Last weekend, Marnina and I wanted to go apple-picking with some friends from Brandeis University. When we arrived, we were told that the apple-picking season was over at this particular orchard due to the substantial amount of rain. Therefore, we ended up going ‘pumpkin-picking’ instead. At first, we were disappointed. But then Marnina mentioned that she had a pumpkin stuffing recipe back home that sounded delicious. I was suspicious at first, mainly because the recipe called for baking an intact pumpkin in our smaller-than-small oven. However, as our neighbors (and our taste buds) can attest, the pumpkin smelled (and tasted) like a slice of heaven. We wandered around the pumpkin patch for about 20 minutes, took some awesome pictures (see below), and painstakingly picked out the smallest pumpkin we could find (6 lbs!).
Pumpkin flesh is relatively high in fiber, so those who are sensitive to high-fiber foods should limit their intake of pumpkin. Even canned pumpkin has a high fiber content despite the creamy consistency. But for those who can tolerate pumpkin, the flesh contains abundant quantities of essential nutrients that are required for many processes in the human body. However, instead of talking about all the beneficial nutrients in the pumpkin flesh, we would like to provide a little lesson on the fatty acids that are contained within pumpkin seeds and pumpkin-seed oil, and to a greater extent, talk about the important role of omega-3 fatty acids in the diet of someone with an IBD.
Those with IBD may be familiar with the role of fatty acids in their diet. The fatty acids are polyunsaturated fats that are very important in human nutrition. There are two types of essential fatty acids – omega-3 fatty acids and omega-6 fatty acids, both of which are considered essential because we cannot make them on our own and have to obtain them from our diet. The more beneficial type, omega-3, are thought to reduce inflammation, while omega-6 fatty acids are thought to promote inflammation. The modern Western diet is relatively low in omega-3 fatty acids, which may contribute to the onset of IBDs. Some studies have shown that omega-3 fatty acids may help prevent flare-ups of colitis and Crohn’s disease and help control diarrhea.
The omega-3 fatty acids that are critical for nutrition are EPA and DHA, which are the building blocks for hormones that control immune function, blood clotting, and cell growth. Omega-3s can be found mostly in the fat of cold water fish such as salmon, albacore tuna, sardines, and mackerel. Vegetarian sources of omega-3’s include some nuts, nut oils, and some plant sources, which all contain a precursor omega-3 (called ALA) that the body must convert to EPA and DHA. Pumpkin seeds and pumpkin-seed oil are a good source of ALA. Omega-6 fatty acids are mostly found in seeds and nuts, and the oils extracted from them. Refined vegetable oils, such as soy oil, are used in most of the snack foods, cookies, crackers, and sweets in the American diet. Soybean oil alone is now so ubiquitous in fast foods and processed foods that an astounding 20 percent of the calories in the American diet are estimated to come from this single source. It is important to have the proper ratio of omega-3 and omega-6 (another essential fatty acid) in the diet.
The original recipe called for bacon, but since we do not eat pork, we omitted it. We could have substituted some chicken or other type of meat, but we wanted to make this a vegetarian main course (and keep the cheese and milk in the recipe). We also added extra cheese and milk to make this more of a complete meal.
Pictures and recipe below:
Makes 2-4 Servings
1 small sugar pumpkin, about 3 pounds (our pumpkin was 6 lbs. so we doubled the recipe)
1 onion, thinly sliced
1 Tbsp butter (we used olive oil)
1/4 lb stale bread, cut or torn into 1/2 inch chunks (we used day-old challah rolls)
1/4 lb Gruyere, or other melty cheese, cut into 1/2 inch chunks (we used a combination of cheddar cheese and sheep’s cheese)
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
4 slices bacon, cooked until crisp, drained and chopped (we omitted this; however, you could substitute it for imitation meat)
1 small apple, peeled, cored and chopped
2 large handfuls fresh spinach (we used defrosted frozen spinach)
1/4 cup snipped fresh chives
1 Tbsp minced fresh thyme
1/3 cup cream or whole milk (we used skim milk)
pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
Salt & pepper to taste
1. Preheat oven to 350F. Line a baking sheet or small dutch oven with parchment. Cut away the cap of the pumpkin around the stem. Reach in and scoop out all of the seeds (reserving for toasted pumpkin seeds if you like) and stringy bits. Clean up the underside of the cap as well. Season the inside of the pumpkin generously with salt and pepper, place on prepared baking sheet and set aside.
2. Melt the butter (or add the oil) in a medium skillet over medium-low heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until they turn a rich golden color, about 20-30 minutes (our onions browned in less than 10 minutes in the oil). Scrape out into a large bowl and add the spinach to the warm pan with a few drops of water, cooking just until wilted, 1-2 minutes. Add to the bowl with the onions.
3. Add the bread, cheese, garlic, bacon, apple, chives, and thyme to the bowl with the onions and spinach. Toss well to combine. Taste and season with salt and pepper as needed. Pack the mix into the prepared pumpkin. Stir the nutmeg into the milk/cream and pour over the stuffing in the pumpkin.
4. Put the cap back in place on the pumpkin and bake for about 2 hours, checking after 90 minutes – the pumpkin should be tender enough to easily pierce with the tip of a knife and the stuffing should be hot and bubbling. You might also want to remove the cap with about 20 minutes left in the cook time to let some of the extra liquid in the pumpkin cook off.
5. Carefully transfer the cooked pumpkin to your serving platter. To serve, either dig into the pumpkin with a large spoon scooping out the pumpkin flesh with the stuffing, or slice into portions skin and all.