How do you make your pumpkin on Halloween? Maybe you like it with a toothless grin and simple triangle eyes and nose. Perhaps you’re more dexterous with a small sharp knife and can carve a wicked grin with sharp teeth and squinting eyes. As for me, on Halloween I like my pumpkin roasted in olive oil and salt and tossed with some dark green leaves.
There’s a big difference between a Jack-o-Lantern pumpkin and most other pumpkins. Jack-o-Lantern pumpkins are specially cultivated to make them great for carving, but they certainly do not make the best eating pumpkins because their flesh is stiff and very fibrous (although you can roast their seeds in the oven – see my recipe at the end of this post). Instead, when you want to eat pumpkin you should opt for one of the many other suitable pumpkin varieties to eat such as Acorn, Butternut, and Kabocha.
Pumpkins are in season from roughly September to January. They come in a variety of shapes, sizes and colors. Look for a firm and heavy pumpkin without soft spots or wrinkles. A good way to check if a pumpkin is fresh is by turning it over and pressing the base – if it is firm then the pumpkin is fresh, if it flexes then it may have begun to rot.
1) Pumpkins help keep your eyes healthy as you age
Zeaxanthin (pronounced zee-ah-ZAN’-thin) is a nutrient found in yellow fruits and vegetables (such as pumpkins) and also green leafy vegetables. Zeaxanthin helps to keep eyes healthy by increasing the amount of macular pigment in the eye. Macular pigment acts like natural sunglasses, protecting the retina from damage caused by UV rays and light exposure. However, macular pigment degenerates with age, so it is important to maintain good Zeaxanthin levels by eating yellow fruits and vegetables such as pumpkins.
2) Pumpkins are very high in Carotenoids
Carotenoids are naturally occurring pigments which are responsible for the yellow, orange and red color of fruits and vegetables. The body turns carotenoids into Vitamin A, which is most well-known for promoting good vision. So remember to eat plenty of pumpkin in order to see well in the dark while trick or treating on Halloween evening!
3) Three Heaped Tablespoons counts as one of your 5-a-day
Eating only 3 heaped Tablespoons of pumpkin is enough to count towards one of your 5-a-day!
4) Pumpkins are surprisingly easy to cook
Despite having a thick outer skin and often coming in odd shapes, pumpkins are surprisingly easy to cook. My favorite way to cook pumpkins is to roast them, which is so simple to do.
How to Roast Pumpkin
- Preheat the oven to 450F/230C.
- Wash the outside of the pumpkin, and cut it in half. Scoop out all of the seeds and strings in the center of the pumpkin.
- Slice the pumpkin into thin wedges with the skin on (around 1.5 inches wide) or into chunky cubes. If you want to, throw in a few garlic cloves (with the skin still on) which can later be eaten alongside the pumpkin or mashed into a salad dressing.
- Toss the pumpkin with plenty of olive oil and some sea salt, and roast for 25 minutes (toss it once halfway through). Pierce with a skewer to make sure that it is tender all the way through, and then remove from the oven.
- Eat warm, or allow to cool and add it to a salad.
It’s even easier if you want to make mashed or pureed pumpkin.
- Preheat the oven to 400F/200C.
- Take your whole pumpkin and poke holes all over it with a skewer or sharp knife. If you want to cook it faster or save the pumpkin seeds, cut the pumpkin in half and scoop out the seeds.
- Place the pumpkin an oven-proof dish with a little bit of water (the water should only be enough to make sure the pumpkin skin does not stick or burn). I add just enough to cover the bottom surface of the dish (you may need to top up the water during cooking). If you are cutting your pumpkin in half, place it face down.
- Place in the oven and let it cook for 30 minutes.
- Turn the pumpkin over and add a little more water to the dish if necessary.
- Cook for another 15-30 minutes (depending on how big your pumpkin is). If you have cut your pumpkin in half, turn in face up.
- It is ready when you can press on it with your hand in an oven-glove or with a wooden spoon, and it yields to the pressure.
- Remove from the oven. Allow to cool slightly.
- Slice the pumpkin in half. Scoop out and discard the seeds.
- Scoop out the pumpkin flesh, leaving the skin behind.
- You can now mash it up with butter or puree it.
5) Pumpkin seeds are a great source of zinc
Zinc is a trace mineral (trace elements are minerals which are required in small amounts) that helps your body build immune cells, which help fight infections and diseases. If you catch a cold, increasing your intake of zinc will help your body fight off the cold germs. Roasted pumpkin seeds (also called ‘Pepitas’) are delicious sprinkled on top of a salad or munched in place of chips.
How to Roast Pumpkin Seeds (Pepitas)
- Preheat the oven to 300F/150C.
- Scoop the pumpkin seeds out of your pumpkin, and rinse them well in water to remove any pulp which is sticking to the pumpkin seeds. This can be done by placing the pumpkin seeds in a colander and running water over them. Rub the seeds with your fingers to remove the pulp. (It is important to remove the pulp so that it does not burn in the oven when you roast the seeds.)
- Spread the pumpkin seeds on a kitchen towel or tea-towel to dry the water off of them.
- Toss the pumpkin seeds with some olive oil and salt (use your judgment to decide how much seems right). You can also toss in other seasonings like garlic powder, paprika powder, or cayenne powder. Or you can make them sweet by tossing with brown sugar and cinnamon.
- Place in the oven, tossing every 10 minutes. They can take between 25 and 45 minutes to roast. Remove from the oven when they are dry and crunchy.
- Once cool, you can store the pumpkin seeds in an airtight container in the refrigerator for upto 2 months.