By Carie Birkmeier EBS STAFF

In the world of pumpkins, there are over 40 varieties. The bigger pumpkins that are perfect for carving a jack-o-lantern are less than ideal for eating. In fact, the large varieties of pumpkins are bred specifically to be oversized, hollow and flat-bottomed for decorative purposes. They possess a thinner shell with less guts and flesh inside, making them ideal for carving. Their flesh tends to be watery, fibrous and bland, although the large seeds from this variety are perfect for roasting.

Pumpkins grown for consumption will have a more robust, nutty flavor and contain more nutrients. Opt for a small fruit, weighing between 4 and 8 pounds. Their flesh will be denser and less stringy than decorative pumpkins, closer to that of a winter squash. Here are a few varieties, often more ambiguously labeled as sugar pumpkins, to look for if you wish to cook or bake a pumpkin at home:

Baby Bear pumpkins are very tiny, usually weighing less than 2 pounds. They are deep orange in color and are ideal for purees because of their smooth flesh. For an extra festive touch, their small size makes them the perfect candidate to hollow and use as a serving dish.

Baby Pam, or sugar pies, are one of the more common edible pumpkin varieties, and are slightly larger than baby bears. Baby Pams have thinner skin than most other varieties, making them a great option if you prefer to peel your pumpkin before cooking. Their flesh is fine-grained, sweet and lacks moisture, making them a great selection for pies.

Cinderella pumpkins can’t be missed with their vibrant, reddish-orange flesh. They are an heirloom variety, meaning their seeds have not been genetically modified. They have a sweet flavor, but their smooth, velvety texture differentiates them from other varieties. This variety provides double duty as a beautiful decoration and a versatile option for many winter squash recipes.

After choosing a proper pumpkin, you can prepare it similarly to any other winter squash, such as a butternut or acorn. Their thick skin makes them difficult to peel, so I often roast them with the skin on. Halving the fruit and removing the inner fiber and seeds before roasting makes it easy to scoop the soft, cooked flesh from the skin. In applications where you wish to dice or slice the flesh, the fruits can be peeled, but a paring knife will make the job go faster than a vegetable peeler.

Pumpkins are a great source of dietary fiber, as well as vitamins A and C, potassium and iron. Pureed pumpkin freezes wonderfully, and can be used to make a great soup or as addition to baked goods throughout the winter. While most uses today are sweet applications such as pies, breads, pancakes and lattes, pumpkin can really be used in any way you might prepare any other winter squash. Here is one of my favorite side dish recipes to bring to your next fall-themed potluck or Thanksgiving dinner.

Roasted pumpkin with radicchio

1 Baby Pam pumpkin, diced into bite sized pieces
¼ head radicchio, sliced thin
1 shallot, sliced thin
olive oil
balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper, to taste
¼ cup toasted pine nuts
¼ cup chopped parsley

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place pumpkin on one sheet tray and radicchio and shallots on another. Toss the vegetables in olive oil, salt, pepper and balsamic vinegar and roast until tender. The pumpkin will take 30 minutes to roast and the other vegetables only 15 minutes.

Remove from oven and combine vegetables together, arrange on a serving tray, and top with pine nuts and parsley.