On all the reasons why we should embrace the most gourd-geous of vegies, the pumpkin
‘Power to the pumpkin!’ hollers Matt Preston, who says there are so many reasons beyond pumpkin soup to love this year-round staple. From a vibrant HUMMUS TO AN EASY MID-WEEK TRAY BAKE, HE SHARES HIS TOP fiVE SEASONAL RECIPES for this most gourd-geous of vegetables
I HAVE often wondered how something as dumpy, round and dull-looking as a pumpkin can be so totally delicious? Then I look in the mirror and I understand. You see, with people, as with pumpkins, the ‘ugliness’ is often only skin deep and may well hide a sweetness that all but the sourest will find delicious.To make things even better, with pumpkins, this sweetness intensifies with cooking and pumpkin can end up almost like plant candy.
The other thing to love about pumpkin is its versatility.When cooked it can turn into everything from chewy roast wedges or a meltingly tender puree to even the most wonderfully golden soup or pasta.
Pumpkins are vastly underrated as a vegetable pretty much everywhere around the world apart from here. Sure, you’ll find them in Thailand, Mexico, Japan and India, but never viewed with the admiration that their flavour and versatility should attract. Until I moved to Australia, I’d only ever known pumpkins as something my American and Canadian friends carved at Halloween or turned,very occasionally, into a sweet ‘pie’ as they liked to call it, no matter how many times I pointed out that a pie needs a lid. Pies aside, here are five recipes that hero pumpkin.
HARISSA LAMB-STUFFED PUMPKIN
It was our neighbour over the page, Auntie Donna,who taught us all about roasting halved butternut pumpkins to make our pumpkin soup, but, once cooked, those halves also make a fantastic receptacle in which to bake a spicy lamb mince. Fry lamb mince with diced onions, garlic, and ground cinnamon, cumin and coriander, then cook it for five minutes with a little chicken stock, harissa and sultanas.
Scoop out most of the pumpkin flesh (without breaking the skin or taking out so much that the sides collapse), chop it up and add to the mince with some cooked brown rice. Season to taste with lemon juice and a little salt. Bake the mince in the pumpkin halves, covered, for 20 minutes at 180°C.
Serve topped with toasted pepitas, crumbled feta, pomegranate and mint.
GOLDEN PUMPKIN PASTA
Imagine pasta made with the sweet, nuttiness of roast pumpkin! It’s as easy as slow roasting cubes of butternut pumpkin until golden. Mash while hot and let them steam off. Mix with an egg yolk and as little ‘00’ flour as possible to make a dough. Fold and roll by hand between sheets of baking paper. Repeat a few times to develop the gluten in the dough, then roll out and cut into ribbons and you are done.
I like to cook the pasta in stock, then toss to coat in a pan of brown butter, pine nuts and currants. It’s equally as good as thicker buttered ribbons served with a generous spoon of lamb ragu. Either way, serve with grated parmesan.
THAI ROAST PUMPKIN TRAY BAKE
This is another play on that daggy dish of Thai red curry baked in a pumpkin that’s oh so very naff but rather tasty. Brown chicken thighs on all sides in a baking tray, then set aside. Place finger-thick slices of Jap, Kent or Grey pumpkin and wedges of red onion in the tray. Roast in a 160°C oven until softening.Toss chicken breasts in a little red curry paste. Place in the baking tray with the chicken thighs. Mix another couple of spoons of red curry paste with a can of coconut milk, pour into the tray and return to the oven until the milk has reduced and the chicken is cooked through. Dress with fresh herbs like Thai basil and coriander, and a good squeeze of lime juice. Serve with brown rice.
CRUNCHY PUMPKIN HUMMUS
Pumpkin hummus makes a delicious change from regular chickpea hummus. Blend 400g roast butternut or Jarrahdale pumpkin with a rinsed tin of chickpeas and some tahini, cumin, garlic, olive oil, salt and lemon to make the hummus. Finish with a little swirl of olive oil and sprinkle over a spoon of your favourite dukkah, a little smoked paprika, or my obscenely addictive pepita crunch.
To make the pepita crunch, toss 1 cup pepitas (pumpkin seeds) with 2 tbs sriracha chilli sauce, 2 tbs maple syrup and 1 tbs olive oil. Spread out on a baking-paper-lined tray and bake in a 160°C oven for 25 minutes or until crisp. Toss the pepitas every 5 minutes to ensure even toasting. Serve half the pepita crunch thickly sprinkled on the pumpkin hummus.This crunch is equally as delicious spooned on top of pumpkin soup as a garnish or used in the barbecue pumpkin salad below instead of cashews. Be careful, as it is quite addictive – especially if you toss it with chopped, dried diced smoky bacon after roasting!
BARBECUE PUMPKIN SALAD
This really is the simplest dinner. Blanch wedges of nutty Kent or sweet butternut pumpkin in boiling water for 5 minutes, drain and pat dry, then roast over a low barbecue (or chargrill pan over low heat) until soft, charred and gnarly. Microwave four corn cobs for 4 minutes to cook slightly, then finish on the barbecue so the kernels tan up in places.Toss the pumpkin with the meat torn from a barbecue chook bought from the supermarket (or chicken shop). Cut off the corn in slabs.Toss in maple syrup, season and add to the salad. Spoon over a dressing made from 1 tbs miso mixed with 1 tbs Japanese Kewpie mayo thinned with lime juice to taste.Add torn coriander and a couple of handfuls of toasted cashews or pecans to finish. If you are a vego, ditch the chook and replace with lots of diced chilli and your favourite feta.