How to Cook with Fresh Pumpkin

Pumpkin Pasta

When most people think about cooking or baking with pumpkin, they probably think about opening a can. However, there is another alternative — using fresh pumpkin. It may appear on the surface that you are going through a lot of extra work to end up with the same product as you find inside those cans. But if you look closely at a comparison of the sugar, fat, and sodium (salt) content between canned and fresh, you”ll see that isn’t the case.

According to the USDA Agricultural Research Service Nutrient Data Laboratory, one cup of canned pumpkin without salt has 8.09 grams of sugar, 12 milligrams of sodium, and 0.69 grams of fat. One cup of raw pumpkin, on the other hand, has 1.58 grams of sugar, 1 milligram of sodium, and 0.12 grams of fat. And if you’re watching your family’s intake of these items because of a chronic health condition, the difference is important. Even if you aren’t concerned about a health issue, the taste of fresh pumpkin is superior to that of canned.

Using fresh pumpkin isn’t as difficult as you may think. Once you have cut the whole pumpkin in half and scooped out all of the seeds and strings, the University of Illinois Extension recommends you use one of the following three methods to prepare it to be used in cooking and baking:

  • Boiling: Cut the pumpkin halves into large chunks, and rinse them in cold water. In a large pot with a lid, add a cup of water and the pumpkin chunks. Cover the pot and boil for 20 to 30 minutes. After the allotted time, poke the chunks with a fork to see if they are tender, or they require more cooking time. Drain the cooked pumpkin in a colander. You can reserve the liquid to use as a base for soup. Place the pumpkin pieces on a plate and allow them to cool before peeling. Keep in mind that you can also steam the pumpkin chunks in a pressure cooker for about 10-12 minutes.
  • Baking: Take the two haves of the pumpkin and rinse them under cold water. Place each half cut-side down, on a large cookie sheet. Bake at 350°F for one hour. At the end of the allotted time, poke the chunks with a fork to see if they are tender, or they require more baking time. If they are tender, remove the pumpkin halves from the oven, and allow them to cool before peeling.
  • Microwave: Take the two halves of the pumpkin, and place each one cut-side down, on a microwave-safe plate or tray. Microwave on high for 15 minutes. At the end of the allotted time, poke the halves with a fork to see if they are tender, or they require more cooking time. If necessary, continue cooking at 1-2 minute intervals until fork tender. Remove the cooked pumpkin halves from the microwave, and allow them to cool before peeling.

When the pumpkin is cooked, peel it from the outer shell using a small, sharp knife. Cut the pieces so that they are small enough to fit into a blender, or food processor, and puree until smooth. You can also use a food mill, ricer, or potato masher to create the puree.

Once you have your puree, here are some recipes you can try. The first one is from Jennifer Odegaard, who   got the recipe from her dorm house mom while in college at Principia College in Elsah, Illinois.  Jen makes the bread every year when the leaves change and the air cools. She moved to Carmel, California the summer after getting married, and the warm bread brings back memories of home and her family in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin:

Pumpkin Bread

3 cups of sugar
4 eggs
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
2/3 cup of water
1 cup of oil
3 1/2 cups of flour
2 tsp baking soda
16 oz of pumpkin

Bake at 350° F for one hour. Recipe yields two loaves.

The next recipe is provided by Sueann Huntzinger, who along with her husband Doug, owns the company Exotic Wooden Designs, which makes handcrafted wooden jewelry:

Pumpkin Cake With Cream Cheese Frosting

2 cups of sugar
4 eggs
1 cup of salad oil
2 cups of pumpkin
2 cups of flour
2 tsp of cinnamon
2 tsp of baking soda
1 stick of butter
1 box of powdered sugar
8 oz of softened cream cheese
2 tsp of vanilla
1 cup of chopped nuts to sprinkle on top (optional)

Combine all of the batter ingredients in large bowl. Pour the mixture into a greased and floured 13 x 9 inch baking pan. Bake in 350 degree oven for 35 minutes. To prepare the icing, blend all ingredients in mixer and spread on top of cooled cake. Sprinkle nuts on top if desired.

Soups are always a wonderful go-to meal in autumn. The following soup recipe was contributed by Gina Walters, owner of Avacado Creations, part of the Etsy community of buyers and sellers of handmade goods:

Corn and Pumpkin Soup

12 Bacon strips, diced
1 medium onion, chopped
1 celery rib, chopped
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 can (14 1/2 oz.) chicken broth
6 cups mashed, cooked pumpkin
2 cans (8 3/4 oz. each) cream-style corn
2 cups half-and-half cream
1 tablespoon minced, fresh parsley (or dried)
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
Sour cream (optional)

In a large saucepan, cook bacon over medium heat until crisp. Remove to paper towels to drain, but reserve 2 tablespoons of the drippings. In the drippings, sauté onion and celery until tender. Stir in flour until blended. Gradually stir in broth. Bring to a boil; cook and stir for 2 minutes or until slightly thickened. Reduce heat to medium. Stir in the pumpkin, corn, cream, parsley, salt, pepper and bacon. Cook and stir until heated through. Garnish with sour cream if desired. Yield: 8 servings (2 1/2 quarts).

The last recipe was provided by Aileen McCabe-Maucher, a licensed psychotherapist and registered nurse. She and her husband Hugo, a professional chef, have co-authored the book, The Inner Peace Diet (Penguin, 2008), which outlines their healthy eating and lifestyle plan:

Hugo’s Pumpkin Pie Smoothie

1 cup pumpkin , cooked and mashed
1 cup of soy milk or skim milk
1 tablespoon organic honey
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup nonfat yogurt
1 small ripe banana
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
handful of ice cubes

Place all ingredients in blender. Puree on high speed until mixture is thoroughly blended. Serve immediately. Yields two servings.

As we get closer to our yearly celebration of all of the abundance nature has to offer, why not try using a natural ingredient like raw pumpkin in your cooking and baking? Even though it takes a few extra steps, using fresh pumpkin will add a more intense flavor to all of your favorite recipes.

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