Smashing pumpkins: not just for halloween

It is such a pity this is the one weekend of the year when pumpkins become popular because there’s more to these squashes than spooky décor.

New Zealand nurtured my indoctrination into the joys of pumpkins — my taste buds were tickled by the many delicious soups, curries, stews, pies, breads and other baked pumpkin surprises. Sweet and savoury dishes all tasted good, fed multitudes and confirmed my belief in all things pumpkin.

There is an eternal debate over the difference between a squash and a pumpkin, but there is no crime in interchanging the titles, unless of course you are complying with regulations for a show.Both are from the same family, but due to crossbreeding, there are so many varieties in existence that unique, distinguishing characteristics have been obscured. No matter what you say, however, you can expect a dispute with pumpkin purists.

Pumpkins and squashes come in a rainbow of colours, shapes and sizes and even multi-coloured stripes, presenting themselves as huge, tiny, flat, short, tall, round, pear-shaped, turban-shaped, smooth, ribbed and even warty.

Pumpkins generally tend to have a deep orange skin and a distinctive pumpkin shape. Apart from being carved as jack-o’lanterns, they feature in a multitude of recipes. Their seeds are usually removed before cooking and can be roasted and eaten. Roasted pumpkin seeds make a great, low-calorie snack, and can add crunch to salads.

To roast your pumpkin seeds, separate them from the stringy pulp, rinse them in a colander under cold water and then shake dry. Don’t blot with paper towels as the seeds will stick. You can boil in salt water for 10 minutes or soak in salt water overnight, (the salt water deactivates irritating enzymes in the seeds and allows the release of the vitamins). Once dry, place the dry pumpkin seeds in a single layer on an oiled baking sheet, stirring to coat. Roast them at 275 degrees for 10 to 30 minutes. Once cool, store in an airtight container.

Pumpkins are easy to grow but require plenty of space and sufficient warmth over a long season. They are the perfect plant for engaging children as their seeds are big and easy to handle and they seem to miraculously increase in size overnight, not to mention the delight when carved up for Halloween. But be warned, they are heavy feeders, so plenty of organic matter and manure is essential.

They truly are a sight to behold but unfortunately the traditional fairytale big orange pumpkins sold in supermarkets can be the variety most lacking in flavour. Often it is the smaller or more unusual looking pumpkins that have the best culinary qualities with dense flesh, nutty flavours and thick skins to aid storage.

My all time favourite pumpkin for eating is the wonderfully delicious blue-grey ‘Crown Prince’ with its dense rich orange flesh that keeps well and tastes divine when simply roasted. The only downside is that you practically need a use a chainsaw to chop it, but once you break make the first cut the rest becomes easier and the taste certainly rewards the effort. The small cream and green striped heirloom winter squash ‘Delicata’ is a close second with the French heirloom ‘Rouge Vif D’Etampes’ stealing the show for its Cinderella coach like form.

Pumpkins are good for your body and your spirit, so next season be sure to grow your own pumpkin for Halloween and eat them up — seeds and all!

GROW TO EAT / EAT TO GROW

Pumpkin Falafel

This recipe marries two of my favourite foods in life, pumpkin and falafel, and was gleaned from The Extra Virgin Kitchen cookbook written by Susan Jane White, (www,susanjanewhite.com), a woman that makes eating healthy, incredibly delicious, easy, fun and addictive.

Ingredients (Makes 8 – 12 falafel)

Approx 500g roasted pumpkin pieces

125g chickpea flour (gram flour)

2 garlic cloves, crushed

Zest and juice of ½ lemon

2 – 3 tablespoons extra virgin coconut or olive oil

2 tablespoons chopped spring onions

2 teaspoons ground cumin

Black sesame seeds, to garnish

Method

Preheat oven to 170°C/150°C and roast pumpkin pieces for about 60 minutes, the longer the better and allow to cool before handling.

Raise oven temperature to 200°C and grease a baking tray with olive oil.

With clean hands, mash all falafel ingredients together, except the sesame seeds.

Put the mix in the freezer for about 15 – 30 minutes to firm up and then mould the chilled mixture into falafel balls and place on the oiled baking tray.

Sprinkle with sesame seeds and bake in oven for 20 – 45 minutes, depending on ball size.

I like to serve my falafels with their traditional accompaniments – lashings of smooth humus, fresh salad greens and chilli salsa all wrapped up in a pita.

Messy to eat but seriously yummy.

n The Extra Virgin Kitchen: Recipes for Sugar Free, Dairy Free, Wheat Free cooking (Gill & Macmillan) is in shops now, priced at €27.99.


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