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The proof is in the pumpkin: Vegetable is versatile and extremely nutritious

October 02, 2012|By CHRIS COPLEY | chrisc@herald-mail.com
  • Using a medium-sized pumpkin as a serving bowl is an eye-catching way to serve pumpkin as a savory dish for dinner or a holiday meal.
By Colleen Helf/Staff Photographer


Editor's note: This is part of an occasional series of stories on enticing picky eaters to eat vegetables. The series explores ways to highlight vegetables' flavor and appearance as a way to work around the resistance some kids have to eating vegetables.



Doesn't everybody like pumpkin pie? Why include pumpkin in a series of stories about picky eaters?

There's much more to pumpkin than pie.

Pumpkin is a member of the squash family, and, like other squashes, it can be made savory or sweet. Add bacon, salt and onion, and you have your main course. Add sugar, cinnamon and milk, and you have dessert.

Both flavor profiles are good.

Of course, pumpkin is terrifically nutritious. According to NutritionData.self.com, pumpkin is low in saturated fat and very low in cholesterol and sodium. It is also a good source of vitamin E, thiamin, niacin, vitamin B6, folate, iron, magnesium and phosphorus, and a very good source of dietary fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C, riboflavin, potassium, copper and manganese.

Pumpkin's glycemic index — a measure of a food's impact on blood sugar levels — is 75, which is higher than average. But pumpkin is low in carbohydrates, and its actual impact on blood sugar is lower than average.



Learn to roast

But picky eaters don't care about nutrition. They want foods that look good and taste good.

Pumpkins have a natural visual appeal. They're friendly, round and orange, and we see boatloads of them every year at Halloween. In fact, serving a whole, roasted pumpkin with a jack-o'-lantern face might entice some picky eaters.

Roasting is one way to bring out the flavor of pumpkin. Roasting is easy to do, but must be started a couple hours before you need it. Roast the pumpkin a day before, then store it in the fridge overnight, and you're set.

Typically, pumpkins are cut in half before roasting. Here's how to do it:

 Buy a medium-sized pumpkin from a farmers market or road-side stand.

 Rinse dirt or debris from the outside.

 With a sharp knife, carefully cut the pumpkin in half from top to bottom. If you want to serve it whole

 Scrape out seeds and strings with a strong spoon.

 Lay pumpkin halves face down in a baking dish. Pour in 1/4 inch water.

 Bake in 375-degree oven for 50 to 60 minutes, until fork tender.

 Scoop out flesh and store until needed.

This same cooking technique will work for other hard, winter squashes, such as butternut, acorn, or Hubbard squashes. Roasting brings a nutty flavor to the flesh.

The roasted pumpkin can be used for sweet or savory dishes.



Improvising on a theme

Here's a key tool for cooking for picky eaters — learn to improvise. Part of that is using flavors that go well together.

We usually make pumpkin pie from scratch. We like our pies zesty, so we reduce the amount of sugar called for and add more cinnamon, nutmeg, clove and coriander. Sometimes we bump up the vanilla. Sometimes we add rum flavoring.

But we don't make savory pumpkins very often. So when I ran across several recipes for stuffed pumpkin, I was intrigued. One French farm recipe used bread, pork and cheese. Another recipe added brussels sprouts. I was happy to improvise and explore.

Because my family avoids bread and gluten, I substituted brown rice for the French bread. I added more bacon, garlic and onion than the recipe called for. I made two versions — a more savory recipe with cheese, bacon, heavy cream, thyme and oregano; the other with sausage, bacon and extra nutmeg. Both turned out well.


Pumpkin stuffed with bacon and cheese


1 medium pumpkin, about 3 pounds

Salt and freshly ground pepper

2 cups cooked rice (see cook's note)

2 to 4 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped

4 strips bacon, cooked until crisp, drained and chopped (see cook's note)

1 onion, chopped

1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme

1/3 cup heavy cream

1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg, to taste



Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Oil a baking sheet or line sheet with parchment.

Using a very sturdy knife, carefully cut a cap in the top of the pumpkin, just like you would for a jack-o'-lantern, with the knife at a 45 degree angle. Cut off a large-enough top to make it easy to work inside the pumpkin.

With a strong spoon, scrape away the seeds and strings from the cap and from inside the pumpkin, and discard. Avoid puncturing the bottom of the pumpkin, or it will leak fluids during cooking.

Season the inside of the pumpkin with salt and pepper, and put it on baking sheet or in pot.

Toss the rice, garlic, bacon, onion and thyme together in a bowl. Season with salt and pepper to taste and firmly pack the mix into the raw pumpkin.

Stir cream with nutmeg and pour it into the pumpkin.

Put the cap in place and bake the pumpkin for about 90 minutes or until everything inside the pumpkin is bubbling and the flesh of the pumpkin is fork tender.

Carefully bring the hot pumpkin to the table or transfer it to a platter and serve. To serve, either cut wedges and lay on plates or spoon out portions of the filling along with generous amounts of pumpkin meat. Do not eat the skin.

Serves 4 to 6.

Cook's notes: Instead of rice, use about 1/4 pound stale bread, sliced and cut into 1/2-inch chunks. Instead of — or in addition to — bacon, use 1 cup spicy sausage. Another tasty ingredient is cheese — add 1/4 pound cheese, such as Gruyere or cheddar, cut into 1/2-inch cubes when mixing ingredients with the rice.

— Adapted by Chris Copley from Dorie Greenspan's "Around My French Table"



Pumpkin dip

2 packs cream cheese, softened

29-ounce can pumpkin pie filling



Blend cream cheese and pumpkin in blender or standing mixer.

Serve with gingersnaps for dipping.

— Courtesy of June Stolins, a member of TOPS Md. No. 308



Pumpkin ginger soup


3 cups pureed, roasted pumpkin (see cook's note)

2 cups chicken stock

3/4 cup milk

1/4 teaspoon sugar, to taste

2 tablespoons lemon juice, fresh squeezed

1 tablespoon ginger, minced, to taste

Salt and fresh-ground pepper, to taste



In a blender or food processor, combine pumpkin, chicken stock and milk and puree on high.

Mix in sugar, lemon juice and ginger.

Put mixture in a pot, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes.

Serves 4 to 6.

Cook's note: If you prefer not to roast a pumpkin, use a 29-ounce can pumpkin puree.
— Adapted by Chris Copley from Elana Amsterdam's website, www.elanaspantry.com



Pumpkin cheese cake

1 package cream cheese, softened

1 cup pumpkin puree

1/2 cup white sugar

1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice

16-ounce tub whipped topping, divided

1 graham cracker pie crust



Beat together cream cheese, pumpkin, sugar and spice. Gently fold in 2 1/2 cups whipped topping.

Pour into pie crust. Chill.

Serve with remaining whipped topping on the side.

—Courtesy of Virginia Rodgers, a member of TOPS Md. No. 308

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