The witch guide to pumpkins
Pumpkins belong to this time of year, due to their natural season of growth and because they are synonymous with Hallowe’en and bonfire nights.
Say the word pumpkin and many people immediately imagine a gap-toothed, leering, carved face of a large, round, orange pumpkin, lit from within by a candle. However, pumpkins to the cook and chef mean a wonderfully versatile ingredient.
Though best known for being the filling for pumpkin pie, the vegetable is rather better in savoury dishes and apart from the pumpkin flesh, the seeds are an often overlooked treasure, rich in nutritional value and delicious to eat. Equally good is pumpkin oil, produced from the seeds.
Our daughter lives in the Syria region of Austria, an area that produces vast amounts of pumpkins and oil - the latter is a delicious tasting oil that is excellent to cook with. As for the seeds, for years I have made spicy pumpkin seeds and used them to garnish soups, including pumpkin soup, of course, scattered them on root vegetables, in salads or offered them to visitors as a drinktime nibble.
To make these, simply scoop the seeds from inside the pumpkin, wash them well of all the stringy bits of flesh that stick to them, dry them out on a baking tray then fry them in olive oil with salt, and sometimes with medium strength curry powder - delicious.
The key thing to remember is that when cooking with pumpkin, the flesh must never come into direct contact with water. For sweet use, poach the chunks of pumpkin flesh in full-fat milk and add a stick of cinnamon to the milk, with a dash of vanilla extract. For savoury use, pumpkin benefits from being roasted, with olive oil or pumpkin oil, and salt. Or saut the pumpkin - as in the soup recipe. Pumpkin risotto is a favourite with some, but I find it often errs on the sweet side. Pumpkin filled ravioli similarly is often too bland in taste for me.
These two recipes make the most of pumpkins during their season.
Baked Pumpkins and Shallots
THIS is a smooth-textured dish which can be either served as a vegetable accompaniment to a main course or as a main course in itself. Or it can be a starter, accompanied by a mixed leaf salad.
Serves 6 (4 as a starter)
The scooped-out flesh, seeds removed, from 1 medium-small pumpkin
3 tbsp olive oil
2 onions, or 4 banana shallots, skinned and chopped
Salt, pepper, a grating of nutmeg
3 large eggs
(450ml) single cream, or stock if you prefer
Butter thoroughly an ovenproof dish or rub it out with olive oil.
Chop the pumpkin flesh and put it on to a roasting tin; line the tin first with a sheet of baking parchment - this makes it quick and easy to wash up - and, with your hands, rub two large tablespoons of the olive oil into the pumpkin flesh. Roast till the chunks of pumpkin are completely soft, at an oven temp of 400F, 200C, Gas 6, for about 25 to 30 minutes. Alternatively, fry (more fashionable to use the word saut) till soft. Heat the remaining tablespoon of olive oil in a pan and fry the chopped shallots or onions till they are completely soft. Then scoop the contents of the pan into a food processor, add the roast or fried pumpkin flesh, and whiz until smooth.
Add the eggs, one by one, and lastly, whiz in the cream or stock. Season with salt and pepper and a grating of nutmeg. Scoop and scrape this into the prepared ovenproof dish, and bake in a moderate oven, 350F, 180C, Gas 4, for about 20 minutes - the mixture should be just firm and springy in the centre when lightly pressed. This comes to no harm if made and left warm in a very low oven for up to one hour.
Pumpkin and Saffron Soup
2 onions, skinned and chopped
1-2 cloves of garlic, skinned and chopped (optional)
Scooped-out flesh, seeds removed, from 2 small pumpkins
2 pints (1200 ml) stock - I use chicken stock, but vegetable stock would do
2 generous pinches of saffron
3oz (75g) pumpkin seeds
3 large tbsp olive oil
Salt, pepper and a grating of nutmeg
Heat the olive oil in a fairly large saucepan and fry the pumpkin seeds, with a small amount of salt. When they are beginning to look toasted - about three to four minutes’ frying time - scoop them out on to absorbent kitchen paper. Add the chopped onions to the pan, and fry them till they are very soft and beginning to caramelise at the edges.
Add the cut-up pumpkin flesh to the onions, and stir well to mix the two together. Pour in the stock and bring to simmering point. Simmer gently till the pieces of pumpkin are very soft. Add the saffron to the contents of the pan. Liquidise the soup, putting it into a large jug or a clean sauce-pan, and taste; season with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Reheat to serve - it will keep well in a fridge (once it is cooled) in a covered container, for two to three days. When you reheat it, be sure it simmers very gently for ten minutes.
Scatter some of the pumpkin seeds on each serving of soup.
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Wednesday 22 May 2013
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