Last week cooks everywhere went into a panic after learning that flood conditions in the Midwest this summer had caused a pumpkin blight, threatening supplies of canned pumpkin. Supermarket shelves emptied as quick-thinking hosts and hostesses stockpiled cans of the puree, ensuring their Thanksgiving tables would not be bereft of pumpkin pie come holiday time.
Should this dire prediction prove to be something of an overreaction and you find yourself with an extra can or two of puree, don’t just shove it to the back of the cabinet until next fall. Pumpkin puree, whether canned or homemade, is surprisingly versatile and a great way to add some phytonutrient goodness to many of the things you cook. And while making your own puree has the added benefit of yielding seeds to roast, you get just as much nutritional value from the canned stuff—with a lot less effort.
Pumpkin has many of the nutritional benefits of other hard winter squash like butternut and kabocha, to which it is related. It delivers tons of healthy fiber, for one thing, plus loads of vitamin A and beta-carotene, and a surprising amount of iron, all in a virtually fat-free, low-calorie package. Pumpkin seeds have their own virtues. Whether eaten whole or as the pressed oil, pumpkin seeds are a great source of healthy monounsaturated fats—the good kind. Raw seeds are a great addition to granolas and salads or as a garnish for just about anything that needs a little crunch. Toasted with a bit of salt, cayenne pepper, lemon zest, and Parmesan, they’re the perfect afternoon snack, and roasted-pumpkin-seed oil adds a delicious nutty flavor to soups and risottos, crostini, even oatmeal, when drizzled on just before serving. We are partial to those made by Wholehearted Foods in upstate New York (and their super-crispy roasted pumpkin seeds are beyond addictive, too).
Use the puree to pump(kin) up the nutrition of just about anything you cook, both sweet and savory; its mild, earthy flavor goes especially well with the foods we’re eating this time of year like mushrooms, bitter greens, and hearty meat stews, but it also pairs well with chocolate and warm spices. Transfer a can of puree to an airtight container and store it in the fridge for up to 5 days so it’s always at hand, ready to stir into a pot of soft polenta, waffle batter, vegetable soups, even yogurt; it will add a bit of bright flavor and a warm hit of color without dominating the dish. It adds moistness to baked goods like my Spiced Pumpkin–Raisin Cookies without added fat and is delicious in ice cream and custards, too!
Still not sold? Pumpkin beautifies from the outside as well as from within. Skyy Hadley, celebrity nail artist and owner of As U Wish Nail Salon, uses pumpkin puree along with yogurt, sugar, honey, and olive oil in her exfoliating foot scrub. We’ve got the recipe.
GiadaWeekly is the digital food and lifestyle magazine from cookbook author and Food Network star Giada De Laurentiis. To get a new issue each Thursday, download the app or subscribe at www.giadaweekly.com. And follow GiadaWeekly on Instagram and Facebook.