Pumpkin Power

Pumpkin is on parade this month at Ashland Food Co-op, which promises free pumpkins for participants in two cooking classes.

The iconic winter squash stars in savory foods — dip, chili, salad and curry — for a Nov. 19 class before filling four types of pie — gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan and low-glycemic — prepared Nov. 21. The reward for taking both classes is picking a free pumpkin from the Ashland store, says culinary educator Mary Shaw.

"If you're prepping it for pie ... why not make some savory options?" says Shaw. "Actually, there's a lot of things you can do with pumpkin that aren't sweet."

In the pantheon of winter squash, pumpkin has many peers with similar nutrition profiles. Winter squash's predominately orange flesh is high in beta-carotene, fiber and other nutrients. In general, the darker the squash, the more vitamins. A half-cup of mashed acorn or butternut squash contains 60 calories, but three times the recommended daily allowance of vitamin A.

A number of squash can be used interchangably in recipes. Roasting is the easiest way to cook winter squash.

Cut the squash in half or large chunks or slices. (Peeling is optional.) Remove seeds. Place squash in a baking dish. Brush with olive oil or melted butter, if desired. Then roast in a preheated, 350-degree oven until soft (for about 30 to 45 minutes, depending on the size of the pieces).

Squash, particularly small ones, also are suited to microwaving. Cut squash in half, scoop out seeds, place halves cut-sides down on a microwave-safe plate and cover with waxed paper or plastic wrap. Microwave on high for 6 to 8 minutes (depending on squash's size). Turn the squash over and test for doneness with a fork. If desired, add a little butter and brown sugar to the center, cover and microwave on high for 2 more minutes.

Once cooked, squash will keep for a few days in the refrigerator or for up to a year in the freezer. Whole, uncooked squash will last for weeks if stored in a cool, dark place. When purchasing squash, choose ones that are firm and heavy without any decay or soft spots.

Reach Food Editor Sarah Lemon at 541-776-4487 or email slemon@mailtribune.com. McClatchy News Service contributed to this story.

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