Ingredient SpotLight

Welcome to the first installment of a column I've called "Ingredient SpotLight". In an effort to inform, entertain and bring new and exciting dishes to your table, I'll be choosing an ingredient every month to serve as the column's theme. An ingredient can be anything from a vegetable, like this month's star (which is actually a fruit), to something we all use, but rarely think about, like baking soda. It can be exotic, like papaya, or something we've all got in our pantries, like canned tuna. Basically, the sky's the limit. And, of course, I look forward to hearing about your ideas as well. Drop me an email to share them!

So, without further banter, let's begin with a look at pumpkins!

The word pumpkin has been traced to the Greek word "pepon" which means "large melon". Through various changes brought on by the French, English, Shakespeare (yes, Shakespeare) and even the American colonists, the word slowly morphed into the word "pumpkin" that we are all familiar with today.

There are many varieties of pumpkins, ranging from the familiar largish orange variety to the relatively newer little white ones referred to as the Baby Boo. If you're interested in getting a rather impressive list, complete with descriptions, check out The Pumpkin Patch. Of course, it seems that every year a new record is made for the largest pumpkin ever recorded and this year is no different. The 2003 record holder weighed in at a whopping 1458 pounds! Now that's a lot of pie!!!

Nutritionally speaking, pumpkins are good for you. At a mere 80 calories per cup of pumpkin puree, that amount delivers over 300% of your daily value of vitamin A, 20% of your daily value of vitamin C and 10 grams of dietary fiber ... all without any cholesterol. Plus, pumpkins, like many fruits and vegetables, are mostly water and are a good way to hydrate you while getting those important vitamins. The important thing to remember when cooking and baking with pumpkin is that you should watch what else you add to that recipe.

When you're looking to be cooking with pumpkins, you can choose a fresh pumpkin or opt for canned puree. Both are good options, depending on your needs and canned pumpkin puree can certainly save you a lot of time and effort. However, if you do opt to use canned puree, make certain that you are choosing the unsweetened variety and not the pie filling.

If you want to use a fresh pumpkin, select one with a 1-2 inch stem still firmly attached to the pumpkin. Look for one that seems heavy for its size and without blemishes or any soft spots. Don't worry about the shape of the pumpkin and note that a "pie pumpkin" or "sweet pumpkin" will yield less water and sweeter flesh. Of course, you can also always opt for the more readily available, larger jack-o-lantern varieties. To get some great instructions on making pumpkin puree from fresh pumpkins, visit the Howell Family Pumpkin Farm website. (It’s a great place to go get your pumpkins if you find yourself in the Toronto area, by the way!)

Of course, a pumpkin primer wouldn't be complete without a few recipes to enjoy. So, I'm sharing some tried and true favorites of mine ... both sweet and savory. Enjoy them all and, of course, make sure you pick up a big pumpkin to carve into a jack-o-lantern to scare all of the ghosts and goblins that will be making their way to your door at the end of the month. Happy Halloween!

Pumpkin Waffles

I love making these waffles in a Belgian waffle maker. Make extras and place them between the waxed paper and freeze them for a quick weekday breakfast.
  • 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 c. whole wheat flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp. nutmeg
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 T. brown sugar
  • 1 c. evaporated skim milk -- not sweetened condensed milk!!!
  • 4 T. canola oil
  • 1/2 c. pumpkin puree
  • 1/4 c. peeled, finely chopped apple
  • 1/3 c. chopped toasted walnuts

In a large bowl, mix the flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg. Set the mixture aside.

In a separate bowl, beat together the eggs and brown sugar. Add the evaporated skim milk, canola oil and pumpkin puree. Beat well. Add the liquid mixture to the flour mixture and stir until just blended. Fold in the apples and nuts.

Ladle the batter into a hot, well-oiled waffle iron and cook until done. Serve with maple syrup and fresh apple sauce.

  • Yields: 4 servings
  • Preparation Time: 20 minutes

Pumpkin Risotto

This delightful risotto uses puree instead of grated pumpkin to save time, energy and effort. Enjoy it with any fall menu.
  • 4 shallots -- chopped
  • 1 tsp. olive oil
  • 5 c. chicken stock
  • 2 c. arborio rice
  • 1 c. dry white wine
  • 2 1/2 c. pumpkin puree
  • 1 T. fresh sage -- chopped finely
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/4 c. grated parmesan cheese

Sauté the shallots in the olive oil over medium heat. In a separate pan, bring the stock to a boil and then reduce it to a simmer. Add the rice to the shallots and sauté for 2-3 minutes. Add the wine and cook, stirring constantly until the wine is absorbed. Add the puree and one cup of the stock, stirring constantly. After that is absorbed, add the rest of the stock -- one half a cup of stock at a time stirring constantly until the liquid is absorbed until the rice is cooked. The risotto should be thick and creamy. When done, remove from the heat and add the fresh sage, salt, pepper and cheese. Serve immediately.

  • Yields: 6 servings
  • Preparation Time: 30 minutes

Layered Pumpkin Bars

  • 1/2 c. flour
  • 1/2 c. thick-cut oats
  • 1/2 c. chopped nuts -- I like walnuts
  • 1/4 c. brown sugar
  • 1/4 c. canola oil
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 c. pumpkin puree
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 3/4 c. evaporated skim milk -- not sweetened condensed!!!
  • 1/2 c. brown sugar
  • 1/4 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp. ginger
  • 3 oz. low fat cream cheese
  • 1 c. powdered sugar
  • 2 tsp. vanilla

    Preheat the oven 350 degrees. Spray an 8-inch square baking pan with cooking spray and set aside.

    Combine the crust ingredients in a small bowl until a crumbly mixture forms. Press the mixture into the prepared baking pan. Bake the crust for 10 minutes and then cool completely on a wire rack.

    Prepare the filling by combining all of the ingredients in a bowl and mixing well. Pour the mixture over the cooled crust and bake an additional 40 minutes or until set. Cool completely on a wire rack.

    Beat the cream cheese until creamy and gradually add the powdered sugar. Add the vanilla and beat until smooth. Spread the topping over the cooled filling and cut into bars.

    • Yields: 12 servings
    • Preparation Time: 1 hour