The bright-orange color of pumpkin is a dead giveaway that it’s loaded with an important antioxidant: beta-carotene. Beta-carotene is one of the plant carotenoids converted to vitamin A in the body. In the conversion to vitamin A, beta carotene performs many important functions in overall health.
Current research indicates that a diet rich in foods containing beta-carotene might reduce the risk of developing certain types of cancer and offers protection against heart disease and other illnesses, as well as some degenerative aspects of aging.
To select a pumpkin, look for one with 1 to 2 inches of stem left. If the stem is cut down too low, the pumpkin will decay quickly or may be decaying at the time of purchase. Avoid pumpkins with blemishes and soft spots. It should be heavy, although shape is unimportant. A lopsided pumpkin is not necessarily a bad pumpkin. Figure one pound of raw, untrimmed pumpkin for each cup finished pumpkin puree.
To prepare the pumpkin for cooking, spread newspaper over your work surface. Start by carefully removing the stem with a sharp knife. If you are planning to roast the pumpkin seeds, smash or drop the pumpkin on a hard surface to break it open. In any case, remove the stem and scoop out the seeds and scrape away all of the stringy mass. A messy job, but it will pay off.
You can cook the pumpkin by boiling, steaming, roasting or using the microwave to create your own fresh pumpkin puree. Directions for cooking and preparing pumpkin puree are as follows:
Boiling/Steaming Method: Cut the pumpkin into rather large chunks. Rinse in cold water. Place pieces in a large pot with about a cup of water. The water does not need to cover the pumpkin pieces. Cover the pot and boil for 20 to 30 minutes or until tender, or steam for 10 to 12 minutes. Check for doneness by poking with a fork. Drain the cooked pumpkin in a colander. Reserve the liquid to use as a base for soup.
Oven Method: Cut pumpkin in half, scraping away stringy mass and seeds. Rinse under cold water. Place pumpkin, cut side down, on a large cookie sheet. Bake at 350 F for one hour or until fork tender.
Microwave Method: Cut pumpkin in half, place cut side down on a microwave safe plate or tray. Microwave on high for 15 minutes, check for doneness at 1-2 minute intervals until fork tender.
Preparing the Puree: Allow cooked pumpkin to cool. Remove the peel using a small sharp knife and your fingers. Place pumpkin in a food processor and puree or alternately use a food mill, ricer, strainer or potato masher. Freeze and store in one-cup portions in a small freezer bag for up to one year.
There are several delicious varieties of organic canned pumpkin puree available if you don’t have time to process a fresh pumpkin. Either fresh or organic canned puree works beautifully in my recipe for Tortellini With Pumpkin Sage Sauce. Have a happy fall!
Tortellini with Pumpkin Sage Sauce
2 pounds cheese tortellini
1 tablespoon plus 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon olive oil
1 yellow onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
4 sage leaves, minced or 1/2 teaspoon ground sage
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 (15-ounce) can organic pumpkin puree
1 quart vegetable or chicken broth
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon or ground nutmeg
1 cup plain, Italian-flavored or whole-wheat Panko bread crumbs
1/2 cup Parmesan or Monetary Jack cheese, shredded
7 basil leaves, torn, optional
7 sage leaves, fried in olive oil until crisp, optional
1. Preheat oven to 400 F.
2. Place a large pot of salted water over high heat to boil. When water is boiling, add 1 tablespoon of salt and drop in tortellini. Cook according to package directions. Drain cooked tortellini. Set aside.
3. Add 2 tablespoons of the olive oil to a microwave-safe bowl with the onions and garlic. Season with the teaspoon of the salt, the sage, pepper and red pepper flakes. Cook on high for 2 to 3 minutes, until the onions soften.
4. Stir in the pumpkin and broth, remaining 1/2 teaspoon of salt, and cinnamon or nutmeg. Toss 1/2 of pumpkin sauce with tortellini until pasta is well-coated. Transfer to a casserole dish.
5. Spoon the remaining pumpkin sauce on top of the pasta. Sprinkle with Panko breadcrumbs. Sprinkle with remaining teaspoon of olive oil.
6. Cover with cheese and bake until cheese is melted, about 8 to 10 minutes. Sprinkle with the basil leaves and fried sage leaves, if desired. ••
Angela Shelf Medearis is an award-winning children’s author, culinary historian and the author of seven cookbooks. Her new cookbook is “The Kitchen Diva’s Diabetic Cookbook.” Her Web site is www.divapro.com