This is the first of our series ‘Make Friends with Veg’. Do you have a vegetable you don’t know what to do with? Bored of carrots? Confused by celeriac? In this first feature, Louise Oliver gives us four great ideas for what to do with pumpkin which can be thought of as good for lanterns but little else. I know I’ve made horribly bland soups and pumpkin pie disasters.
My Afternoon with a Pumpkin …
It was a sunny, early October afternoon. On my doorstep sat a 2.7 kg pumpkin. With Halloween weeks away, carving it and turning it into a glowing lantern was not an option. I realised that the guisers were not the only ones warded off by a pumpkin! What would I do with this thick-skinned, cumbersome beast?
I decided to spend the afternoon with it, in the hope that I could learn some tricks to turn this scary veg into a tasty treat or two.
Trick No 1 – How to cut and handle the beast
The thick skin of a pumpkin means it will store well and apparently the harder the skin is to cut the sweeter the pumpkin.
Armed with a sharp knife-and some courage-I cut a thin slice from the bottom of the pumpkin which helped it stay steady on the chopping board. Cutting the skin from top to bottom was not as tough as I expected. Any small pieces that I missed I just chopped off after. Cutting the pumpkin in half and then into quarters made it a lot more manageable. I then used a spoon (those less timorous of the beastie may use bare hands!) to scoop out the fibres and seeds. A quick rinse of the seeds and they were put in a bowl for later.
The beast was starting to look sweeter.
Trick No 2 – Some flavours that work well
To compliment the sweet nature of the pumpkin, I used nutmeg in the savoury muffins. I’m sure that cinnamon and cloves would be good pairings as well. To work with the bold aspect of the pumpkin’s personality, I used the heat of ground ginger in a sweet loaf. The grated version added a warming note to the soup, whilst the kick of chilli was handled well. In the salad I paired the pumpkin with spinach and barley, though lentils, strong cheese and mushrooms could work as well. The salad could also benefit from the crunch of the pumpkin seeds.
I put the seeds on a baking tray in the oven alongside the roasting pumpkin for 5 minutes.
Trick (or should I say Trickier) no 3 – Have patience with the beast’s seeds
I used my hands and found it tricky at first to get the seeds out of their skins quickly. I realised a slow and steady hand was the tactic required here. After 15 minutes of pumpkin patience I had a bowlful of deliciously tasty seeds to put into my salad, muffins and as a crunchy garnish for the soup. The seeds of those pumpkins destined to be carved could be used too. After roasting and peeling the seeds, store them in the cupboard: you have a tasty snack.
Phew, now that’s done, it’s time to eat (see images, right)
Trick no 4- How to store the pumpkin.
After all those treats there was still some pumpkin left. It stored happily in the fridge without being covered (it gets sweaty otherwise) for a week or so. Any hard edges can be sliced thinly off before using. Cooking in batches with the pumpkin had worked out well. I was able to use the treats as my packed lunch and dinner throughout the week, whilst the muffins happily froze. I wonder what will my next encounter with a pumpkin will result in ?
So, in my spooky afternoon I learned that, armed with a few tricks, the once scary pumpkin could provide me with sweet, savoury and spicy treats to feast on for the rest of the week.
The pumpkin is not just for Halloween and will certainly light up my veg box in the autumn months to come.