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Something Different
Week of: January 21, 2013
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Contact: Alice Bender, (202) 328-7744

It’s Pumpkin Time, Again!

By Dana Jacobi
for the American Institute for Cancer Research

Last fall, a writer for New York magazine declared, “Pumpkin is the new bacon.” Her point – suddenly it seems every eatery, from Dunkin’ Donuts to critically acclaimed restaurants, had something pumpkin on the menu. In some cases, only the flavor of the warm, yummy spices used to give this bland vegetable appeal was involved, with no actual pumpkin included, particularly in over-sweetened, over-caloric drinks like pumpkin latte.

My purpose is to keep pumpkin’s popularity strong by using the real thing. As a healthful food, it’s hard to beat since pumpkin is rich in carotenoids, particularly alpha- and beta-carotene, and one-half cup of unsweetened canned pumpkin provides three times the vitamin A in the FDA’s recommended value. In addition, all pumpkin is relatively low in carbs while a half-cup of canned pumpkin contains 4 to 5 grams of fiber. Plus you get all this for just 40 calories in one half-cup serving. Nutritionally, that makes canned pumpkin hard to beat.

For many people, canned pumpkin is also hard to love or even to consider eating. But I have found the secret to enjoying canned pumpkin. Simply make it your “plus-one.” As this creamy, golden mac’n’cheese shows, canned pumpkin can be added deliciously to many dishes. Its taste and texture harmonize well with dairy foods, in tomato sauce and combined with fruits, particularly apples and pears. (Pumpkin itself, as a member of the squash family, is actually a fruit we eat as a vegetable.) I also like it stirred in to a pot of chili, particularly meatless versions, mixed with hummus and included in lentil soup.

Fresh pumpkin, diced into generous cubes, can take the place of butternut squash in stews or a Moroccan tagine. Also look for calabaza, a very large pumpkin-like squash with orange flesh that is moister and sweeter than pumpkin, which is so popular in Hispanic and Caribbean cooking. Those warm pumpkin pie spices (such as nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger and allspice) you like make perfect seasoning for many savory pumpkin dishes, so keep them in mind when cooking with pumpkin.

Pumpkin Mac and Cheese

Pumpkin Mac and Cheese – Classic Version

  • Canola oil cooking spray
  • 1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
  • 1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese, divided
  • 1 Tbsp. canola oil
  • 8 oz. whole-wheat rotelle pasta
  • 1 cup low-fat (1%) milk
  • 1 Tbsp. unsalted butter
  • 1 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cups (2 1/2 oz.) sharp light (50 percent) Cheddar cheese
  • 1 cup canned unsweetened pumpkin
  • 1/2 tsp. mustard powder
  • 1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
  • Pinch of cayenne pepper
  • 1/8 tsp. ground nutmeg, optional

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Coat 6cup baking dish with cooking spray and set aside.

To breadcrumbs, add 2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese and toss to combine. Add oil and using your fingers, toss to coat breadcrumbs, then set mixture aside.

In large pot, boil 4 quarts of water. Add pasta and cook for 10 minutes, until slightly al dente. Drain in colander, and set aside.

While pasta cooks, in microwave or small saucepan, heat milk until it steams, and set aside.

In large saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Whisk in flour and cook for 1 minute, whisking slowly. Off heat, gradually add milk while whisking to avoid lumps. Return pot to medium-high heat and simmer sauce until it thickens to consistency of stirred yogurt, 3 minutes. Add cheese, remaining Parmesan cheese, pumpkin, mustard, black and cayenne peppers and nutmeg, if using, and stir until cheddar melts. Mix in cooked pasta. Spread mac and cheese in prepared baking dish. Sprinkle seasoned breadcrumbs over top.

Bake 15-20 minutes or until breadcrumbs are crisp and golden brown. Serve immediately.

Makes 6 servings.

Per serving: 289 calories, 9 g total fat (4 g saturated fat), 37 g carbohydrate
17 g protein, 4 g dietary fiber, 307 mg sodium.

Something Different is written by Dana Jacobi, author of 12 Best Foods Cookbook and contributor to AICR’s New American Plate Cookbook: Recipes for a Healthy Weight and a Healthy Life.


Our Mission: The American Institute for Cancer Research champions the latest and most authoritative scientific research from around the world on cancer prevention and survival through diet, weight and physical activity, so that we can help people make informed lifestyle choices to reduce their cancer risk.

We have contributed over $105 million for innovative research conducted at universities, hospitals and research centers across the country. Find evidence-based tools and information for lowering cancer risk, including AICR’s Recommendations for Cancer Prevention, at www.aicr.org.


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