‘Tis the season for the glorious pumpkin.
These magnificent orbs are starting to grace the market shelves in abundance, a true pageant of the wonderful shapes, sizes and colours that Mother Nature has to offer. Whether your pumpkin be the size of your fist or the weight of a small baby, whether it have a glowing marigold exterior or a knobbly green skin, whether it be spherical or oblong, there is a use for it in the kitchen. Pumpkin – or squash – is one of the most versatile vegetables out there, suitable for both savoury and sweet uses. They are plentiful and cheap in the autumn, and keep for months in a cool place. There is no excuse not to stock up and put them to a range of tempting uses.
Pumpkin puree: this is a useful base for all sorts of recipes. Yes, you can buy ready-made pumpkin puree in a can, but the homemade version is tastier and free from any preservatives or processing. Best of all, this is a great use for a pumpkin that is a tad too watery to enjoy on its own – if you want to eat your Halloween pumpkin, this is a good way to extract maximum flavor from it. Simply cut the pumpkin into big pieces, no need to peel, then drizzle with oil and roast at 200C for 30-45 minutes until completely tender. Leave to cool, then scoop the flesh from the skin and discard the skin. Line a sieve or colander with muslin and set it over a bowl, then place the pumpkin flesh in the muslin and leave to drain overnight – it loses a lot of water which helps to concentrate the flavour and make the texture perfect for cooking with. You will be left with your own pumpkin puree, which you can either freeze or consume as you wish.
Uses for pumpkin puree: try beating this beautiful, sweet, mellow confection into recipes for scones, quickbreads and cakes, or make a classic American pumpkin pie. My favourite use for pumpkin puree is this luscious spiced pumpkin and pecan cheesecake, which I recently made with a Speculoos biscuit base and it was possibly the best thing I’ve ever tasted. I also love this version, which a friend once made for me using goat’s cheese – if you’re sceptical about goat’s cheese in a cheesecake, it may change your life (for the better). This savoury pumpkin scone from Nigel Slater is lovely with a lick of salted butter and a drizzle of honey.
Soup: this will turn any pumpkin into something delicious, regardless of texture or appearance. Roast pieces of pumpkin drizzled with oil, as above, but season well with salt, pepper and smoked paprika. Sauté chopped onion and celery in a pan until soft, then add a few sprigs of thyme, before cooking pumpkin (skin removed) and a good stock, enough to cover by an inch or so. Simmer until everything is tender, leave to cool, then blitz in a blender, adding a little more stock if the soup is too thick. Check the seasoning and serve garnished with crispy bacon or, for a delightful vegetarian version, sage leaves that have been briefly fried in butter until crisp. Try this slightly more elaborate version, too – it’s autumn in a bowl.
Roast pumpkin seeds: don’t waste the seeds from your pumpkin. Toss them with olive oil, smoked paprika, salt and pepper and roast at 200C until crispy, for a delicious snack or garnish for soups or salads.
Asian inspiration: firm-textured pumpkin or squash such as Crown Prince and Butternut take very well to steaming, which turns their golden flesh into a fudgy, sweet delight. I like to add cubes of steamed pumpkin to the Thai coconut soup Tom Kha, or to Thai and South Indian curries, where it soaks up the luscious spiced sauce like a sponge and adds a beautiful sweetness.
Chutney: pumpkin and butternut squash make an excellent autumnal chutney with brown sugar, raisins and spices. Fabulous with goat’s cheese or feta in a sandwich. If you don’t want to faff around making real chutney (and wait the obligatory month before you can eat it), you can make a quick version by simmering pumpkin with sugar, a little vinegar, raisins and spices until syrupy.
Pizza: for those who can’t resist the lure of double carbs, try topping a pizza base (preferably homemade, but you can buy good ones these days) with very thin slices of pumpkin, crumbled goat’s cheese or feta, fresh sage leaves, a sprinkling of smoked paprika and some chopped pecans, pine nuts or walnuts. Bake at a high temperature until everything is golden and crispy, and the cheese is oozing. This also works well as a filling for quiche.
Stuff: small, squat pumpkin varieties such as Acorn (or even a hollowed-out butternut squash) take very well to stuffing. Try this recipe using cranberries, chestnuts, Swiss chard and gruyere. They make fabulous individual dinner-party main courses cooked this way.
Risotto: cubes of roasted pumpkin are beautiful stirred into a creamy risotto with chunks of chestnut, crispy sage leaves and blue cheese.
Houmous: it may sound odd, but sweet, golden roast pumpkin makes a lovely, hearty addition to a homemade houmous. Try my recipe here.
Finally: in my opinion, the all-time best use for pumpkin is to turn it into Italian pumpkin ravioli, to be served with brown butter and sage. If you have a lot of time on your hands, you can make your own, but this is not for everyone (if you do go down this route, ensure you have a large glass of wine handy and at least three hours to spare). If not, either find a good Italian restaurant that offers this dish, go to the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy, where it hails from, or buy a half-decent supermarket version of this glorious classic and serve with plenty of homemade brown butter and crispy sage. It’s what pumpkins were made for.
Elly McCausland is a food writer and blogger at Nutmegs, Seven. She has a passion for travel and all things gastronomic, with a particular emphasis on fruit, breakfast and proper British puddings. When not concocting recipes or planning her next cultural odyssey, she is an English literature academic, specialising in children’s literature.