It’s pumpkin and squash harvest time and you’re likely to see quite a variety in the shops right now, at good prices — so we thought we’d give some of the available varieties their time in the spotlight this week. First of all, what’s the difference between a squash and a pumpkin? It’s a bit confusing but basically pumpkin is a type of squash — the term squash generally refers to four species of genus cucurbita, including the one pumpkin belongs to. Perhaps what matters more is knowing how to eat these autumn lovelies. They’re really good in a risotto, added to a roasted veg line-up, pureed into a pie, cut up in a frittata, added to autumn salads with feta cheese — the choices seem endless. And whatever you do, don’t throw out the seeds. After you’ve scraped them out from the centre, simply pull them away from the flesh and rinse them clean, spread on a tray to dry, then add a glug of oil and flavourings of your choice (salt, chilli flakes, fennel seeds and cumin seeds is a good combo but choose your own favourites) and bake in a moderate oven for 10 minutes or until the seeds are golden. They make a delicious snack or you can toss into salads, or sprinkle over soups or other savoury dishes for added texture. Roast them plain and you can use them in a coriander and pumpkin-seed pesto or even in a sweet treat, such as cranberry, chocolate and pumpkin seed cookies. Both recipes on bite.co.nz. But now to flesh out the subject...
Buttercup pumpkin (also known as kabocha) is a green-skinned variety that is dry with a sweet, nutty flavour, a sort of chestnut-meets-sweet-potato combo. Pick one that is heavy for its size and store in a cool, dry place. Pumpkins have a great shelf life if stored correctly. Roasted, in soups, pastas, pies and baked into cakes and breads, this variety is versatile and delicious, bearing in mind it’s on the drier side.
Butternut squash is a bowling pin-shaped beauty and another versatile variety that can be used interchangeably with a buttercup, although it is a little more moist and less sweet. These squash are sometimes popular because their thin skin makes them easier to peel — yes, we understand.
Crown pumpkin’s blue-ish grey skin sets this variety apart. The rich orange flesh has a mild, sweet flavour with a soft, moist texture. Soups and baked goods are where a crown pumpkin shines, although of course you can steam and roast it too.
You might be spying a little cutie in the pumpkin section, called gem squash. Apparently it’s a favourite South African variety, making itself known to Kiwis now too. It has a flavour much like a butternut, and its size means you can cut it in half, take out the seeds and bake before stuffing with fillings of your choice, such as tuna and rice, or a meat ragu. Or try the simple roasted bacon wrapped little gem recipe from bite.co.nz.
Spaghetti squash: This is one squash that does what it says on the tin, so to speak. When cooked, its flesh can be scraped into spaghetti-like strands and used as you would pasta, in many cases. A method to ensure the strands are not too moist is to cut the squash in half, remove the seeds, rub with oil and salt and place cut-side down in an oven, so that moisture doesn’t pool in the cavity. Then turn over and roast a bit longer cut-side up towards the end of cooking to dry it out. Use a fork to scrape into its natural noodly form. It’s gluten-free “pasta” with added vitamins, you could say.
Don’t like pumpkin? Well, leeks, cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower are looking good. And apples, pears and kiwifruit are sweetening up the fruit section too, along with satsumas. We know they’re imported but mango prices are hitting their sweet spot now too and make a welcome tropical injection to the autumn ranks. Nikki Birrell
PUMPKIN SOUP HAS MANY GUISES – PICK YOUR FAVOURITE OR TRY THEM ALL:
Thai red curry pumpkin soup
Peel and core a medium pumpkin and cut into large chunks. Place in a roasting tray with 1 Tbsp of coconut oil, a pinch each of chilli powder and cumin, and season with salt and pepper. Roast for about 20 minutes until golden. In a large frying pan or saucepan, saute a chopped onion in a little oil until soft. Add 1 Tbsp of red curry paste and mix well. Remove pumpkin from oven and add it to the pan, allow it to mix with curry paste and onions. Add ¾ cup of water and increase the heat. Simmer for 7–8 minutes, adding more water if necessary — the pan should not be dry. Blend well with a stick blender, slowly adding 1 cup coconut milk. Heat and season to taste. Serve with plenty of fresh coriander and naan or roti.
Cheesy pumpkin soup
Heat 2 Tbsp olive oil in a large saucepan and gently cook 2 chopped onions, 2 chopped celery sticks and 3 chopped cloves of garlic. Add 500g peeled and chopped pumpkin, 3 cups chicken stock, bring to the boil and then simmer until pumpkin is soft.
Meanwhile, heat oven to 180C. Mix 1 cup tasty cheese
and 1 egg in a small bowl. Spread over 3 slices of bread, then
cut each slice into 3 fingers. Place fingers on a baking tray and bake for 10 to 15 minutes until crisp. Remove soup from heat and puree in batches until smooth. Return soup to the heat and bring back to the boil. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Scatter ½ cup grated cheese over soup and serve with cheesy fingers.
Noeline’s butter pumpkin soup
Peel, seed and chop 1 medium pumpkin in a pan with 1 L chicken or vegetable stock. Cover and bring to the boil, then simmer for 10-15 minutes or until the pumpkin is soft. Mash the pumpkin into the stock. Don't drain any stock away.
Meanwhile, melt 250g butter in a pan. Add 3 chopped onions and 250g chopped bacon and fry over a low heat, stirring regularly, for 15 minutes until onions are soft.
Add 8 Tbsp flour and 2 tsp curry powder, mix well and cook, stirring, for 2-3 minutes. Gradually add up to 1 cup milk, stirring, to make a loose paste. Spoon into the mashed pumpkin mixture, season with salt and freshly ground black pepper then mix together well. Thin down with 1-2 cups of water to reach the desired consistency. Serve sprinkled with fresh chopped herbs, such as parsley or coriander.
Lemon, red lentil and pumpkin soup
Peel and slice 3 onions. Set 2 of them aside. Heat 1 Tbsp butter and add 1 of the sliced onions. Stir and add 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped, with 1 Tbsp finely chopped fresh ginger and 3 tsp palm sugar or brown sugar and 200g red lentils. Pour over 1½ L of water and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down to a simmer. Stir in 1 tsp each chilli powder and turmeric and ½ tsp grated nutmeg with the zest and juice of 1 lemon. Cook for approximately 30 minutes.
In a second saucepan, boil 250g peeled pumpkin, cut into chunks, until soft. Drain and mash roughly. Add to the lentils and stir well. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Heat 2 Tbsp vegetable oil in a fry pan, then add the remaining sliced onion and another 2 cloves of finely chopped garlic. Add the zest and juice of 2 lemons and continue cooking until the onions are deep brown.
Serve the soup in warm bowls with the onions on top, a spoonful of yoghurt if desired, a generous amount of chopped coriander and roti or naan bread on the side.