Cooking with pumpkin
Hope you had a great week cooking. Its starting to get colder and Halloween is almost upon us so this week's star ingredient is the pumpkin...
This week the shelves of the supermarkets, farmers markets and grocery stores will be packed with huge bright orange pumpkins and so what better time to talk about what a great ingredient this is to cook with. Not only is it a versatile plant but it also has such a sweetness that adults and kids alike love it.
Pumpkins are part of a family called winter squash and its many close relatives include butternut squash, acornsquash and Kabocha. Most of the larger pumpkins you see around you this week are too stringy to be used for cooking so for cooking purposes, buy the smaller pumpkins called Sugar Pumpkins or Jack be Littles.
Pumpkins, as well as other winter squash, will be in season from now till the end of the winter but their best time is October and November. They are actually part of the same family as melons and cucumbers.. who would have thought!!
When buying pumpkins, look for ones that are firm, heavy and have dull (not glossy or soft) rinds. Pumpkins store well for 3-4 weeks if stored in a cool (but not cold) dark place and in a air tight container. Once cut open, eat within a few days its Vitamin C content will start to reduce upon exposure to air.
Always clean pumpkins well under cold running water. If you are going to steam the vegetables, I'd generally advise you peel them first, if you are going to bake you don't necessarily have to. The general advice is to segment the pumpkin first, scooping out all the seeds and then peeling the skin with a potato peeler.
The best way of cooking is to steam the pumpkins (for about 10 mins) or bake them in a little oil. Its always good to cut the pumpkins into 1 inch cubes and go from there (serve as cubes or make into a mash). One of my favourite way of cooking pumpkins is to simply cover in a little peanut oil, chili and pepper and roast in an over - pure delicious!! Another great way of cooking is to slow bake whole by piercing the top with a sharp knife and putting into a low oven (around 170 oc) for 50-60 mins. If you are going to eat the skins of the pumpkin, which is possible after slow baking, then I'd advise you buy organic. If you are simply going to peel and cook, I wouldn't be too worried either way.
Pumpkins are good in terms of healthy eating: A great source of Vitamin A (just like the carrot) and a good source of manganese and Vitamin C. They are a good source of fibre. However, as well as these nutrients, pumpkins are also a great source of phytonutrients. I've mentioned these great nutrients before and the wonderful thing about them is that they don't just give fruits and vegetables their bright range of colours but they also have many health promoting properties for people! Pumpkins contain a good source of carotenoids which are great at mitigating oxidative stress in the body, i.e. they are potent antioxidants. As a result of this range of nutrients they have been linked to improving heart health and interestingly have been linked to improved lung health as well.
Pumpkin also contain the most concentrated form of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) of all vegetables. ALA is known for its anti-inflammatory properties making it even better for heart health.
Spicy Pumpkin Soup
This is a great winter warming healthy eating soup and is just so tasty. If you are going to have it as a meal, its great as a lunch at work or when you get home late from work and don't have much time, then always add a little protein to the meal, I like it with hummus on brown bread or you could have a sliced boiled egg on some brown toast. Remember that when you sprinkle a little herbs on top of soup, you are not just decorating it or adding flavour, you are also adding even more beneficial antioxidants to the dish
|2 onions, chopped
3 cloves of garlic
1 kg pumpkin (peeled and chopped)
2 teaspoons cumin
2 teaspoons coriander
4 cardamon pods (bruised slightly)
1 teaspoon of chili powder
Salt and pepper to taste
1 1/2 pints of boiling water
|Heat the cumin and coriander in a large saucepan and remove as they start to smell and grind.
Chop or grate the garlic and leave to one side.
Heat a little water in the saucepan and add the onions.
Stir well, cover and let sweat for 10 mins.
Bruise cardamon pods by bashing slightly so they open a little.
Add pumpkin, ground cumin and coriander, cardamon, chili and garlic stir well.
Cover and leave for around 10 mins, steaming away.
Add the boiling water and bring back to the boil.
Cover and let simmer for 15 mins. Try to remove the cardamon pods before blending.
Remove from the pan and liquidise with a hand blender or a liquidiser.
This is a great soup to freeze. Freeze in individual portions in plastic containers.
Or it will keep for 2/3 days in the fridge.
Pumpkin and Rocket Gnocchi
I just love these tasty gnocchi from the cookbook 'Soup and Beyond' and I think they are great with just a sprinkling of extra virgin olive oil and some grated parmesan. One little tip is take out a little extra rocket and nibble it while you are cooking these. The bitter flavour of the rocket helps to stimulate the digestive system,which assist with healthy eating, and get the body ready for eating, thus helping you to digest your meal.
|A small sized pumpkin (about 700g)
110g plain flour (I use spelt)
50g Parmesan cheese, grated
50g rocket leaves, chopped
50g basil leaves, chopped
salt and freshly ground pepper
|Peel and chop the pumpkin into 1 inch cubes and steam for about 10 mins
Drain very well and then mash until smooth.
Sieve in the flour and beat well.
Add in the rocket, basil and Parmesan.
Beat in the egg and turn out onto a floured surface.
Knead mixture briefly and then divide into 4.
Roll each piece with your hands into a 2.5 cm cylinder.
Cut into 2.5cm dumplings.
Drop the dumplings into boiling salted water and when they rise to the surface they are cooked.