Fall is officially here (the first day of Autumn was September 22), which means that those lovely orange gourds will be prominently displayed in your local supermarket. A relative of cucumbers and melons, the pumpkin is actually a fruit and not a vegetable (nutrition fun fact of the day: anything with seeds is a fruit). We absolutely love cooking and baking with pumpkin. Pumpkins not only taste great and are nutritional powerhouses, but they can act as a sneaky ingredient in many recipes, swapping out high fat items or giving that extra flavor that makes you say, “yummmmm.”
Pumpkin is a delicious low calorie, highly nutritious food. It’s an excellent source of beta-carotene, an antioxidant that has been associated with decreasing risk for cancer and cardiovascular disease, as well as improving vision. In addition, it’s a good source of blood pressure-reducing potassium and B-vitamins which can increase energy levels and improve exercise recovery.
1 cup pumpkin (mashed) = 49 calories, 12 grams carbs, 3 grams fiber, 2 grams protein, 0 grams fat
How to Cook with Pumpkin
The best pumpkins to cook with are the smaller, sugar or pie pumpkins, as they have a flesh that has more flavor and moisture and are much easier to work with. To coax the most flavor out of the pumpkin, cut it into quarters, scoop out the seeds, and roast it in a 400F oven for approximately 30 minutes, or until the flesh is soft. You can always add some cinnamon, nutmeg, pumpkin pie spice, maple syrup, or agave to the pumpkin before cooking to add another dimension of flavor. Or, to spice it up a bit, add a little chili powder or smoked paprika to the pumpkin. After the pumpkin has cooled, scrape the flesh from the skin and either cube it or mash it. Oven-roasting the pumpkin caramelizes the sugars in the pumpkin and intensifies the flavor.
When we’re using pumpkin in a recipe, such as muffins/bread, pie, pancakes/waffles, ravioli filling, or soup (we know, there’s such a great variety of delicious pumpkin uses), we take the easy way out and go for the canned organic pumpkin. Less work, less clean-up, more fun. Just make sure to buy canned pumpkin and not pumpkin pie filling, which is loaded with sugar and spices that might not work with your recipe.
Because pumpkin has a lot of fiber and moisture, it’s a great swap for oil in a muffin or cake recipe, similar to substituting applesauce. Cubed pumpkin also adds some great flavor in chili. Who would’ve thought?
Don’t just stop at using the pumpkin flesh because once this fall fruit is all cut up, you can roast its seeds. They’re a great source of manganese, magnesium, phosphorous, tryptophan, iron, copper, vitamin K, protein, and zinc. Just oil a baking sheet, toss the seeds with a little sea salt and pepper (or have fun with different spices, like cumin or curry), and bake in a 350F oven for approximately 10 minutes or until lightly golden and crunchy. Keep an eye on them while they’re cooking as they can go from golden to burnt very quickly!
- 1 can (15 oz.) pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling)
- 1 (12 oz.) can evaporated fat-free milk
- 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
- 1/2 cup liquid egg substitute
- 2 tsp. baking powder
- 1 tbs. cornstarch
- zest of 1 orange
- 2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
- 2 tbs. agave, honey or brown sugar
- pinch salt
- Optional toppings: freshly whipped cream, vanilla frozen yogurt, crushed graham crackers
- Preheat oven to 350F.
- Prepare a baking sheet by lining with aluminum foil. Place 10 (8 oz.) ramekins on the baking sheet.
- Place all ingredients in a large bowl and whisk until completely smooth. Pour into ramekins about 3/4 full. Carefully place the baking sheet into the oven and cook for 30 minutes. The filling will rise as it cooks and fall after it comes out and cools.
- Remove from oven and allow to cook for 10 minutes before serving.
- Serve warm with a spoonful of freshly whipped cream or vanilla frozen yogurt and crushed graham crackers on top.