This time of year, pumpkins belong on the kitchen stove as well as the front stoop.

Pumpkins are members of the gourd family and can be used in the same ways as any other winter squash. Pumpkin, butternut, acorn, Hubbard and turban squash are some of the most commonly available winter squash. The orange meat of the pumpkin has a mild, sweet taste, and the seeds can be roasted for snacks or garnish.

Most American pumpkins are grown to be Halloween jack-o-lanterns. In France, however, cooking with pumpkin has become tr's chic. Pumpkin is used in sweet and savory tarts, puddings, gratins and soups.

In the U.S., it may be time to go back to our roots. Hard-skinned, orange-fleshed squashes were a mainstay of the early Native American diet and can be a tasty, nutritious part of contemporary dishes. They are low in calories, virtually fat free and rich in potassium, vitamin A and dietary fiber.

When choosing a pumpkin, look for one with a hard, smooth, unblemished rind. Pumpkins should be heavy for their size but not necessarily large.

While pumpkins can weigh 100 pounds or more, the smaller ones are best for cooking. Small, sweet jack-be-littles, cheese pumpkins or sugar pumpkins are all good choices.

One of the few pumpkins not good for cooking is the sort you carve for Halloween. Jack o' lantern pumpkins have watery, stringy pulp. But save those seeds for toasting.

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Fresh whole pumpkins can be stored at room temperature for up to a month or refrigerated for up to 3 months.

You know pumpkins are good for you just by looking at them. Their bright orange color indicates the presence of cancer fighting beta-carotene. Pumpkins also are a good source of vitamin A.

While fresh pumpkins are available in the fall and winter months, pureed pumpkin is available in cans year-round. Canned pumpkin is the easiest way to add the distinctive flavor, body and texture of the winter squash to a dish, as in the following soup.

Pumpkin Bisque

Makes 6 cups, 6 servings.

Ingredients

  • 1 Tbsp. canola oil
  • 1 apple (any kind), peeled, cored, seeded and coarsely chopped
  • 1 leek, white part only, finely chopped
  • 4 cups fat-free, reduced-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
  • 1 sweet potato, peeled, halved lengthwise and cut in 1/2-inch slices
  • 1 can (15 oz.) pureed pumpkin
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • 4 tsp. finely minced chives, for garnish
  1. In a large, heavy saucepan, heat oil over medium-high heat. Saute apple and leek until the leek softens, about 4 minutes.
  2. Add the broth, sweet potato, pumpkin and thyme. Bring the soup to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat and simmer uncovered until the yam and apple are soft when pierced with a knife, about 20 to 25 minutes.
  3. Transfer soup to a blender or food processor and puree. Add salt and pepper to taste. Divide among 6 bowls. Garnish with the chives and serve.

Nutritional Information Per Serving:
97 calories
3 g. total fat
0 g. saturated fat
16 g. carbohydrate
4 g. protein
4 g. dietary fiber
393 mg. sodium

Diabetic Exchanges: 2 Vegetable, 1/2 Bread/Starch, 1/2 Fat


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