The pumpkin is a curious vegetable. In some areas it is treated seriously and grown specifically for the kitchen; in others it is planted for fun, to see who can grow the biggest. For most of us, it is grown to be carved and hollowed out for a Halloween lantern or mask. Whether for decorative or culinary use, pumpkins are definitely worth your time.
Originally from South America, where they have been part of the staple diet for centuries, pumpkins are extremely popular in North America. They are, in fact, winter squashes but are frequently separated from the other members of the family simply on ground of their size and use. The distinctive name of pumpkin is usually given to the large, round, sometimes orange winter squash.
Some people consider pumpkins rather too large for consumption, but not all need to be big. The smaller ones have been bred for taste and there is plenty of flesh on them for most purposes. Similarly, not all are the color of Halloween or show-bench pumpkins. ‘Crown Prince’ for example, has a bluish-grey skin. The dense flesh, a deep old-gold color, tastes delicious when cooked.
The pumpkin has been used as everything from animal feed to a cure for snake bites, says the University of Illinois Extension. Although the majority of pumpkins in the United States end up as jack-o’-lanterns or in Thanksgiving pie, you can use cooked pumpkin in any recipe calling for winter squash, including soups, stews, stuffed pasta dishes, baked goods, risotto, braises and sautes. Pumpkin is low in fat, cholesterol-free, high in fiber and a source of antioxidants. It is also rich in a variety of vitamins and minerals.
A 1-cup serving of cooked, mashed pumpkin contains an excellent source of Vitamin A, Iron, Copper and Riboflavin.
To absorb the most possible vitamin A, eat pumpkin with a source of healthy fat; for example, try roasting cubed pumpkin with a light drizzle of olive oil.
The iron in pumpkins is nonheme, a form that isn’t easily absorbed by the body. To increase absorption, eat pumpkin with a source of vitamin C, such as with tomatoes or carrots in a stew. Riboflavin is water-soluble, so the concentration of the vitamin will decrease if pumpkin is exposed to water. Instead of boiling pumpkin, try steaming it for less water contact.