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Eat Well ~ Be Well, Punkin’ recipe

Pumpkin, the most appropriate, symbolic, singular and emblematic vegetable of fall! Subtle sweetness, texture, and to me it’s slightly chewy and nutty with a depth of flavor. It’s unique in itself. I’m mean just saying the word makes you think of autumn, leafs changing color, holidays (without the rush) and if you ever experienced driving on RT-90 heading towards the Berkshires during this time, it’s something your eyes would love to see.

There are many ways you can use a pumpkin, but you have to say it like this, “punkin.” You could make a soup or a dessert with it or you could become a pumpkin head and go ahead and stir up your very own pumpkin martini.  Not so fast, before you think alcohol, this article is all about selecting storing, buying, eating and making something so good from pumpkins that your guests will beg for more.

I’m going to share a few things about this incredibly delicious, bright orange friendly vegetable, which happens to be the world’s heaviest vegetable, packed with nutrients your body will love during these cold nights.

Get this, just one cup of raw pumpkin is packed with nine percent protein, one mg of salt and just two mgs of sugar. It has an arsenal of vitamins, including C, E, K, B5 (pantothenic acid), as well as alpha- carotene and beta-carotene, which are potent antioxidants that convert into vitamin A. Pumpkins also are high in fiber and have macro and micro nutrients such as manganese, magnesium, phosphorus, tryptophan, iron, copper and zinc. Like many vegetables, this orange friend can help boost your immune system; it’s a natural anti-inflammatory like manuka honey, it slows down the growth of tumors and lessons the risk of our number one killer, heart disease. Pumpkin seeds have great value as well.

When selecting your very own pumpkin this October, heavier is best for its size. Not oversized, those are for aesthetic purposes, really. Perfect pumpkins are usually in the range of two to four pounds. Of course, if you go over by a few, that’s alright. I’ve found that lighter pumpkins are often more bland and dry, with little flavor. Real small ones have very small seeds and that’s no fun; you’ll be cleaning up till October 31, 2011. I’ll be talking more about seeds further into the article.

Storing your selected pumpkin and seeds is not hard at all. These vegetables can keep very long. When fresh, I’ve seen pumpkins last up to two months. If you cut it up, be sure to use it up in three days. However, you can store a cooked pumpkin for five to seven days. If you do choose to buy canned pumpkin puree instead, that can be stored in a cool place for 10 plus years. Honestly, the only things that I keep for ten years are my saving bonds, so can you imagine what your pumpkin soup/pie or pudding might taste like after that long? Sure, you can freeze it but you’re talking to Tony Polito and the freezer is for one thing and one thing only…ice cubes. Do your best to eat as many fresh cut foods as possible, not frozen vegetables.

Eating your pumpkin: For maximum freshness, try to cut, cook or bake the same day or perhaps the next day, if possible. Be sure you visit stores that have a good crowd. Why? They tend to move more product, so the foods don’t not sit around, leading to little or no oxidation.

Seed: If you buy seeds already extracted from the pumpkin, be sure they smell fresh and not rancid or musty,. Taste them if possible. Pumpkin seeds can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator or in a cool place for no more than six weeks. Pumpkin is from the squash family, so have fun with this orange friend. Also know that you can replace any quash recipe with pumpkin. I’ve done it many times, and it’s worked out better than the original ingredient it called for.  Again, eat the seeds fresh, place them in your salad, on desserts or salt them for a snack. It’s said that the seeds are loaded with minerals, anti-inflammatory properties and may even help protect against prostate cancer and osteoporosis.

Crunchy Pumpkin Soup

SERVES 6

1)  1 Medium size pumpkin (peeled, cleaned, cooked and pureed) or a can of pumpkin puree

2) 1 Large Spanish onion (Seasoned with salt and Pepper)

3) 1 C. of Broth or stock

4) 3 Cinnamon sticks

5) 1 tsp Nutmeg

6) 1 tsp Thyme (minced)

7) Pinch of curry powder

8) 1/8 C. California Olive Ranch olive oil

9) ½ C. Pistachio nuts (crushed)

In a stock pot, fill water up to cover the pumpkin cubes and cook for 20 to 30 minutes or until softened. In the meantime, in a hot skillet sauté ingredients 2 – 4 until onions are translucent, for about 5 to 8 minutes. To make your life easier, you can use one can of pumpkin puree and add it to the skillet and continue to cook. Bring to a boil and reduce to simmer. In portions, blend in your food processor and puree to your liking. I like my soup smooth and silky, so pushing through a sieve does the trick. Combine ingredients 5 – 8 and stir well. To garnish add nuts to top and serve hot.

To make it even more appealing ~ Garnish with heavy cream, sour cream, a dollop of crème fraîche or plain yogurt(always a nice choice). If you want alternatives to dairy, try my home-made almond milk (on YouTube), soy milk or one avocado (run it through the blender). Taking steps to an healthier lifestyle is just one ingredient away.

Homemade puree: This is a very easy way to make your very own puree, minus all the junk that’s already in the can. My mom showed me this. If you have a sharp knife, make vent holes all over it to help release the steam, place the pumpkin on a sheet and bake for 350 F for about 90 minutes or until you can easily stick a fork into it. Cut open and scoop out the seeds as you would normally do (kids love this and it’s one way to get them to learn how to cook). Be sure to clean it out well.

If you want chunks: Muscle it and cut this open myself. Boil those chunks and then puree them in you food processor.

If you like seeds: Dry them off in a salad spinner or on a paper towel. Season them up with oil and salt and pepper, little turmeric or any other seasonings you desire. Slowly roast them at 250 F for 30 to 45 minutes, and that wonderful October aroma that will fill your home.

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