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POWER TO THE PUMPKIN

Growing up, my exposure to pumpkin was very limited.  Well, that is other than jack o’ lanterns, packages of “David’s (overly salted) Pumpkin Seeds.”   And I wasn’t alone.  Sitting around the holiday table, I can hear my aunt now….

McGary household member

McGary household member

Over time I developed a liking for it, and grew to appreciate its sweet and subtle flavors. Now, when it’s in season, I look forward to enjoying it as much as possible, and Illinois where I live is the largest U.S. pumpkin producer.

Pumpkin is a member of the gourd family, which includes popular produce items cucumbers, squash and melons.  They are native to Central America and Mexico, and seeds were discovered over 7,000 years ago.  The Indians dried pumpkin strips, and used them as a food source.  Dried strips also were used to weave mats for trading purposes.

Known as one of the most nutritious fruits available, its flesh and seeds have diverse benefits.  The flesh is an excellent source of Vitamin A (making it ESSENTIAL for eye health), and a good source of Vitamin B6, magnesium, potassium and iron; it is also low in saturated fat.   Studies have also linked it to preventing coronary heart disease.  Its seeds, though high in calories and fat, are packed with high amounts of manganese, magnesium, protein, zinc (natural protector against osteoporosis), copper and more.  Studies have shown these powerful seeds also help with good sleep, lowering depression, preventing kidney stone formation, reduce inflammation for arthritis (without the side effects of anti-inflammatory drugs).

According to World Healthiest Foods (www.whfoods.com), pumpkin seed extracts and oils have long been used in treatment of Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia (BPH). BPH is a health problem involving non-cancer enlargement of the prostate gland.

When picking, make sure they are heavy for their size, free of nicks & blemishes, and with its stem intact.  You can store the pumpkin for up to a month in a cool (40-55 degrees), dry and dark area.  You MUST put a towel in between the pumpkin and the surface on which it’s resting, and if storing more than one, lay on a single layer without them touching each other.

Enjoy this wonderful fruit while it lasts; roasted, pan-fried, pureed as a soup or filling for pasta and pies, get it in where you can.  Just don’t bring it to the holiday dinner this year as a sweet potato pie; you ain’t fooling anybody.

Pumpkin Risotto

c = cup

t = teaspoon

T = Tablespoon

1 c arborio rice

½ c Vidalia onion, diced

3 garlic cloves, minced

3 – 3 ½ c vegetable or chicken broth, warm (may not use it all)

¾ c Riesling wine (white or red works)

1 c pumpkin, diced into ½” pieces

½ c pumpkin puree

¼ c parmesan cheese

3 T chocolate mint, chopped

2 T virgin coconut oil or extra virgin olive oil

1 ½ t nutmeg, ground

Kosher salt, to taste

Black pepper, to taste

Heat a saucepan over medium and add the oil.  Add the onions and garlic and sauté for 3-4 minutes.  Add the rice to the pan and cook for 1 minute, stirring to coat the rice.  Add wine and let cook for 3-5 minutes, until the rice soaks up the wine.  Stir in the diced pumpkin and cook for 1 minute.  Add enough broth to cover the rice; lower the heat on the pan to low.  Once the rice has soaked up most of the broth, add another cup (the rice should be at a simmer, not a boil).  NOTE – YOU DON’T HAVE TO STAND OVER THE PAN WHILE IT’S COOKING.  Repeat this process until the rice is al dente (a slight bite).  Once the rice is tender, take off the heat and fold in the cheese, pumpkin puree, nutmeg and chocolate mint; season to taste with salt and pepper.  Enjoy!