Put another face on pumpkin

SUSAN M. SELASKY
Detroit Free Press
Modified: October 31, 2012 at 1:15 pm •  Published: October 31, 2012

photo - It's no secret that pumpkin is the ingredient du jour. You will find it everywhere. Pictured: pumpkin mac and cheese. (Jessica J. Trevino/Detroit Free Press/MCT)
It's no secret that pumpkin is the ingredient du jour. You will find it everywhere. Pictured: pumpkin mac and cheese. (Jessica J. Trevino/Detroit Free Press/MCT)

It’s no secret that pumpkin is the ingredient du jour. You will find it everywhere. At popular coffee chains, pumpkin is in everything from lattés to muffins to breads.

In the fall, grocery stores devote more shelf space to canned pumpkin — and often it’s on sale. Don’t confuse it with pumpkin pie filling, which also comes in a can.

One of the most popular uses of pure pumpkin, of course, is in pumpkin pie.

But there are plenty of other ways to use this antioxidant-rich ingredient.

You can make pumpkin soup or stir some into stews and chilies.

Swirl pumpkin into plain nonfat Greek-yogurt. Add some to mashed potatoes. Use pumpkin to replace some of the fat in cookies, muffins and breads.

It’s all good. And, for the most part, good for you. Adding pumpkin to recipes adds vitamins and antioxidants and provides a good dose of fiber.

A half cup of pumpkin has only 50 calories, less than 1 gram of fat and 4 grams of dietary fiber.

Mayssoun Hamade, clinical manager and registered dietitian for St. John Providence Hospital in Southfield, Mich., says pumpkin meets the U.S. Department of Agriculture vegetable requirement of eating 2 cups of orange vegetables weekly.

“The two things that pumpkin is high in are vitamin A and beta carotene — an antioxidant,” Hamade says. “They protect the body and the cells from getting damaged.”

Pumpkin is available year-round, but it’s during the holidays when producers, such as Libby’s, say they see a jump in sales. Libby’s sells more than 80 percent of the commercial pumpkin products.

Pure pumpkin is what you get after cooking sugar or pie pumpkins (don’t use jack-o’-lanterns) until their inner flesh is soft. Once soft, the flesh is mashed or processed into a purée.

You can make your own, but it’s just as cost-effective to buy the canned.

For example, a 15-ounce can of 100 percent pumpkin is about $2. Larger 29-ounce cans are about $3.

A pie pumpkin weighs about 4 pounds and averages about 79 cents a pound. Once you roast it, the flesh softens and shrinks some, yielding about 2 ½ cups of pumpkin.

Here are few ways to use pumpkin:

Chili: Brown 1 pound bulk spicy Italian pork sausage (or turkey sausage) in a large pot; pour off fat. Add 1 cup chopped onions, 1 ½ cups chopped bell peppers and cook until softened. Season with chili powder, cumin and crushed red pepper flakes to taste. Stir in 1 ¾ cup canned great northern beans, 2 cans (14.5 ounces each) fire-roasted diced tomatoes, 1 cup vegetable broth and 1 ½ cups pumpkin. Simmer 20 minutes. (Recipe adapted from www.bonappetit.com.)

Mini muffins: Mix one devil’s food cake mix with one 15-ounce can (about 1¾ cups) pumpkin. Scoop batter into mini muffin tins. Bake according to package directions.

Pasta sauce: Stir 1 cup of pumpkin into 3 cups of pasta sauce for a thicker consistency.

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HOW TO MAKE PUMPKIN PURÉE

Bake: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cut sugar or pie pumpkins in quarters and remove all the seeds and fibers. (Save seeds for roasting, if desired.) Place the quarters flesh-side down on a lightly oiled baking sheet. Roast about 45-50 minutes or until the flesh is tender.

Purée: Scoop away tender pumpkin flesh from the skin. Purée it in a food processor or mash it by hand until smooth. Cooked pumpkin can have a lot of moisture. To remove it, line a colander with cheesecloth or coffee filters. Place the flesh in the colander and press on it to remove excess moisture.

Store: Freeze any leftover canned or homemade pumpkin purée. Place it in a plastic sealable freezer bag and squeeze out the air. Press the bag so it will store flat, label, date and freeze. You can keep the purée about 6 months. Thaw before using.

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PUMPKIN MAC AND CHEESE

Serves: 8 (about ¾ cup servings) / Preparation time: 30 minutes / Total time: 1 hour 10 minutes

Using a mix of heavy whipping cream and skim milk saves a few calories and fat grams. You also can use fat-free half- and- half in place of the cream. Using Gouda cheese gives this mac and cheese a mild nutty flavor.

2 cups dried elbow macaroni

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon ground black pepper

1 cup heavy whipping cream

1 cup skim milk

4 ounces Gouda or fontina cheese, shredded (about 1 cup)

1 can (15 ounces) pumpkin purée

1 tablespoon snipped fresh sage or ½ teaspoon dried leaf sage, crushed

½ cup soft bread crumbs

½ cup grated Parmesan cheese

1/3 cup chopped walnuts

1 tablespoon olive oil

Fresh sage leaves, optional

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cook pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water until al dente. Drain pasta, and then return to pot.