Pumpkin is a nutrient-rich vegetable that can be used in a variety of ways. To save time, you can microwave pumpkin until it's soft and tender. And because this cooking method is quick, it helps retain more of the nutrients in the veggie, according to Harvard Health Publishing.
Pumpkin has about 50 calories per cup serving and is loaded with vitamin A, containing 78 percent of the daily value, according to the USDA. Pumpkin also supplies vitamin C, iron, potassium, magnesium and copper.
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Microwaving pumpkin saves time and preserves nutrients because when you use the microwave, you don't need to cook the pumpkin in water, which takes away some nutritional value. Here, professional chef Ann Ziata of the Institute of Culinary Education shares the easiest method to cook pumpkin in a microwave.
How to Microwave Pumpkin
Things You'll Need
Microwave-safe vented lid or paper towel
1. Wash and Scrub the Pumpkin
Wash your hands thoroughly before handling fresh pumpkins.
Wash your pumpkins under plain running water. Firm produce like pumpkins may require a vegetable brush to remove dirt, according to the FDA.
2. Poke Holes in Small Pumpkins or Cut Large Ones
Take a look at your pumpkin — the size will determine whether you need to cut or carve into it or whether you can microwave it whole. If the pumpkin can fit on a dinner plate, you can microwave it whole, Ziata says. Larger pumpkins, such as sugar pie pumpkins, will need further prep.
For small pumpkins, use a fork to poke holes in the flesh. Piercing the skin allows steam to escape easily and prevents the pumpkin from exploding in the microwave. Your punctures don't have to be perfectly spaced or even very deep. Ziata recommends aiming for holes that are about an inch apart.
You'll need to cut into larger pumpkins so they fit in the microwave and cook evenly. Start by peeling them with a vegetable peeler. Use a chef's knife to cut into the flesh near the pumpkin's stem but not through it. Cut it in half lengthwise and remove the seeds with a large spoon. Continue cutting the pumpkin pieces into wedges and then into 1-inch cubes.
3. Microwave the Pumpkin Until Tender
Small pumpkins can be placed directly on a microwave-safe plate. Microwave the whole pumpkin for 12 to 14 minutes or until the desired doneness is achieved. You can use a fork to test the tenderness, Ziata says.
Diced pumpkin cubes from larger pumpkins can also be placed in a microwave-safe dish. Ziata recommends seasoning the cubes before you cook them by adding butter or oil, sea salt and any spices. Add a couple tablespoons of water and cover the pumpkin cubes with a microwave-safe vented lid or paper towel.
Microwave the pumpkin cubes for about 10 minutes, stirring halfway through, or until they're tender.
4. Remove the Pumpkin From the Microwave and Let It Cool
Once the cook time is up and the desired doneness is achieved, carefully remove the pumpkin from the microwave.
The dish and pumpkin will be hot, so let it sit for a couple of minutes before cutting into whole pumpkins or serving pumpkin cubes, Ziata says.
5. Cut and Serve the Pumpkin
If you microwaved a whole pumpkin, use a chef's knife to cut into the pumpkin. Place it on a cutting board and cut it lengthwise. Remove the seeds and fleshy pieces. Ziata notes that the seeds can be baked later for a crunchy snack.
Serve the pumpkin with butter or oil, sea salt and any seasonings. Ziata recommends incorporating the cooked pumpkin into creamy, puréed side dishes.
How to Choose the Right Pumpkin
Choose a pumpkin that has no blemishes or soft spots. The shell should feel firm and the pumpkin should have a 1- to 2-inch stem. A shorter stem can indicate decaying or lead to quicker decay, according to the University of Illinois Extension.
When you pick up the pumpkin, it should feel solid and heavy, rather than spongy. Also, choose a pumpkin that has uniform coloring.
If your pumpkin recipe calls for 4 cups of cooked pumpkin, you will need about a 5-pound pumpkin or two smaller pumpkins that equal 5 pounds.
Cooking and Prep Tips
Microwaving a Large Pumpkin
It doesn't take long to prepare your pumpkin for microwaving. Simply cut a large, unpeeled pumpkin into quarters and cover the exposed pumpkin flesh with waxed paper or parchment paper.
If cutting into a pumpkin seems intimidating, start by removing the stem with a sharp knife, then continue to make the necessary cuts, per the University of Illinois Extension. You can also try smashing the pumpkin against a hard surface to break it open.
Place the pumpkin pieces, skin side down, onto a paper towel and microwave on high for about 5 minutes per pound. Rearrange the pieces every 2 minutes, so it cooks evenly without any raw pumpkin areas.
Cooking times can vary, depending on the wattage of your microwave.
Preparing a Small Pumpkin
If you have a small baking pumpkin — sometimes called a "pie pumpkin" — just prick the pumpkin shell in several spots using a fork. The small holes let the steam escape from inside the pumpkin. Set the microwave on high and cook the pumpkin for about 20 minutes.
Rotate the pumpkin every few minutes for even cooking. After cooking the pumpkin, let it sit for 5 minutes, and then cut it in half and remove the seeds. Next, spoon out the cooked pumpkin and use it in your pumpkin recipe.
How to Use Your Cooked Pumpkin
Pumpkin pie is one of the traditional ways to include pumpkin in your diet, but there are many other alternatives for serving this versatile food and incorporating it into your meal plan.
For a side dish, make a turkey pumpkin soup or a stew. You can also serve pumpkin purée flavored with cinnamon and molasses or your favorite herbs to go with your main meal for lunch or dinner.
To enjoy the nutritional benefits of pumpkin in a sweet treat other than pie, try a no-bake pumpkin mousse or use pumpkin in any cookie recipe, like oatmeal pumpkin cookies or pumpkin drop cookies.