Pumpkins usually bring to mind holidays — jack-o'-lanterns at Halloween or pies at Thanksgiving. For some, they may even conjure up images of Cinderella's fairy-tale carriage, transformed from a garden-variety gourd. While your average pumpkin can't give you a lift to the ball, it can improve your health (through a bit of natural magic) and appeal to your taste buds as well.
Free of fat, cholesterol and sodium, pumpkins are rich in carotenoids, the pigment that gives them their orange color. Carotenoids help neutralize free radicals, ailing molecules that attack and damage cell membranes. Pumpkins are also saturated in lutein and zeaxanthin, antioxidants that can help prevent cataracts and blindness, as well as a plethora of more common nutrients such as iron and zinc.
In the kitchen
For your Thanksgiving feast, try using pumpkins in sweets other than pies — such as pudding, custard and cookies. Or go savory with a pumpkin soup. Roasted pumpkin seeds can be added to vegetables and salads, and ground seeds to burgers. Pie pumpkins, or baking pumpkins, work best for cooking purposes. Smaller and juicer, they contain more meat and juice than the larger carving pumpkins. Don't like the taste? Try adding a small amount of orange juice. And stock up — pumpkins can last three months in the refrigerator, as compared to just one month when stored at room temperature.
Although most pumpkins are harvested by the end of October, they're still available at some farms and markets in November. Chesterfield Berry Farm Market ( 20800 Hull Street Road, 739-3831 ) offers a wide selection, including red-wooded, white, pie, mini and carving pumpkins.
Pumpkin Seed Brittle
Contributed by Brian Munford of Patina Grill
- 2 cups of pumpkin seeds
- 1 cup of sugar
- 2 teaspoons of salt
- 1 teaspoon of chili powder
- 1/2 teaspoon of cayenne pepper
Combine all ingredients in a pan. Heat the mixture until the sugar darkens, the seeds pop and the mix begins to smell almost burnt. Spread it out to cool.
Contributed by Brian Munford, chef/owner of Patina Grill (3416 Lauderdale Drive, 360-8217), this risotto recipe makes enough for a crowd.
- 8 cups of pumpkin, pulsed in a food processor
- 4 ribs of celery, diced fine
- 2 large onions, diced fine
- 2 tablespoons of garlic, chopped
- 2 boxes of Arborio rice, 1-kilo size
- 1 stick (1/4 pound) of butter
- 1 tablespoon of salt
- 1 teaspoon of white pepper
- 15 cups of light chicken stock
Sauté the onion, celery and garlic in the butter until they're translucent, then add the pumpkin. Sauté the pumpkin until it is tender, then add the rice, 2 cups of stock, salt and pepper, and stir to combine thoroughly. Reduce the heat to a simmer. As the rice absorbs the stock, add more stock 2 cups at a time, stirring constantly as the stock is absorbed, until all the stock is used. Cool on a sheet pan, stirring occasionally to speed the cooling. Serves 24.