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Articles - Gourmet Pleasures:

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Pumpkin and squash on the menu

The high season for pumpkins continues right to the end of the year. This autumnal vegetable can be prepared in a variety of ways: as raw pumpkin in fruit salads, pureed in a soup, cooked as a side dish for meat courses or baked in a quiche. But the pulp also adds a new taste to the sweet side of cooking – say in a pumpkin mousse or in delectable pumpkin cupcakes.

Buying with an eye on quality

Shoppers will find different types of pumpkin and squash at weekly markets, in organic food stores and in supermarkets. Only buy undamaged and fully ripened pumpkins and squash. Ripe products will sound slightly hollow when tapped on the outside. Make sure your purchase still has a lignified or corked stalk. If it is missing, rotting bacteria can get into the pumpkin or the fruit dries out. Go for smaller size pumpkins. They have a firmer pulp, more aroma and are virtually free of fibre.

Tips for preparation

Small pumpkins are quite easy to prepare. Start by washing the pumpkin and cutting it into two halves with a sharp knife. Remove the pips and any rough fibres with a spoon before cutting the pumpkin into handy chunks. These are then easy to peel. The peel of some types of pumpkin, for instance the Hokkaido, is perfectly edible. Larger items such as butternuts can be heated for 30 to 40 minutes in a baking oven at about 150 °C. Once cooled, it is easy to cut and process.

Beware of decorative pumpkins!

Unlike decorative pumpkins, edible pumpkins are usually free of bitter compounds, also known as cucurbitacines. These substances can result in unpleasant mucous membrane irritations, nausea, diarrhoea and vomiting. Inadvertent crossbreeding, however, can result in the bitter compounds reappearing in edible pumpkins that are grown in domestic gardens or allotments. That is why you should always taste the raw pumpkin flesh prior to its preparation. If it is bitter, throw it away. Where decorative pumpkins unsuitable for human consumption are on sale, they are marked accordingly. Incidentally, if you are left with a large quantity of pulp after carving a Halloween lantern, you can simply cut it into small pieces, and blanche and freeze it for future use.

Source: Dr. Claudia Müller, www.aid.de