THE HUMBLE PUMPKIN: A FRUIT FOR ALL SEASONS

. . .  It's not just for Thanksgiving anymore!

There is perhaps no more iconic a symbol of the Harvest Season than the ubiquitous Pumpkin. While largely a fruit that has its origins in Central America, the symbolism has become part of this season across many Continents (saving, of course, Antarctica). Almost every culture has adapted at least one member of the family Curcurbitae for a variety of culinary uses.

It has been discovered that varieties of curcurbits existed domestically as far back as almost 7,000 b.c. in Mexico, used chiefly as food, though the dried fruit and vegetative parts also had many uses as tools, vessels of various kinds, and a strong fiber was even fashioned to be woven into netting and other items.  Since most varieties of this family had good keeping qualities and traveled well, they were soon spread around the globe primarily as sustenance for sailors and other seagoing peoples on their long journeys.

These were older, heirloom varieties (open-pollinated).  Many have been lost to cultivation along the way because modern growers have hybridized them to "improve" the qualities they desired:  longer storage, consistent yields, uniformity in size and shape, and more reliable germination rates.  And they did, indeed, achieve these traits but, at the usual trade-off, which in this case is TASTE.

It is a romantic notion to think of the iconic Halloween 'Jack-o-Lantern' as being the chief ingredient in your Thanksgiving pie, but this is rarely the case. Most often winter squashes and easily produced smaller smooth skinned pumpkins are grown as the mass-produced canned food we are used to seeing; not the traditional 'front porch' variety. The breadth of pumpkin family varieties suitable for cooking and eating is astounding and each geographical area has its own unique favorite, some even secret family hybrids, many not even resembling what we typically think of as a pumpkin: greys, light blues, deep reds, striped, warty skinned...

Despite these outward differences however, most have the same or similar satisfying complex nutty flavor, not remotely like any other of our other available fruit selections. Today's foodies and celebrity chefs most often rely upon the Butternut Squash as their go-to "pumpkin" for everyday culinary use. Readily available in most groceries and farmers' markets, they have that mild, well-rounded flavor we know so well, in addition to a fairly respectable nutritional profile. One cup of pureed Pumpkin yields over a gram of protein, over a half a gram of fiber, as well as 200% of the daily requirement for vitamin A as well as some Vitamin C, Iron, B6, potassium and magnesium. One cup of Butternut Squash yields a little more protein, almost 6 times as much fiber (2.8 g), as well as 300% of Vitamin A, more Vitamin C, as well as the other nutrients in the pumpkin. 

Indigenous peoples of Mexico and Central America most certainly owe a substantial portion of their health and survival to the lowly Pumpkin. As its use moved into North America it became known, by Paleontologists at first, as "one of the three sisters", the other two being corn and beans because of the way they were planted by Native Americans. In one of the earliest known examples of "companion planting", soil was mounded around the base of the sprouting corn and into this mound was later sown beans. The beans used the corn stalks as a trellis system on which to climb and in turn, being legumes, supplied Nitrogen, fixed from the atmosphere, to the roots of the corn and later-planted pumpkin. The broad spreading leaves of the  pumpkin vines shaded the roots of all three protecting them from intense summer heat and drought, and limiting the light available for germination of annual weeds.

Pumpkin, as food, undoubtedly saved the lives of many early English settlers, among them the Pilgrims, in the early years following their migration. Their excellent keeping qualities fed them through harsh winters when their own imported crops failed. Not only were they quite palatable but they contained many important nutrient properties. The carotenoid that contributes the bright orange color is an important anti-oxidant that protects against free-radicals and is converted to Vitamin A. Taken together these properties are thought to protect against heart disease risk, some cancers, and may even promote anti-aging.

OK.  No more waiting.  At last, the feature you most look forward to:  RECIPES.  In this Issue, the "Tricks AND Treats" for all of our holiday revelers.

To Start Your Day . . . . 

Pumpkin Pie Overnight Oats

--- Courtesy "Amy's Healthy Baking"

INGREDIENTS

1/2 Cup Greek-style Yoghurt                                                                                                                                                                            1/2 Cup Pumpkin Puree (canned Organic or Homemade)                                                                                                                          1/4 Cup "Old-fashioned" Oats                                                                                                                                                                           1/4 tsp. Cinnamon or any desired "pumpkin pie spices"                                                                                                                              1Tbsp. Sweetener of your choice, or to taste.

Combine all ingredients in a Mason jar or any jar with a tight fitting lid.  Mix thoroughly, close tightly, and refrigerate overnight.  Serve cold and enjoy for a quick breakfast or anytime!

                                                                                                    

Skinny Pumpkin Pie Smoothie

¼ c pumpkin purée (NOT pumpkin pie filling)

½ c + 2 tbsp. nonfat or light soy milk

1 tsp. sweetener of your choice

¼ tsp. ground cinnamon

1/16 tsp. ground nutmeg

1/16 tsp. ground ginger

1 ½ c ice cubes

 

  1. Add everything except the ice to a blender, and pulse until combined. Add the ice, and blend until smooth. Serve immediately.

