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 lattes 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.
Bake: Preheat the oven to 350 F. Cut sugar or pie pumpkins in quarters and remove all the seeds and fibers. (Save seeds for roasting, if desired.) Place the quarters flesh-sides down on a lightly oiled baking sheet. Roast in preheated oven for about 45 to 50 minutes or until flesh is tender.
Puree: Scoop away tender pumpkin flesh from skin. Puree 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 puree. Place it in a plastic, resealable freezer bag and squeeze out the air. Press bag so it will store flat, label, date and freeze. You can keep puree about 6 months. Thaw before using.
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 anti-oxidant-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 anti-oxidants 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's 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 anti-oxidant," 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 puree. You can make your own, but it's just as cost-effective to buy 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 1/2 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 1/2 cups chopped bell peppers and cook until softened. Season with chili powder, cumin and crushed red-pepper flakes to taste. Stir in 1 3/4 cup canned great northern beans, 2 cans (14.5 ounces each) fire-roasted diced tomatoes, 1 cup vegetable broth and 1 1/2 cups pumpkin. Simmer for 20 minutes. (Recipe adapted from www.bonappetit.com.)
Mini muffins: Mix one devil's food cake mix with one 15-ounce can (about 1 3/4 cups) pumpkin. Scoop batter into mini muffin tins. Bake according to package directions.
Pasta sauce: Stir 1 cup pumpkin into 3 cups pasta sauce for a thicker consistency.