Pumpkin. (Photo by Marius Ciocirlan, via Unsplash)
While we may think of pumpkin as a vegetable, it is actually a fruit, like the cucumbers and melons in the same family, Cucurbitaceae. There are several varieties to choose from, ranging in color from orange and yellow, to green, red, and white. The popular, decorative orange pumpkin, so strongly associated with the fall season, is often not the tastiest to eat. Try acorn squash, sugar pumpkins which are small and round, and Long Island Cheese pumpkins which can look like a wheel of cheese.
Brightly colored squash is rich in nutrients, especially beta carotene that protects the body’s cells from deterioration. The flesh and seeds are packed with vitamins and nutrients, including A, C, E, folic acid, niacin, vitamin B6, and pantothenic acid.
Just 100 grams of pumpkin provides 246% of the recommended daily requirement of vitamin A which is a powerful antioxidant that, among other things, is essential for good skin and vision. A nutrient dense food, squash is also low in calories and contains magnesium, potassium, calcium, copper, manganese, and phosphorus.
The sweet pumpkin contains other unique substances with antioxidant properties including cryptoxanthin, zeoxanthin, and lutein which protects the eyes against the effects of aging.
Two tablespoons of pumpkin seeds contain five grams of fat, of which four grams are healthy monounsaturated fatty acids. The seeds are also a concentrated source of protein and contain zinc which has been shown in studies to help the immune system and reduces the duration of the common cold.
With pumpkin season in full swing, try the following recipes for a savory and sweet way to enjoy the versatile ingredient.
Roasted Squash or Pumpkin with Lemon and Olive Oil
4 medium acorn squash, or small sugar pumpkins
Greek extra virgin olive oil
Greek sea salt
Freshly ground pepper
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Prepare the acorn squash or sugar pumpkins, wash thoroughly, and cut in 1/2 inch thick slices. Place the slices in a large roasting pan or on a large, rimmed baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle with sea salt and pepper on both sides. Place in the oven and roast until the squash is tender about 20 minutes, turning the slices over once to cook on both sides about halfway through the cooking time. Remove from over and serve warm with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice to taste and additional salt and pepper, if needed. Makes a great side dish with roasted chicken or other meats. If preferred, serve with cooked rice and some crumbled feta for a vegetarian main course.
3 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon ground ginger
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
A pinch of ground cloves
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon Greek sea salt
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup packed light or dark brown sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups pumpkin purée
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
Sanding sugar, for topping (optional)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. In the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and brown sugar until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in the eggs one at a time, the pumpkin purée, and vanilla extract until well-blended, occasionally scraping the sides and bottom of the bowl as needed. Add the flour mixture to the pumpkin mixture and beat until just combined. Spoon a tablespoon of the cookie batter onto the prepared baking sheets, placing at least 1 inch apart. Sprinkle with sanding sugar, if using. Bake in the preheated oven until the cookies are puffed, set, and spring back when the center is gently pressed, about 12 minutes. Transfer the cookies to a wire rack to cool completely. Repeat with the remaining cookie batter. Store the cookies layered between parchment or wax paper in an airtight container on the counter.
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