Notes: Any milk (1%, 2%, whole, almond, rice, etc.) may be used.

And for the Soup Course . . . .

Curried Pumpkin Soup

--- Courtesy Epicurious

INGREDIENTS

 

  • 2 medium onions, finely chopped (2 cups)
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons minced peeled fresh ginger
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon dried hot red pepper flakes
  • 2 (15-oz) cans solid-pack pumpkin (3 1/2 cups; not pie filling)
  • 4 cups water
  • 1 1/2 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth (12 fl oz)
  • 1 (14-oz) can unsweetened coconut milk (not low-fat)
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons brown mustard seeds
  • 8 fresh curry leaves

PREPARATION:

Cook onions in butter in a wide 6-quart heavy pot over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, 3 to 5 minutes. Add garlic and ginger and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Add cumin, coriander, and cardamom and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Stir in salt, red pepper flakes, pumpkin, water, broth, and coconut milk and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, 30 minutes. Purée soup in batches in a blender until smooth (use caution when blending hot liquids), transferring to a large bowl, and return soup to pot. Keep soup warm over low heat.

Heat oil in a small heavy skillet over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking, then cook mustard seeds until they begin to pop, about 15 seconds. Add curry leaves and cook 5 seconds, then pour mixture into pumpkin soup. Stir until combined well and season soup with salt. Soup can be thinned with additional water.

 

The Pumpkin Tureen

--- Courtesy Mollie Katzen, "Enchanted Broccoli Forest"

Minutes to prepare~1 1/2 to 2 hours to bake                                                                                                                                                                  Preheat oven to 350                                                                                                                                                                                                                 4 servings                

You dont need a kettle for this soup. The soup gets baked right inside the pumpkin, and the whole tureen can be brought to the table as an edible centerpiece.

 1 sincere, 3-4# pumpkin                                 1 13 oz. can low fat evaporated milk          1 Tbsp. butter        2 slices rye bread (w/ caraway seeds)

1/4 cup finely, finely minced onion                   a few dashes of each:    salt, pepper, cayenne, nutmeg

1 tsp. prepared horseradish (or more)                                         

1 tsp. prepared mustard (or more)                   

1/2 cup (packed) grated Swiss cheese

 

1)  Prepare the pumpkin as though you were going to make a Jack-O-Lantern. Stop at the point where you would normally make the face. (For those of you who have never made a Jack-O-Lantern: Cut off top. Scoop out seeds & stringiness.)

2). Rub the interior of said pumpkin with 1 Tbsp. soft butter.

3). Add all remaining ingredients (cut the bread into little cubes 1st), replace the top (you

     may wish to put tin foil under it, in case it shrinks a little), place Pumpkin Tureen

     on a tray & place in oven.

4). Bake until the pumpkin becomes tender (about 2 hours). Tenderness test = Remove

     the lid, reach in & stick a fork gently into one of the sides. You should feel scant

     resistance on the pumpkin’s part.

 

For Entrees . . .

Fridge Forage Roast with Pumpkin

Not a recipe in the conventional sense, this is a quick healthy, kitchen-sink meal that can be thrown together easily whenever your fridge or pantry has accumulated those odds and ends of vegetables or fruits too few to make a meal from individually.  I’ve always had an abhorrence of tossing out any produce that hasn’t spoiled so this is a great way to clean the fridge and use your culinary creativity at the same time.

INGREDIENTS:

Any produce that your imagined taste buds tell you will go together well.  Rarely have I found that any one item will be a real stinker so as to ruin the whole when it is one among five to ten other items.  Particularly pleasing combinations are vegetables from the same or similar families.  For instance, root vegetables; or the tomato - pepper - eggplant family.  But do be more adventurous and throw together whatever is at hand.  Just remember that it’s always a good idea to include what I call the standard “marrying” ingredients:  any and all members of the onion family in abundance, a good, fruity, extra virgin olive oil, sea salt, and your favorite herbs.  These latter are best limited to no more than one to three types.  If using dried, be sure to rub them in your palms vigorously to re-awaken their essential oils.  And always, ground peppercorns (black, red, pink, or white) are a must and any spicy pepper you may fancy.

Since our subject is pumpkin, any variety, or any winter squash (Hubbard, Butternut, Acorn, etc.) you must first blanch, bake, or roast them until they are almost fork tender, but still al dente.  Whichever method you choose, peel them, cut into 1 inch chunks, then season them liberally, or salt the water in the case of boiling.  When the tip of a sharp knife can just easily pierce the chunks but still offer some resistance, they are ready for use in the roast mixture.  You can use any amount but as pumpkin is featured here, it’s best to make them approximately 1/3 of the entire volume of ingredients.

HIGH HEAT ROASTING METHOD

Pre-heat your oven to 450 to 500 degrees, if possible.  (Important that the oven be very clean!)

