Nothing so vividly illustrates the best of the fall harvest like pumpkins. The name pumpkin originated from the Greek word for large melon: pepon. Nasalized into “pompon” by the French, then changed to “pumpion” by the British, the word “pumpkin” was coined by early American colonists, who learned how to grow and cook these bright orange beauties from Native American tribes.
Cooking with fresh pumpkin is easy and fun. Just follow these simple preparation tips, or use organic canned pumpkin to make this delicious Tortellini with Pumpkin Sage Sauce.
How to Pick a Pumpkin
• Look for a heavy pumpkin, with at least an inch or two of stem. If the stem is cut too short, the pumpkin will decay quickly.
• Avoid pumpkins with blemishes and soft spots.
• Don’t worry about shape. A lopsided pumpkin is not necessarily a bad pumpkin.
• Figure one pound of raw, untrimmed pumpkin for each cup finished pumpkin puree.
How to Prepare Pumpkin
• To prepare a pumpkin for cooking, spread newspaper over your work surface. Carefully remove the stem with a sharp knife.
• If you are planning to roast the pumpkin seeds, smash or drop the pumpkin on a hard surface to break it open.
• Scoop out seeds and scrape away the stringy mass.
How to Cook Pumpkin
You can cook pumpkin by boiling, steaming, roasting, or microwaving to create your own fresh pumpkin puree. Directions for cooking and preparing pumpkin puree are as follows:
Boiling/Steaming Method: Cut the pumpkin into large chunks. Rinse in cold water. Place pieces in a large pot with about a cup of water (the water does not need to cover the pumpkin pieces). Cover and boil for 20 to 30 minutes or until pumpkin is tender; or steam for 10 to 12 minutes. Check for doneness by poking with a fork. Drain the cooked pumpkin in a colander. Reserve the liquid to use as a base for soup.
Oven Method: Cut pumpkin in half, scraping away the stringy mass and seeds. Rinse under cold water. Place pumpkin, cut side down, on a large cookie sheet. Bake at 350°F for one hour or until tender.
Microwave Method: Cut pumpkin in half, place cut side down on a microwave-safe plate or tray. Microwave on high for 15 minutes, checking for doneness at 1-2 minute intervals until tender.
How to Prepare Pumpkin Puree
Allow cooked pumpkin to cool. Remove the peel using a small sharp knife and your fingers. Place pumpkin in a food processor and puree, or alternately use a food mill, ricer, strainer or potato masher. You can freeze and store pumpkin puree in one-cup portions in a small freezer bag for up to one year.
Both fresh pumpkin puree and organic canned puree work beautifully in this recipe.
2 lbs cheese tortellini
1 tablespoon plus 1-1/2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons olive oil plus 1 teaspoon olive oil
1 yellow onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
4 sage leaves, minced or ½ teaspoon ground sage
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 (15-ounce) can organic pumpkin puree
1 quart vegetable broth or chicken broth
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon or ground nutmeg
1 cup plain, Italian flavored breadcrumbs or whole wheat Panko bread crumbs
1/2 cup Parmesan or Monterey Jack cheese, shredded
7 basil leaves, torn, optional
7 sage leaves, fried in olive oil until crisp, optional
Preheat oven to 400°F. Place a large pot of salted water over high heat to boil. When water boils, add 1 tablespoon of salt and drop in tortellini. Cook according to package directions. Drain and set aside.
Add the 2 tablespoons of olive oil to a microwave-safe bowl with onions and garlic. Season with a teaspoon of salt, sage, pepper and red pepper flakes. Cook on high for 2 to 3 minutes, until onions soften. Stir in pumpkin broth, remaining ½ teaspoon of salt and the cinnamon or nutmeg.
Toss ½ of the pumpkin sauce with the tortellini until pasta is well-coated. Transfer to a casserole dish. Spoon remaining pumpkin sauce on top of pasta. Sprinkle with breadcrumbs. Sprinkle with remaining teaspoon of olive oil. Cover with cheese and bake until cheese is melted, about 8 to 10 minutes. Sprinkle with basil leaves and fried sage leaves, if desired.
The Kitchen Diva is Angela Shelf Medearis, a regular guest chef on “The Dr. Oz Show” and “The Today Show.” She is the author of many cookbooks, including, “The Kitchen Diva’s Diabetic Cookbook.” She blogs for Vitacost.com and Momonomics.com on a weekly basis.