Fall’s most iconic orange gourd is secretly a nutritional powerhouse
~ By Jessica Pithie
As the weather cools and the school bus returns to its familiar route, pops of orange appear on stoops and front steps across the country. And we return to the kitchen, inspired not only by cooler temperatures, but by the bright and hearty bounty of fall. There is hardly a less well known harbinger of fall than the humble pumpkin and it appears not just as a decorative front step squash, but on menus everywhere: stuffed into savory ravioli, steamed into lattes and baked into doughnuts, its presence letting everyone know that fall has arrived. What’s terrific about pumpkin though, is not just that it’s delicious (though it certainly is) but how very good for you it can be.
Their bright orange color is an easy indicator that these tasty gourds are rich in vital antioxidants like Vitamins A, C and E. Antioxidants are crucial in staving off free radical damage, helping to prevent premature aging as well as fighting cardiovascular disease and common viral infections. In fact, pumpkin is one of the most effective sources of Vitamin A (providing about 246% recommended daily allowance) which is crucial to the body for not only maintaining healthy skin but also warding off age-related vision decline. For those of us who want to keep our peepers peeping and wrinkles at bay, it seems as though getting more pumpkin into our diet is a tasty way to help our bodies out.
In addition to being loaded with excellent antioxidants, pumpkin boasts high levels of both potassium and zinc. Diets rich in potassium have been found to ward off hypertension and other cardiovascular diseases. Zinc, not only boosts the body’s immune system (which is terrific as we stare down another cold season) but also is essential for reproductive health.
Naturally low in calories and high in dietary fiber, it’s not just the brilliant colored flesh that offers benefits; hulled pumpkin seeds, or pepitas, are rich in essential fatty acids, which are crucial to overall wellness and have been proven to aid in warding off high blood pressure, arthritis and cancer and additionally promote healthy skin and bolster brain health as we age. Roasted in a 200 degree oven with a touch of olive oil and sea salt, you would be hard pressed to find a simpler, more addictive salty snack than pumpkin seeds to up your levels of these vital nutrients.
At the Fruit Center Marketplace, we’re passionate about making the most of each passing season and the abundant produce unique to each time of year. We’ve compiled three delicious pumpkin-based recipes for you to try to make it easy for you to take advantage of all the healthy benefits of this fall favorite.
PUMPKIN LEEK SOUP with CRUMBLED PANCETTA,
HERBED GOAT CHEESE and POMEGRANATE SEEDS
1/4 lb. pancetta, diced
1-2 Tbs. olive oil
1-2 Tbs. butter
2 leeks (white and light green parts only), thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 can (15 oz.) pumpkin puree (not pie mix)
1/2 butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cubed
6 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1-1/2 tsp. salt, 1/4 tsp. pepper (more to taste)
1/4 – 1/2 cup pomegranate seeds
Crumbled herbed goat cheese (such as Cypress Grove Purple Haze*)
Heat a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add pancetta and fry until crisped. Remove the pancetta and set on a paper towel to drain; set aside. Reduce heat to medium; add butter, olive oil and leeks to pot. Sauté, stirring frequently for about 5 minutes, then add garlic and stir together for another minute, until fragrant.
Add to the pot the pumpkin puree, squash and stock, raise heat to a boil, then reduce to simmer until the squash is cooked through (about 20 minutes). Add salt and pepper, taste and adjust seasonings if necessary. Reduce heat to low and puree the soup completely using an immersion blender. If you do not own an immersion blender, puree the soup in batches in a conventional blender, taking caution not to over fill – hot liquids expand when blended.
To serve: ladle into a bowl, garnish with herbed goat cheese, pomegranate seeds and a few crumbles of crispy pancetta.
Make this soup vegetarian: by omitting the pancetta and using vegetable stock.
Make this soup vegan: by using vegetable stock and omitting the pancetta, butter and goat cheese.
FALL VEGETABLE CURRY
2-3 Tbs. olive oil
1 acorn squash
1/2 small pumpkin, peeled, seeded and cubed
1 sweet potato, peeled and cubed
1 large carrot, peeled and cut into thin rounds
1 onion, diced
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
1 can chick peas, drained and rinsed
CURRY SAUCE INGREDIENTS
2-4 cloves garlic, peeled
2 Tbs. Sriracha (Thai chili) hot sauce*
2 -1/2 Tbs. soy sauce
1 Tbs. brown sugar
Juice of one lime
1/2 tsp. turmeric
1 Tbs. rice vinegar (or apple cider vinegar)
1 Tbs. ground coriander seeds
1 Tbs. ground cumin
1 tsp. fennel seed
1/3 purple onion, sliced
1 can coconut milk (regular or light)
Using a spice grinder or mortar and pestle: grind together the turmeric, fennel seed, cumin and coriander seeds. In a blender, combine all curry ingredients, including spices and blend together until smooth. Set sauce aside until ready to use (can be refrigerated for 1-4 days).
Heat a few tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add onion and sauté until fragrant and translucent. Add remaining vegetables and curry sauce and bring up to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook until vegetables are fork tender (about 20-30 minutes). Taste, and adjust sauce if necessary, adding a touch more soy sauce if it needs salt, a pinch more brown sugar to dial up the sweetness or another drizzle of Sriracha for more heat.
To serve: spoon over jasmine rice, basmati rice or couscous. Garnish with a dollop of Greek yogurt to cool the spiciness and some fresh chopped cilantro.
PUMPKIN PIE BITES
1 (15 oz.) can unsweetened
1 cup light cream
1/2 cup milk
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
1 tsp. cinnamon
2 packages roll out style
pie crust (or two homemade crusts)
Preheat oven to 375. In a large bowl, combine all of the filling ingredients and stir together completely. Grease mini muffin tins with a spray of nonstick or a swipe of butter and dust with a small amount of flour. Roll out the pie dough on a floured surface and cut into small rounds (a cookie cutter or round glass works well). Press the cut circles into each muffin cup, trimming the excess off from the edge. Be careful that the bottom of each crust stays intact, with no holes.
Carefully pour pie filling into each crust and set the pan on the middle rack of your oven. Bake for 25-35 minutes, checking for doneness after the 25 minute mark. The pies will puff just slightly, the crust will be golden and if you shake the pan, only the slightest jiggle, if any, happens in the filling.
*Cypress Grove Purple Haze can be found in the gourmet section at both Fruit Center locations.
Sriracha sauce can be found in the Asian food section of the Fruit Center and most major grocers.
Keep up to date on more fresh ideas for seasonal cooking on The Fruit Center blog: Just Picked! Find the link tab on our website: www.fruitcentermarketplace.com.