Friday, 29 October 2010

Pumpkin vs. squash

Although technically a type of squash, I find the light, subtle, juicy orange flesh of the round, orange skinned pumpkin infinitely nicer, both in texture and in taste, than the bland, soapy, sweet, almost perfumey stodginess of something like a butternut squash. Unfortunately, pumpkins only tend to appear in this country in October and then disappear again after Halloween once their novelty factor has worn off, which is a shame for such a versatile vegetable which yields so much delicious food, both from its flesh and seeds. Luckily, pumpkin flesh is ideal for freezing, so it’s easy to eat fresh pumpkin around Halloween then freeze the rest (either in thick slabs or bite size chunks) to be used throughout the winter, in meals as diverse as soup, curries, risotto and lasagna — or simply just enjoyed roasted.

To prepare a pumpkin, I slice the top off with a long, serrated knife and remove the seeds with my hands, setting aside in a bowl (these seeds can be either cooked immediately or frozen). To maximise the amount of flesh I get out of the pumpkin — if you want to carve a face into your pumpkin, then you’re going to need to slice the top off then scoop the flesh out from the inside — I remove the skin with a sharp knife as if peeling a potato (due to the round nature of the vegetable, it can be easier if you chop it into smaller chunks). I then chop the flesh into cubes, and either cook immediately or place in sandwich bags or plastic containers and freeze. After it’s been frozen, pumpkin can either be left out to defrost if planning ahead, or thawed for ninety seconds in a microwave when needed.

Pumpkin and apple soup with cumin

This is the nicest food I know how to make. Pumpkin, apple and cumin really is a dream combination — all three flavours are improved immeasurably in the company of each other. Hearty, warming Pumpkin, apple and cumin is my all-time favourite type of soup — probably because, due to the limited availability of pumpkin the rest of the year round, I only eat it in Autumn when the idea of winter is still novel and before it gets too bitterly cold. Dark, early nights are softened by the cosiness inside, and crunchy leaves and the excitement of Halloween, bonfires and fireworks outside.

Serves 3

550g pumpkin, chopped
4 apples, peeled and chopped (no particular variety — I use the type that come, ten for a pound, in sandwich bags from the Arndale Market)
One large onion, chopped
3 cloves of garlic, chopped
700ml vegetable stock
350ml apple juice
1-1.5 teaspoons cumin
Six sage leaves, chopped
Salt and pepper to season

Sauté the onion in olive oil in a large pan for five minutes. Add the garlic, pumpkin and apple and sauté for a further five minutes. Add the apple juice and stock and simmer for 25 minutes. Add the sage leaves, season well with salt and pepper, stir in the cumin and remove from the heat. Puree with a hand blender, adding more water if necessary.

Roasted pumpkin seeds

These make a satisfying snack during the day or a crunchy alternative to popcorn to take to the cinema.

Simmer the pumpkin seeds, fresh or frozen, in lightly salted water for 10-15 minutes. Preheat the oven to a medium to high heat. Drain the seeds well, place in a shallow baking dish or tray and coat with olive oil. Season well with salt and freshly ground black pepper and cook for 20-25 minutes (checking frequently as there is a very fine line between just cooked and burned!), stirring every few minutes. The pumpkin seeds are done when they are crispy and starting to go brown around the edges.

Roasted pumpkin with gnocchi and rosemary

This quick and simple but effective meal is my favourite lazy convenience food, and one of my favourite dinners. Preheat the oven to a medium to high heat. Take the required amount of pumpkin cubes (described above) out of the freezer and defrost. Drain any water, coat with olive oil on all sides and place in a small, shallow casserole dish with a fat clove of garlic, chopped. Roast in the oven for ten minutes. Chop a few sprigs of fresh rosemary, to taste. After the pumpkin has been cooking for ten minutes, add the rosemary and roast for a further ten minutes, stirring occasionally, until the pumpkin starts to go golden and crispy around the edges. Meanwhile, bring a pan of lightly salted water to boil on the hob. Add gnocchi and simmer until the gnocchi rises to the surface of the water. Drain. Remove the pumpkin from the oven, stir the gnocchi into the pumpkin and its juices, season well with salt and freshly ground black pepper (and cumin if desired), grate cheese on top and serve in the dish it cooked in.

The above recipe also works well with aubergine, with the addition of honey and lots of cumin.


agogo said...

I always eat Butternut Squash with corn and beans whose flavours tend to balance each other out so I can't agree with you there!

Moreover squashes come in such a variety of interesting shapes.

The Shrieking Violet said...

Mmmmm that does sound good - in theory! I just don't have a sweet tooth, so squash is too sweet for me - as is cooked carrot, peppers, sweet potato etc. I also don't like its texture, especially as it can go mushy. I've also tried roasting squash seeds and it wasn't as nice as pumpkin seeds. I do love the way squash looks, though.