Correct me if I’m wrong but an excess of pumpkin will be the bane of our lives for the next few weeks, at least those who have small children who positively demand a Jack o Lantern because next doors have one. I grew up in Europe and to me Halloween is just another import from the States that greeting card companies/McDonalds force on us innocent consumers to boost their sales, blah blah. You can tell Halloween means nothing to me, most years I even forget it happens, yet I usually eat a lot of pumpkin or squash around this time of the year. It just so conveniently happens to be in season. So there you have it, whether you celebrate Halloween or not, you’ll probably find the ubiquitous pumpkin hard to escape. And, if you ask me, you shouldn’t want to escape. Pumpkin is simply delicious.
Research shows that most people associate pumpkin or squash with soup. Never mind that this research uses a very limited data set (participants in this particular research include the three of my housemates and a girl at work), I think we will all agree on its findings. I have made pumpkin pie once and it was just peculiar, so I’ll stick with soup as a pumpkin staple. A steaming bowl of chilli and butternut squash soup so thick that your spoon stands up in it is one of the few delights of these grey autumn days. Stir come crumbled feta cheese in and your day is made. Just like this one, made using our good Jack o Lantern bought at Tesco by Dan to take to his year 1 class. When I started cutting it up I realised it wasn’t even a pumpkin but a variety of Japanese squash – it was yellow rather than that rich tone of orange pumpkins normally come in. Shame on you Tesco for deceiving customers… Anyway, rant over. Here is delicious soup, made with roasted mystery squash, crème fraîche and roast red peppers, no chillies this time.
However, there is only so much you can have of anything before you get bored and roast pumpkin soup is no exception. Experimentation with coconut milk or crème fraîche can only push back the moment when you have to get creative. Spice-wise, pumpkin is best pals with cumin or chilli, and rosemary also goes. You can perk up your soups with goodies such as feta cheese, goat’s cheese or goats yogurt or buttermilk (it will curdle in hot soup though so leave it to cool a bit first). I love swapping potato for pumpkin when making pies – shepherd’s pie will never be the same, but I have also had tasty results with fish pie. But more importantly, pumpkin or butternut squash loooves bacon. And chicken. So, the thing to do would be to whack all three together into a tin and let them do their thing in the oven, like so. Alternatively you could fry or grill the bacon separately and sprinkle over your dish (or indeed soup). Because I hardly ever eat carbs this would be a meal on its own, but I would happily eat this with brown rice.
I think we will all agree that that is delicious but fairly unadventurous. The other day I felt like experimenting, and discovered a recipe for Sicilian pumpkin. Not sure if they actually eat this in Sicily, but I sure can confirm that the match of salty capers and sweet sultanas and honey must have been made in some kind of Italian heaven.
Sicilian pumpkin (serves 2-4 depending on whether you have a side with it)
3–4 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, sliced
250g diced chicken breast
chilli or cayenne pepper
500g pumpkin, diced
1 tsp honey
2 tbsp raisins
2 tsp capers
60 g pine nuts
Heat the oil in a large heavy lidded pan. Add the onion and let it cook for a few minutes before adding the chicken pieces to brown. Then add salt and chilli, turn the heat down and cook for 5 more minutes. At this point add the pumpkin, capers, raisins and honey and give everything a good stir so that all the ingredients are smothered in honey. Put the lid on and cook for about 15 or 20 minutes or until the pumpkin has cooked but still has a bit of a bite and isn’t completely falling apart. Keep stirring occasionally, honey has a tendency to burn and it will help to cook everything evenly. Sprinkle with the pine nuts, or stir them in and serve. Again, you might have this with rice – I didn’t and it made 2 portions, so I imagine with rice you could get 4 out of it. This is seriously yummy!