Cut all veggies into approximately equal sized chunks; roughly 1 - 1.5 inches is adequate.  If using cherry or grape tomatoes, always a fantastic addition, leave them whole.  When using root vegetables (carrots, turnips, potatoes) it’s a good idea to pre-cook them as for the pumpkin above.  In your largest bowl or even a soup pot or Dutch oven, if making a large recipe, toss all with enough olive oil (or any good oil to your liking -- experiment) to coat all; ½ cup is usually sufficient, if not generous.  Add seasonings and herbs and toss again.  Spread all on a parchment lined half sheet pan and place in pre-heated oven.  Roast until the edges of the vegetables start to develop a nice, dark char.  Usually about 30 minutes is sufficient but you can take it to what ever degree of color (or burn) suits your family’s taste.

For this recipe, or any using firm vegetables such as potatoes or winter squash, lower the oven temperature to 375 or 400 degrees immediately after placing tray in oven.  If roasting just soft veggies such as peppers, onions, tomatoes, leave the temperature at 450 degrees and roasting will take less time.

When you decide your roast is finished, remove from oven and place back in mixing bowl until serving so they don’t cool too quickly.  At this point you may add any chopped fresh herbs or condiments you like:  parsley, chives, capers, pickles, etc.

SERVING

This versatile dish may be served as is right out of the oven, or embellished any way that your imagination or taste buds suggest.  You may dress the veggies with your favorite sauce or vinaigrette.  Serve it over rices, quinoa, or any other grain.  It’s fabulous dressed with some warmed cream and Parmigiana Reggiano and served over polenta.  You can add it to your favorite cooked pasta, as you would a primavera, adding additional olive oil, warmed stock and pasta cooking water as necessary to moisten.  It makes a nice luncheon dish baked in a frittata.

You may also take it to any international style that you desire.  If Asian, before roasting toss with extra garlic, grated fresh ginger, toasted sesame oil, soy sauce, and rice wine; add tofu if desired and serve over rice noodles.  To take the Thai route, just add some bird chilies to taste, chopped lemon grass, lime leaves, and “holy” basil or other pungent Thai basil like cinnamon, and garnish with chopped scallions and fish sauce.  For Indian:  toasted cumin seeds, turmeric, cardamom, grated coconut and coconut milk.  Moroccan:  add preserved lemons, allspice, cinnamon, cayenne, chopped apricots and/or dates, and serve over couscous.  The message is clear:  this is a simple, quick, and healthy dish that can take you to a different foreign port every fridge clean out day.  Enjoy!

And . . .

Couscous with Pumpkin Sauce

--- Courtesy Debra Stark, "Eat Well, Be Happy"

Serves 6

 1 cup couscous                                                                    2 # sweet potatoes or pumpkin,                                                                                                                            diced

1 cup boiling water                                                              2 Tbsp. basil

1/2 tsp. each salt & pepper                                                 3/4 tsp. nutmeg

1/2 cup olive oil                                                                    1/4 tsp. thyme

1 pkg tempeh bacon, diced                                                 1/4 cup pumpkin seeds

1 red onion, minced                                                              1 cup water

4 cloves garlic, minced                                                         pumpkin seeds to garnish

pinch red pepper

Pour boiling water over couscous, mix with salt & pepper, and let sit until water is absorbed, about 15 minutes. Crumble grain with fingers or fluff with fork.

In a skillet, gently warm olive oil. Sauté tempeh bacon, onion, garlic, pepper and sweet potato. Stir almost constantly for 5 minutes, until sweet potato starts to soften. Add herbs, spices and a cup water. Lower heat, cover and simmer 15 minutes, or until sweet potato is very soft and you have a nice sauce. Toss couscous with sauce. Garnish with pumpkin seeds. Lightly toast the pumpkin seeds in a cast iron pan.


et finalement, le dessert . . .

Pumpkin Maple Cake

--- Courtesy Debra Stark, "Eat Well, Be Happy"

INGREDIENTS:

Makes a bundt or 9 x 12-inch cake               

Bake at 350

 1 1/2 cups cubed sweet potatoes, steamed in jackets                                      

3 3/4 whole wheat pastry or spelt flour (try rice or millet)

4 eggs                                                                                                                                                1 Tbsp. baking powder

1 1/2 cups maple syrup                                                                                                                  2 1/2 tsp. cinnamon

1 1/2 cups Sucanat                                                                                                                          1/2 tsp. cloves

1 cup coconut oil plus 1/2 cup applesauce                                                                                 1 tsp. baking soda

1 Tbsp. vanilla extract                                                                                                                    1/2 tsp. salt

1 tsp. lemon juice

PREPARATION:

Preheat oven to 350. Grease pan.

Using the steel blade of a food processor, blend sweet potatoes. Add eggs, sweeteners, oil, vanilla extract and lemon juice. Blend with quick on/off turns.

Combine dry ingredients in a large bowl. Add sweet potato batter and mix using rubber spatula.

Spoon batter into pan & place in oven. Bake for about 45 minutes or until a knife inserted comes out clean. Remove pan from oven & place on cooling rack. When cool, turn cake out of pan.

If desired this cake can be frosted with a sweet potato frosting. Simply blend 2 cups steamed sweet potatoes with 1# of soft or silken tofu or cream cheese and sweeten to taste with maple syrup.


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