As we see the leaves turn to yellow, red and gold, it’s a signal that we should start to make use of the beautiful autumn produce on offer. Some of the best seasonal vegetables to use at the moment are pumpkins, so here’s everything you need to know about cooking with them!
Like other orange fruit and veggies (we’re looking at you, carrot), the pumpkin has high levels of beta carotene. This antioxidant converts into vitamin A, which our bodies use in our eyes, hair and immune system. Pumpkin is also high in potassium and fibre and is believed to have anti-inflammatory properties.
Uses around the world
Pumpkins are associated with the traditional foods made on the American holiday Thanksgiving, such as baked pumpkin, pumpkin bread and the sweet pumpkin pie. Pumpkins are also widely used in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cooking, such as in preserves and pies, while the Italians embrace pumpkins in ravioli or gnocchi. You may be surprised to learn that Europeans initially used pumpkins as cattle fodder. We’re guessing they figured out pretty quickly that humans enjoyed them too!
Here in Australia, pumpkins are consistently ranked in our top 10 most popular Aussie vegetables. We love it in soups, risottos, on the barbeque, with roasts, or in scones and fruit cakes. Pumpkins first landed on Australian shores with the First Fleet in 1788 and we’re still loving them today. They’re cheap, they’re versatile and they’re good for us. What’s not to love?
Varieties of pumpkins
Pumpkins come in an exciting array of shapes and sizes, each with its own distinct flavour and uses. Did you know the biggest pumpkin on record was grown in the USA and weighed a massive 667kg? Here are some (smaller) varieties you might want to try:
Cooking with pumpkin
If you’re after pumpkin puree or mash, it’s best to steam them, as boiling can make them too wet. Roasting pumpkins is one of the best ways to appreciate the full flavour of the vegetable, while cooking them at high temperatures serves to caramelise the pumpkin’s natural sugars so it’s especially flavoursome. You could try making a classic soup for a winter’s night, or putting it in a quiche or casserole, a stew or pie. Or try a warm winter salad with couscous, roasted beetroot and pumpkin, plus some onion, broccoli, chick peas and feta.
The flavours that pumpkins work best with include cheeses like ricotta, blue cheese, goat’s cheese and parmesan. You could put pumpkin on a platter with cheese and cured meats. As for herbs, pumpkin marries well with coriander, rosemary, thyme and sage. Or make something sweet and include touches of cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves or orange rind.
Finally, remember that the pumpkin seeds are edible too. They’re a nutritious dried snack. Dry 2 cups of seeds on a paper towel and then toss them with 2 tablespoons of olive oil and some sea salt. Roast them as you stir until they are dry, golden and delicious!
Already cut pumpkin can be stored in the fridge for up to a week, while whole pumpkins with unbroken skin will last for months in a cool, dry place (10-16 degrees). Be aware that pumpkin skin can be very tough to cut and its smoothness means your knife might slide right off. A serrated knife can work better to grip the skin.