There’s no doubt that autumn is popular due to the changing colors outdoors, swanky sweaters, hot drinks, and definitely the food. And if there was ever an official fall mascot that spanned all of the season’s diversity, the pumpkin would surely be in the running.
If you only give pumpkin the time of day when you need a Halloween decoration or Thanksgiving cake, you are missing out on a super healthy, super delicious pumpkin with a 5,000 year history of cultivation in North America.
And no insult to those who believe that a pumpkin ̵
Here are the best ways to use a pumpkin, sweet or savory, seeds and everything.
First, let’s give the pumpkin props for its health benefits.
Pumpkin – a fruit that disguises itself as a vegetable – contains many nutrients like vitamin K, vitamin C, vitamin E, potassium, copper, manganese, iron, folic acid, niacin, thiamine and the antioxidant beta-carotene, which your body can convert to Vitamin A.
And because pumpkin is high in fiber, eating it can help you lower your blood sugar, cultivate healthy gut bacteria, maintain bone density, and keep things regular.
While canned pumpkins are pretty handy when you’re whipping up a cake, fresh is the best way to cook it. Pumpkin seeds charge you up with protein, magnesium, zinc and potassium. The nutrients it contains have many potential health benefits, including improving your mood and reducing the risk of bladder stones and an enlarged prostate.
These giant orange pumpkins that you see on the farm are best used for jack o lanterns. To eat, look for these types of pumpkin that have superior taste:
- Long Island Cheese Pumpkin. This giant pumpkin is shaped like a giant wheel of cheese and has dense, sweet pulp and pale ocher skin.
- New England pie pumpkin. This classic orange-skinned strain weighs 4 to 6 pounds and is great for all those cute fall treats.
- Cinderella gourd. This massive, bright orange pumpkin is a French heirloom. While it’s often used for decorating, chefs also enjoy the mild-tasting meat for pumpkin soups.
- Queensland Blue Pumpkin. This dusty blue pumpkin is native to Australia and weighs up to 20 pounds. Its dry meat holds up well when fried.
- Kabocha pumpkin. This pumpkin is sometimes called a Japanese pumpkin and looks like an immature pumpkin with blotchy green skin. It works well with tempura and other fried dishes, as well as soups, purees, and toasted pumpkin dishes.
When it comes to pumpkins, bigger isn’t always better. Large globes can be watery or thread-shaped after cooking. And orange isn’t the only color that these big autumn fruits come in. So what do you look for when choosing a pumpkin?
Pumpkins don’t have to be cosmetically perfect to be considered “good”. They should be a uniform color regardless of whether the skin is cream, greenish-blue, or orange. Look for bruises, furrows, or soft spots on the skin that could indicate rot, which will shorten the life of your pumpkin.
Fresh pumpkins have shiny skin. A dull skin indicates that they sat in camp (which is fine, FWIW – pumpkins keep at room temperature for months).
While pumpkin pie may be the recipe for everyone, this is really just the tip of the pumpkin food iceberg. Here are some other dishes that really take advantage of this gemstone’s value.
Roasted pumpkin seeds
Chop off the top of your pumpkin, scoop out the seeds with a spoon, and rinse them in water. Let the seeds dry so they roast in the oven rather than steam.
Throw the seeds in oil along with the flavor of your choice (I usually use smoked paprika, garlic powder and salt, or a sweet version with cinnamon sugar) and bake at 325 degrees until toasted. It is tempting to raise the stove, but the seeds can burn easily.
Kabocha pumpkin and kale salad
Make a fall / winter kale salad with toasted kabocha squash, sunflower seeds, pomegranate arils, and a creamy maple Dijon dressing.
Cheese pumpkin soup with sage and apple
Long Island Cheese Pumpkin, Carrot, Sage, and Apple: This soup is fall in a bowl. If you can’t find a cheese squash, a Cinderella squash or kabocha squash is an ideal substitute for this pumpkin soup from Long Island Chef Jeff Schwarz.
This Afghan caramelized squash dish served with garlic yogurt and spicy tomato sauce is one of those recipes that seems complex, but actually isn’t. It’s also incredibly tasty. Joy Huang’s Helmand Kaddo copycat recipe tastes * almost * as good as the real thing. It’s vegetarian too (some versions have beef in the tomato sauce).
Pumpkin, sage and green lasagna
Layers of kale, cheese, and pumpkin provide the richness of pumpkin lasagna without the noodle. If you can’t find a Kent pumpkin, use Queensland Blue or Kabocha – you want a firmer meat and low water content pumpkin for this dish.
Fried cheese pumpkin
This cheese-filled pumpkin is as easy to prepare as it is pleasant to eat. Use a medium-sized sugar or pie pumpkin and serve with crusty bread to scoop up the cheesy pumpkin.
Stew pumpkin yellow curry
Minimalist Baker’s Stew Pumpkin Curry is the kind of creamy, bland, plant-based staple that I usually repeat in the middle of winter.
Browned Butter Pumpkin Pie
Permission to use the canned food for these from Brooklyn’s Four & Twenty Blackbirds pie shop, though you can make your own pie or squash puree. The browned butter gives the classic Christmas cake a nutty complexity.
Pumpkin bread with maple glaze
This moist pumpkin bread with crunchy crumbles and maple icing from Butternut Bakery Blog is a mix of everything that is right with pumpkin muffins and pumpkin bread.
As you prepare for fall and experiment with seasonal preparations, keep pumpkin high on your versatility list.
Lindsey Danis is a Hudson Valley-based writer who covers food, travel, and LGBTQ stories. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter.