Pumpkins, together with butternut, spaghetti and acorn squash, are varieties of winter squash. They have hard inedible outer skins, with soft orange flesh inside which is mildly sweet in flavour and a seed containing hollow in the middle.
They are excellent source of carotenoids such as beta-carotene and lutein (which is what makes pumpkins their orange colour - the richer the colour, the richer the concentration). These are phyto-nutrients that help protect against free-radical damage and are important for skin, heart and eye health as well as offering protection against many cancers and type II diabetes. They are also full of many of the B vitamins and vitamin C, potassium and dietary fibre.
Pumpkin seeds are also highly nutritious, they are fantastic sources of a wide variety of essential fatty acids, vitamins (vitamin A and B vitamins) and minerals (especially zinc, magnesium and iron), all of which contribute to immunity, heart health and bone health. They also contain phytosterols which are responsible for lowering harmful LDL cholesterol levels and play an important role in prostate health. And that’s not all, they also have been shown to have anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant and anti-viral properties. No wonder I make sure my husband and I have a handful of these wonder seeds every day!
Pumpkins can be bought from your local greengrocer or supermarket especially at this time of year – look out for other varieties as well as the usual Halloween carving pumpkins as these will have more flesh inside. Whilst pumpkin seeds can be bought in packets from health food shops and larger supermarkets. Or you can prepare your own by washing those collected from the pumpkin and leaving them out to dry in a warm place for a few days. Or try roasting them – see recipe below. Store seeds in an airtight glass jar in a cool place.
Preparing and cooking
If the main aim is to produce a Halloween pumpkin, you can remove the insides to carve the pumpkin by slicing off the top and using a large spoon to dig out the flesh and seeds.
However, if your aim is to cook the pumpkin rather than carve it, then chop it into quarters and cut out the seeds and then the flesh.
Cut the flesh into small cubes and steam or boil in a little water for about 10 minutes until tender, though be careful not to overcook it or it will be really watery. However, my favourite way of cooking pumpkin (and butternut squash etc) is to roast it, this gives it a lovely rich and smoky flavour. Place the large (5cm) pumpkin cubes on a baking tray and drizzle over some olive oil and season with salt and pepper and some herbs (sage, thyme, rosemary and /or mixed herbs are great), then cook in an oven at 180 C for about 30 mins, until soft.
Whichever way you decide, you can then either have it as is (seasoned with salt and pepper and a little bit of good quality olive oil or butter), added to your favourite vegetable soup, risottos, or pasta/rice dishes, mashed with a bit of milk and butter (either on it’s own or with mashed potatoes – a great trick to get more veg into vege-phobic kids!), or pureed to use as a weaning food for babies (just like butternut squash).
Roasted pumpkin and tomato soup – Serves 4.
1 ½ lb pumpkin (or winter squash)
1 lb tomatoes (ripe, quartered)
6 cloves garlic
1 sprig fresh rosemary
2 sprigs thyme
1 red onion (peeled and cut into 8 wedges)
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 pints vegetable or chicken stock
- Prepare the pumpkin by removing skin and seeds, and chopping the flesh into large (5cm) cubes.
- Put all ingredients except the stock into a large roasting tin and turn with your hands to coat everything in the oil. Roast uncovered at 200 C/Gas 7 for 35 - 40 minutes until everything is very tender.
- Discard the herb stalks and the garlic skins. Put the rest into a large pan with the stock.
- Use a hand blender to blitz the soup and then bring to the boil and simmer gently for a further 10 minutes.
- Serve with a dollop of cream fraiche and season to taste.
Roasted pumpkin seeds:
These are a great healthy alternative to sugary and fatty snacks.
1. Wash seeds in a colander under running water to remove as much of the pulp as possible, and dry using kitchen paper towels.
2. Put seeds in a large bowl and coat with a couple of glugs of olive oil, season with salt and pepper and whatever herbs and spices etc take your fancy (good ones are: chilli flakes, rosemary, fennel seeds, cumin seeds, soy sauce).
3. Spread the coated seeds on a large baking tray (use baking parchment to avoid sticking) and bake in the oven at 180 C for about 10 minutes or until golden brown.
4. Store in an air-tight glass jar in a cool place.
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