-safe plate and microwave on high for 15 minutes or until fork tender.

· To boil, cut the pumpkin into large chunks (stringy part and seeds removed) and rinse in cold water. Place the chunks in a large pot in about an inch of water. Cover the pot and boil for 20 to 30 minutes until tender.

Once the pumpkin is cooked, cool and peel the pumpkin. Using a food processor, blender, ricer or a potato masher, make the puree.

Pumpkin puree can be used in any recipe in which you use purchased pumpkin. Pumpkin puree can be frozen at 0 degrees for up to one year.

If you run out of time and energy before you start the puree process, pumpkins can be stored for several months if kept at 50 to 55 degrees in a dry airy place.

Lynn Little is a family and consumer sciences educator with University of Maryland Cooperative Extension in Washington County.




Quick and Easy Creamy Pumpkin Soup



Although this soup is rich and creamy, there is actually no cream in it. The thick body of the soup comes from the pumpkin puree and evaporated skim milk.

· 2 cups finely chopped onions

· 2 green onions, sliced thinly, tops included

· 1/2 cup finely chopped celery

· 1 green chili pepper, chopped

· 1/2 cup canola or vegetable oil

· 3 (14 1/2-ounce) cans chicken broth or 6 cups homemade chicken stock

· 2 cups pumpkin puree

· 1 bay leaf

· 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin

· 1 cup undiluted, evaporated skim milk

· Salt and pepper to taste (canned chicken broth may contain added salt. Taste the finished soup before adding salt, as additional salt might not be needed.)

· Parmesan cheese and fresh chopped parsley

In a 6-quart saucepan, saut onions, green onions, celery and chili pepper in oil. Cook until onions begin to look translucent.

Add broth, pumpkin, bay leaf and cumin. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Remove bay leaf. Add evaporated milk and cook over low heat for 5 minutes. Do not boil. Taste and adjust seasoning, if necessary. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, if desired.

Transfer hot soup to pumpkin tureen. Garnish with grated Parmesan cheese and chopped parsley. Serve hot. Serves 6 to 8.




Pumpkin Cheese Risotto



Risotto is a classic Italian rice dish. Although it requires constant watching and stirring, it is well worth the time and effort. Do not rinse the rice before cooking it. The starch that coats each grain is important for making creamy risotto. Serve as soon as possible after cooking to prevent gumminess.

· 7 to 8 cups chicken stock, canned or homemade

· 1 tablespoon butter or margarine

· 1 small onion, finely chopped

· 2 cups Arborio rice (see cook's note)

· 1 1/2 cups cooked pumpkin, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

· 6 fresh sage leaves, minced

· Salt and pepper to taste

· 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

· 4 sage leaves for garnish

Cook's note: Arborio rice, the short-grained variety best suited for risotto, is available at Italian and specialty food stores. If you cannot find it, California pearl rice is a good substitute.

In a saucepan, heat stock to a simmer and hold at a very slow simmer.

In a large heavy-bottomed saucepan next to stock, heat butter and add onion. Cook over medium heat until translucent. Add rice, stir, and add 1 1/2 cups hot stock.

Stir until the rice has absorbed most of the liquid, add another 1 1/2 cups hot stock. Repeat a third time, adding pumpkin and sage. Repeat with another 1 1/2 cups hot stock and add salt and pepper to taste.

Continue to stir until most of the stock has been absorbed by the rice. After about 25 to 30 minutes, taste. Adjust seasoning if necessary. Rice should be firm but tender (al dente).

Leave risotto a little runny before adding the cheese so it will have a creamy, not stiff, texture.

Ladle into soup plates and garnish with a sage leaf.

Makes 4 servings as a main course or 6 appetizer servings.

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