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4. Pumpkins

You can't get through October without seeing hundreds of pumpkins -- at the supermarket, on front porches, and atop the desks of co-workers. Pumpkins come in all shapes and sizes. Like other large winter squashes, pumpkin can be cut into smaller pieces, the inside seed part removed, and cooked until the flesh is tender by steaming, microwaving, or roasting. Although many of us use canned pumpkin in our favorite recipes, here is some information on fresh pumpkins.

Use them:

  • Pureed and added to soups, or as a sauce for pasta dishes or filling for lasagna.
  • Roasted and served as a side dish or added to an entrée.
  • Filled with rice, stuffing, or sausage mixtures (for smaller pumpkins).

One cup of fresh, boiled pumpkin will give you:

  • 49 calories, 2.2 grams fiber
  • Vitamins: 2,650 IU vitamin A (76% DV), 12 mg vitamin C (16% DV), 21 mcg folic acid (5% DV)
  • Minerals: 37 mg calcium (4% DV), 22 mg magnesium (7% DV), 564 mg potassium (12% DV)
  • Bonus: 1.7 mg vitamin E (11% of the daily recommendation of 15 mg)

How to Buy, Store, and Cook Winter Squash

When buying winter squash:

  • Choose one that seems heavy for its size and doesn't have any soft spots or cracks.
  • For squash sold in precut pieces (like banana or Hubbard squash), look for pieces with fresh-looking flesh texture and color.

When storing winter squash:

  • You can keep cut pieces in plastic bags in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
  • If uncut, you can keep winter squash in a cool, dark, well-ventilated location for 30-180 days.
  • If it's cooked and pureed, you can freeze squash for up to 3 months.

When preparing winter squash:

  • For cutting tougher skinned varieties, you might need to use a cleaver or hefty chef's knife.
  • Your best cooking methods are steaming, baking, or microwaving.
  • For most types, it's easiest to cut them in half, remove the seeds with a large spoon, and bake the halves, flesh-side down, on a rimmed baking sheet coated lightly with canola oil or canola cooking spray. Bake at 375 degrees until tender (30 to 40 minutes for most).
  • Be sure to cook until the flesh is tender, whichever preparation method you use.

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