Pumpkin Pasta Perfect for Fall

Pump­kin pasta

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 

You can reach at .

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