HALLOWEEN is fast approaching, and if you have young children in the family, like us, you’ll be all too familiar with the preparations for fancy dress costumes and carving out pumpkins.
As well as being great fun to turn into lanterns with the kids, pumpkins and other squashes are in season at this time of year and can make a warming and comforting addition to autumn dishes. Pumpkins and squashes come in a variety of colours and sizes, each as vibrant as the next. Pumpkins are a fantastic ingredient, because their sweet, yet mellow, earthy flavour lends itself well to both sweet and savoury dishes.
It’s hard to beat a good, fresh squash or pumpkin soup. For years, I’ve served pumpkin soup in the shell because it adds to the flavour and is a really fun way to enjoy the dish. And the fact that there’s less washing up after is an added bonus. Keep the larger pumpkins for carving, as smaller varieties tend to work better in cooking as they contain more flesh. All pumpkins and most squashes have tough skin, and so can be used to serve up your soups or stews. If you really want to add a burst of autumn colour to the dinner table, you can use different varieties as individual bowls for family or guests.
Though the tough skin is great for serving your dish in, it can also take quite a bit of work to chop, carve out and prepare the pumpkin. You’ll need a large, strong knife, and a thick tea-towel to place the pumpkin on so that it stays steady and safe. Once you have scooped them out, you can roast or fry the seeds to add as a garnish to your dish, or to provide a tasty, healthy snack. Any leftovers of the flesh can be used in soups and purées too, so absolutely none of this great autumn ingredient need go to waste.
Pumpkin or squash can also make a tasty, seasonal addition to traditional gnocchi. The recipe does take a little more time, but it’s worth it as it’s such a comforting, warming dish for autumn suppers. It can also make a lighter, healthier version of traditional Italian potato gnocchi. As with any gnocchi, the quality of the ingredients you use is key, so make sure you get your hands on some fresh, quality pumpkin from your local farmers’ market or farm shop.
Whatever you choose to cook with pumpkin, you can create a warm, nourishing dish which is the perfect welcome home after the kids return from a hectic evening of guising.
Roasted Pumpkin Soup:
1 pumpkin, skinned and trimmed with half of the flesh cut into wedges
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 large onion, peeled and thinly sliced
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp caraway seeds
1 tbsp butter
2 tbsp clear honey
salt and pepper
Roasted pumpkin seeds
seeds of 1 pumpkin, washed, dried
1 tsp vegetable oil
½ tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground caraway seeds
salt and pepper
For the stock
skin and trimmings of 1 pumpkin
700ml chicken stock
1 large onion, peeled
1 bunch parsley stalks
3-4 sprigs of thyme
1 cinnamon stick
½ head of garlic
3 celery sticks
2 carrots, roughly chopped
salt and pepper
100g girolles – cooked
100g bacon – cooked
parsley or watercress
Preheat the oven to 180C/Gas Mark 4. Put all the pumpkin skin and trimmings into a large pot. Keep the seeds back and toss with the oil, spices and seasoning and spread out on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Roast in the oven for 8-10 minutes, stirring every few minutes so that they brown evenly.
To make the stock
Cover the skin and trimmings in the pot with chicken stock. Add the rest of the ingredients for the stock and simmer slowly for 1 hour. Leave to rest for 20 minutes, then strain through a sieve.
To make the soup
Divide the pumpkin wedges into two batches. One batch is for roasting and the other for sweating on top of the stove. Chop the wedges for sweating into 5cm cubes and set aside. Heat the oil in a large heavy-bottomed pot over a medium heat. Add the onion, 1 teaspoon of cinnamon and a pinch of salt, then sweat until the onion is very soft. Add the cubes of pumpkin and cook until soft. Add enough stock to cover and leave to simmer.
Meanwhile, heat a large frying pan and add the butter. When it begins to foam, put in the remaining pumpkin wedges, salt and pepper. Allow the pumpkin to colour on both sides (this is important for flavour) and then add 1 teaspoon of cinnamon and 1 teaspoon of caraway seeds.
Continue to cook, turning to ensure an even colour. After about 5 minutes, add the honey and put the wedges into the oven at 180C/Gas 4 and roast for 6 to 8 minutes until a dark golden brown, soft and coated well in the honey and spices. Add the roasted pumpkin wedges to the pot of simmering pumpkin and mix together well, adding more stock if necessary.
Leave to cook until the pumpkin is very soft and tender, then add the cream. Check the seasoning and take off the heat. Leave the soup to rest for 120 minutes before transferring it to a blender and blitzing until it is very smooth. Serve in a hollowed out squash, with pan fried girolles, bacon and roasted pumpkin seeds and garnish with parsley or watercress.
Pumpkin gnocchi with pumpkin puree:
For the gnocchi
500g pumpkin, cut into large pieces
1 egg yolk
salt and pepper
For the purée
250g pumpkin – diced
½ onion – sliced
knob of butter
sage and Parmesan to garnish
salt and pepper to season
To make the gnocchi:
Preheat the oven to 150C/Gas Mark 2. Put the pumpkin pieces on a roasting tray and roast for about 1½ hours until very soft, ridding them of excess moisture. Pass the cooked pumpkin through a drum sieve to remove any lumps. Sift the flour and set aside. Whisk the egg and egg yolk in a bowl and then fold in a small amount of hot pumpkin, in effect tempering the egg. Then add this into the rest of the pumpkin. Once it is incorporated, fold in the sifted flour, taking care not to allow any lumps to form. Knead the mixture into a ball and then shape into rolls about 1.5cm in diameter. Cut these into sections about 2.5cm long. To shape the gnocchi, hold a fork in one hand and place a piece of dough against the tines of the fork. Using your thumb, press in and down the length of the fork. The gnocchi should curl slightly and take on the impression of the fork (good for catching sauce). Drop these pieces into seasoned boiling water and leave until they begin to float. Remove immediately and allow to cool. Toss the gnocchi in a little oil.
To make the purée:
Heat a heavy-bottomed pan and add a knob of butter. Sweat the onion on a low heat for 3-4 minutes. Add the pumpkin and sweat for a further 2-3 minutes. Pour over just enough cold water to cover the onion and pumpkin and cook until tender. Blend and serve with gnocchi, sage and Parmesan.