There is something irrepressibly cheerful about pumpkins. They come on the scene just when you need them and don’t linger on too much after. Their bright, orange glow warming up garden patches and grocery store isles on grey Autumn days.
Most are sold, of course just for the purpose of carving them into scary faces for Halloween, which is a wonderful tradition except for the even scarier sight of their poor rotting faces post Halloween. A bit of a waste considering the energy, watering, pruning and careful, watchful expectation it takes to grow these impressive gourds.
In terms of eating pumpkin, their flesh, it has to be said, is quite sweet, a lot sweeter than other similar winter squashes, it may only be overtaken on the saccharine scale by sweetcorn. This can prove challenging when cooking and eating pumpkin and indeed makes them an acquired taste, maybe appropriate then that they seem to only feature over Halloween.
Their sweetness does however make them one of those rare vegetables which can be used to make desserts and cakes and most famously pies. Pumpkin pie is of course not at all common in Ireland, being wholly American although it is starting to make an appearance in some bakeries and coffee shops.
Another good trick with pumpkin is to pair it with strong savoury flavours like salty cheese, garlic, black pepper and white wine like in the Risotto recipe.
Other types of seasonal squash to consider are the Japanese ‘Kabocha’ variety with its dark green skin and brilliantly golden flesh, it is also exceptionally sweet. Spaghetti squash, who’s flesh is teased out into spaghetti like strands after cooking, is less interesting in flavour than it is as a novelty. Oblong ‘delicata’ squash has such thin skin, you can actually eat it.
The flesh is sweet and nutty.
Ornamental sweet dumpling squash is actually quite tasty when roasted but because of their size they are used for decoration mostly. The most exotic is perhaps the blue Hokkaido pumpkin who’s milky indigo skin hides bright orange flesh which is more subtle in its sweetness than a regular pumpkin and also has a brilliant nuttiness.
All of these varieties are becoming more and more common as they are introduced mainly for use as Halloween decorations and autumnal centrepieces. It is a great opportunity to actually use them for making delicious meals and pies.
This is a really quick to make and simple pie recipe. Even though pumpkin flesh is so sweet it can still be a challenge to get the correct amount of pumpkin-to-sugar ratio, as the flesh still needs a bit of sugar to lift it a little into an acceptable pie filling, but not too much to make it clawing. The spices are warming and very much autumnal, giving you an almost gingerbread like flavour.
Simple sweet shortcrust pastry:
In a large bowl, sift the flour in and add the sugar and a pinch of salt.
Cut the cold butter into cubes and rub into the flour to form ‘breadcrumbs’. Add just enough egg and water to bring the mixture together into a ball. I like it as ‘short’ as possible, so don’t worry if it is a little crumbly and hard to handle.
Pat down into a thick disk, cover in cling film and leave in the fridge for at least 30 to 40 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 190C.
Bring a large pan of boiling water to boil and add the pumpkin, cooking until tender enough to easily stick a knife or fork through the flesh.
Drain and place in a liquidiser or use a stick blender to smoothly blend the flesh, adding the sugar and spices and finally the eggs one by one until you get a smooth slightly frothy, thick cake batter.
Leave this to the side.
Take the pastry out of the fridge. You will need around 250g of the pastry for this. Roll the pastry out and line a deep 8-inch flan dish. Prick the base with a fork, cover loosely with baking paper and bake in the oven for 10 minutes.
Take the pastry out of the oven and leave rest for around 15 minutes before pouring the cake batter in. Place in the oven for around 45 - 50 minutes until well set.
Serve with softly whipped cream.
This is a perfect recipe for a chilly Autumn evening where all you want to do is curl up on the couch with a soothing bowl of risotto. It is easy to make once you have done all your prep work and is a great use for any leftover pumpkin flesh you might have over the Halloween season.
The sweetness of pumpkin works well in contrast with the salty parmesan and the deep flavours of garlic and white wine.
Bring your stock to a simmer in a medium saucepan and keep warm over a medium low heat.
Heat some olive oil in a large frying pan and add onion, stirring it often until soft and golden. Add the garlic and pumpkin and cook, stirring for another minute or so, before adding the rice and 50g of butter.
Stir the rice through the onion, garlic, oil and butter until it is very well coated. Season with a little sea salt and stir continuously for around two minutes, being very careful not to let the rice grains stick to the pan.
Add the white wine and stir until the pan is starting to dry out, the wine will have thickened with the butter.
Using a ladle, add stock to the frying pan, stirring continuously until the pan is drying out before adding another ladle of stock. Add your peas around half way through the process and continue on until all the stock has been incorporated and the pumpkin cubes have softened.
Stir in parmesan, season with black pepper and divide into bowls. You can serve this with a dollop of creme fraiche.
This is inspired by one of our favourite recipes from the Ducksoup Cookbook by Clare Lattin and Tom Hill. It is absolutely perfect for a light lunch, being full of bold flavours and textures, but still relatively light. We use the Japanese Kabocha squash in this recipe as its flesh is firm and sweet enough to be eaten raw.
You could also use an acorn squash, delicate or even butternut squash. The longer you marinate the thin shavings of flesh the more tender it will become.
Peel the skin of the squash and then using either a good strong vegetable peeler or a mandolin, shave the squash into thin ribbons.
Toast the cumin seeds in a dry frying pan until they start to give off their aroma, be careful not to burn them. Crush roughly in a pestle and mortar.
Place the squash into a mixing bowl and squeeze over the lemon juice, drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Toss with your hands to combine, cover and leave in the fridge to marinate for around 20 minutes.
To serve, crumble in the feta, cumin seeds and mint and mix lightly.