Posted October 20, 2012

When it comes to picking a pumpkin, it’s important to find one of the round, plump variety to make the best looking Jack-o-lantern. But when it comes to using pumpkins for baking and cooking purposes, pretty much any pumpkin will do the job, said Robin Seitz, Onslow County extension agent who handles nutrition and food programming.

“It doesn’t matter what the shape is especially if you’re cooking with it,” Steitz said. “But you want to make sure it’s heavy for its size, because that means it has good water content.”

Although smaller, sweeter pumpkins are usually used for baking and sold in grocery stores and farmer markets, larger pumpkins that are typically used for carving can be cooked with as well.

Most pumpkin dish recipes call for the use of pumpkin puree, which can be bought in the store or made from scratch using a fresh pumpkin.

To make pumpkin puree, first cut the stem off of the pumpkin then smash it against a hard surface like a concrete floor or marble table to break the pumpkin open. If it doesn’t open, cut it in half using a sharp knife and proceed to take out the pumpkin brains — the stringy, wet flesh clinging to the meaty part of the pumpkin, Steitz said.

To turn the pumpkin into puree, the meaty part of the pumpkin can either be cut into chunks and boiled in a pot of water for 20 to 30 minutes or steamed for 10 to 15 minutes. The pumpkin could also be cut in half and placed cut-side-down on a cookie sheet, then baked at 350 degrees for an hour or microwaved on high for 15 minutes.

Once the pumpkin has been cooked and cooled down, peel the pumpkin pieces and place the meat in a food processor or blender to mash it into a puree.

One pound of pumpkin typically yields about one cup of pumpkin puree, which can be used for everything from pumpkin pie to pumpkin soup.

“(Pumpkin) is very versatile,” Steitz said. “You can use it in savory dishes, or sweet dishes.”

Seitz said although pumpkin is usually the main ingredient in any pumpkin dish, pumpkin puree can also be used as a filler or substitution for fat substances like butter or lard when baking.

In addition to its popular taste, pumpkin provides a multitude of nutritional benefits, including high doses of beta carotene — which has anti aging properties — and potassium, as well as good sources of fiber and healthy fats.

Pumpkin is also very low in calories; one cup of pumpkin puree has 50 calories, Steitz said.

Pumpkin seeds, which are usually disposed of during the removal of the pumpkin brains, can be roasted and eaten like sunflower seeds. To roast pumpkin seeds, simply separate them from the rest of the pumpkin brain, clean them thoroughly and bake them in the oven.

A quarter-cup of pumpkin seeds has 126 calories and a rather high fat content, but the fat in the seeds — like all nuts and seeds — comes from heart healthy fats, Steitz said.

“Pumpkin is just really good for you,” she said. “Seeds and flesh — all of it is.”

Steitz said although pumpkins are fun to carve, it’s important to remember that pumpkins are an excellent nutritional source, and the squash shouldn’t be overlooked.

“Most people just think of (pumpkin) as a Jack-o-lantern, but it’s very high in nutritional content,” she said.

Contact Daily News Military Reporter Amanda Wilcox at 910-219-8453 or [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @AWilcox21.

©2012 The Daily News (Jacksonville, N.C.)

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