botanical name: Cucurbita maxima duchesne e Cucurbita moscata
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Pumpkin is a plant belonging to the Cucurbitaceae family: a climbing and a monoecious plant with large leaves and petioles covered with a light down and beautiful large yellow flowers.
Origins and history
L'origine è ambigua. Sicuramente antichi popoli come gli egiziani e gli indiani d'America la coltivavano, ed è certo che i Romani la conoscevano e ne disquisivano: Dioscoride e Plinio la definivano "refrigerio della vita dell'uomo, il balsamo dei guai"; Marziale parla dell'onnipresenza di questo ortaggio sulle tavole romane, come cibo e come contenitori impermeabili.
It is generally believed, based on the findings in Mexico this curious vegetable seeds dating back to 7000 BC, which is native to Central America. In Europe it arrived after the discovery of America.
The most common genus "cucurbit" is divided into:
"Pepo": green zucchini that are consumed unripe;
"Maxima": orange classic, sweet and hairy, that are consumed ripe;
"Moscheta": pear shaped, green at the base and yellowish at the tip, with a slightly fibrous flesh;
"Melanosperma" which crush and pulp scraped off from the skin, it has the appearance of spaghetti;
the "Lagenaria" is, instead, the elongated and ornamental, with extremely tough skin and almost no fruit.
Nutritional properties and benefits
Pumpkin is an elixir for the body, rich in therapeutic and nutritional properties. It's rich in beta-carotene that counteracts the cellular aging and free radicals. It contains "good fats" such as Omega 3 that, reducing cholesterol, lowers blood pressure and reduces the risk of stroke and heart attack.
The abundance of water and fiber is useful to intestine, rebalancing the bacterial flora. The fibers, instead, satiate and lowering the absorption of sugar, making it ideal for diabetics or for those in the low-calorie diet regime. The water fights water retention and helps to deflate.
Among the minerals, magnesium is a natural muscle relaxant helps relieve mental and physical stress. It contains amino acids, including the "tryptophan" that produce serotonin, then helps fight insomnia, anxiety and depression. The "cucurbitina" is an amino acid found mainly in the seeds: it makes pesticides and wormers and help fight bowel disorders, urinary tract and skin infections.
Vitamins D and K, respectively, stimulate the metabolism and blood clotting.
The use of pumpkin in cooking
It's an ideal food for diabetics, since studies on the subject have shown a "hypoglycemic" action, stimulating increased production of insulin by the pancreas. It has fewer calories, is rich in carbohydrates and is genuine because unassailable by parasites, because of of the thick skin protection.
Of this juicy vegetable you eat practically everything: the pulp, leaves and seeds. With the leaves you can make fresh salads or can be fried; washed and dried seeds in the oven, lightly salted, are a tasty snack.
Many are the imaginative recipes that concern it, without weighing it down with added fats. Perfect cooking it in the oven: with a little oil and salt, or au gratin. In the latter case it prepares a "gratin" with breadcrumbs, salt, pepper, parmesan cheese and capers, to give a contrasting salty note.
It's a type of vegetable beauty ally. Mixing the puree with coconut milk (and left to steep for 24 hours), you can apply on the skin for fifteen minutes and then rinse: the antioxidant power of beta-carotene, along with vitamins, makes skin firmer and young. A great mask for dry hair (to keep for half an hour to dry hair) is obtained by mixing the pulp with two tablespoons of honey and four of yogurt.
The cucurbit is a food so popular that it has been the subject of the famous "Vertumnus" framework of Giuseppe Arcimboldo, portraying Rudolf II covered with every variety of this vegetable.
In the Celtic world of "Samhain", between October 31 and November 1, it was a whole celebration where all the lights went out except the fires of druids. From here is thought to derive the "Halloween" party, when you carve a pumpkin with ghostly appearance and illuminated, the "jack o'lantern", to keep out the All Saints Day the souls of the wandering dead.
In ancient times, everywhere, the seeds were a symbol of the resurrection of the dead: in Germany, for example, in some tombs have been found, along with walnuts and hazelnuts, these great vegetable represent a means for the ascent to heaven.