What pumpkin can do for you
If you are planning to use fresh pumpkin for baking, says Lona Sandon, a nutritionist at UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, choose smaller, blemish- and bruise-free pumpkins. Smaller pumpkins have softer and tastier meat. To maintain freshness, pumpkins should be stored in a cool, dry place until ready to use. And don’t forget to oven roast the seeds. They are great as a low-carb snack or salad topping.
When you're ready to transform your pumpkin into a fabulous fall dish, you should begin by washing it under running water and patting dry with a clean paper towel or dish towel. Then cut the pumpkin into large chunks and scoop out all the seeds (save these for roasting) and stringy bits. There are several methods you can use to cook these pumpkin chunks. Choose whichever method works best for you:
1. Oven roasting: Heat oven to 350 degrees. Place pumpkin chunks skin side up in a glass baking dish. Add 1/4 inch of water and bake, uncovered, for 45-60 minutes until flesh is tender, checking occasionally to add more water, if needed.
2. Microwave: Place pumpkin chunks skin side up in a glass baking dish. Add 1/4 inch of water and cover pan with plastic wrap or wax paper, and vent. Microwave on high for 10 minutes (or about 5 minutes per pound) or until pumpkin is tender.
3. Steaming: Bring water to boil in a saucepan that fits a steamer. Place pumpkin chunks in steamer container and place over pan. Reduce heat to medium and simmer, covered, for about 15 minutes or until pumpkin is tender.
4. Slow Cooker: Place pumpkin chunks skin side down in a slow cooker. Cook on low for 3 to 3 1/2 hours, or until pumpkin is tender.
Once you've cooked the pumpkin chunks, you can make an easy pumpkin puree by scooping out all the pulp and discarding the skin. Puree the pulp in a blender or food processor (or stir by hand) until it's smooth. If you prefer, you can keep the puree slightly chunky. The puree will stay fresh in a refrigerator for up to a week, or can be stored in the freezer in an airtight container for six months.
To make use of the seeds you scooped out of the pumpkin, rinse them in a colander and pat dry. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Place the seeds in a single layer on a baking sheet and sprinkle with a little vegetable oil and your seasoning of choice. Bake for 10 minutes, stir, and return to oven. Bake for another 10-15 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes until the seeds are golden and crispy. Enjoy!
(Cooking tips courtesy of Chef Kristina Vanni, author of the blog "The Daily Dish," www.betterrecipes.com/blogs/daily-dish.)
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