Buying: Pumpkins in New Zealand are commonly the Crown variety, which are typically grey-skinned. But pumpkin may be dark green, pale green, orange, orange-yellow, white and red. Choose a whole pumpkin with a long-ish stem if the stem is cut too low, the pumpkin will quickly decay, or may already be decaying. Press the outer skin to check whether the pumpkin is mature and firm. Mature pumpkins aren’t prone to scratching, so avoid heavily scarred (and cracked) pumpkins.
Storing: Pumpkins can keep for 2-6 months stored in a cool, dry, dark place on a board or a piece of cardboard is ideal. Handle pumpkin carefully to avoid any surface damage. To store for a longer period, cook pumpkin, then mash or purée the pulp and freeze it.
Preparation: Most parts of the pumpkin including the flowers and seeds are edible. Pumpkin tends to absorb and keep the flavour of whatever it’s cooked with. To prepare the flesh, boil cut pieces of pumpkin, or bake it in a moderate oven for about 45 minutes. To pulp cooked pumpkin for use in savoury and sweet dishes, put it through a blender or use a potato masher.
Nutrition: Pumpkin is an excellent source of carotenoids including beta-carotene and other carotenes our bodies convert to vitamin A. Pumpkin also contains lutein and zeaxanthin, which are important for eye health. The brighter and stronger the colour of the flesh, the more carotenoids the pumpkin contains. Pumpkin also provides good amounts of vitamins B3 (niacin), C, and E, fibre and potassium.
Ideas for using pumpkin
- Use sliced pumpkin with potato slices to make a tasty gratin: alternate layers and top with trim milk and a sprinkle of parmesan.
- A Thai pumpkin soup is easy to make: add a can of light coconut milk to your usual pumpkin soup recipe. Add fresh coriander and chilli for extra flavour.
- To make a pumpkin filling for cannelloni, mix mashed pumpkin and cottage cheese, then fill cannelloni tubes. Top with tomato pasta sauce and bake for about 30 minutes.
- Make a sweet pie filling by mixing mashed pumpkin with reduced-fat cream cheese, egg, cinnamon, a little brown sugar and ginger. Wrap in filo pastry, or fill a pasty shell and bake for about 30 minutes.
Did you know?
- Pumpkins are 90 per cent water.
- Native Americans used to strip the hardy skins off pumpkin and use them to make mats.