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Season of Mists and Mellow Fruitfulness

September 28, 2011

“Autumn days when the grass is jew-elled and the silk inside a chestnut shell,

Jet planes meeting in the air to be re-fu-elled all these things I love so well…!!”

 

If you’re around the same age as me, and British, you probably remember singing that song in assembly at primary school (If you fancy a bit of a nostalgia trip, you can have a sing-a-long here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w9mvrkQbzgc )

I loved that hymn. Still do. Not only because it’s a thanks-giving song that is unusually non-religious, but because autumn really is full of wonderful, rich treasures for which it’s worth saying a great big thank you.

Summer has some rather obvious charms, the sun, the heat, and the ice lollies on the beach, the endless daylight. Love it, of course I do. But part of me is always happy to see autumn come around again. If summer is the brash 20 year old in the miniskirt and push-up bra with all her obvious charms, then I think of autumn as a sexily mature red-head with come-hither eyes and a mysterious smile.

Something about autumn demands that we appreciate the beauty of nature – going out for a walk in October and looking around at all those wonderful deep reds and golds, feeling the crunch of dry leaves under your feet, and sticking my hand in my pocket to run my thumb over the smooth surface of the horse chestnuts I still can’t resist collecting even though I’ve no idea what to do with them now all my friends are long past playing conkers (though seriously, if anyone wants a game…).

Autumn cooking is also a homely, comforting affair. It’s the time of the harvest, so there’s an abundance of interesting produce available and there’s really no excuse to not shop for, and cook with, fresh, local produce.

As the weather starts to get a bit more unreliable I can at least look forward to dusting off my beret and my boots (not to mention wearing make-up without it melting), and even more so to the kind of warm, filling, slightly stodgy food that I always kind of miss during the summer. I look forward to pies, sweet and savoury, I look forward to hot, thick soups and pulse-filled stews, also nice hot bread rolls and bowls of porridge with honey in the mornings.

Some of my favourite autumn food treats are squashes and pumpkins. Pumpkins seem to embody the very spirit of autumn – there’s that gorgeous bright orange colour of course (and if you go to a good market stall or grocers this time of year they have squashes in a whole range of amazing colours – like giant edible jewels), the texture is wholesome and sturdy, without being heavy like potatoes, and I like to imagine the nutty, sweet taste is all the sunshine they’ve absorbed whilst they were biding their time, slowly growing to maturity over the summer. (There has to be some kind of fertility symbolism in there somewhere). And they smell amazing when chopped and slow roasted in the oven with a drizzle of honey.

I love Hallowe’en, and I love the pumpkin carving tradition (though having seen some nasty injuries occur from this dangerous hobby, I tend to refrain personally). It does seem a shame that so many people see pumpkin as an ornamental item, rather than an edible one. Of course, it can be both – you don’t even need to carve them really, an assortment of different coloured and shaped pumpkins and squash looks amazing just hanging around your kitchen. I’ve noticed a lot of the large pumpkins sold in the supermarkets around Hallowe’en are marked “not suitable for human consumption”, and not long ago my housemate expressed surprise when he found out pumpkins were actually edible, as well as being themed decorations (Seriously, what happened to pumpkin pie?).

So I implore you to embrace the autumn spirit fully and eat pumpkin til it comes out of your ears. I bought three at the start of the month and they’ve given me many, many meals. Another good thing about autumnal root vegetables in general is that they will last ages in the cupboard before you get round to using them.

Because of its subtly sweet/savoury flavour, pumpkin works in almost anything. In any recipe that calls for chunks of potato or sweet potato, you can use pumpkin instead for a different flavour and lighter texture. I’ve recently discovered that it goes amazingly well with coconut, and is great in Thai-inspired dishes. On the more treat-y front I’m really looking forward to trying out pumpkin cupcakes (there’s a recipe in the BabycakesNYC recipe book, which is well worth owning  http://tinyurl.com/67r8ocj ). Last night I had it stir-fried with spinach, honey and ground almonds and then tossed with linguini and lemon juice. It makes a great soup (with lentils, finished with coconut milk) and pumpkin or squash roasted in the oven with nuts and other veg then served with cous cous is my go-to autumn dinner (once you’ve done the chopping the veg pretty much sees to itself, and cous cous is easy peasy, so you can just relax with a book and enjoy the smell whilst it cooks – if you chop a load of veg up at the weekend and store it in Tupperware in the fridge for roasting during the week, this meal takes no effort at all.)

So, anyway, here’s my most recent dose of autumnal yumminess

Thai-Inspired Pumpkin Curry

 

Ingredients

A pumpkin (or squash) – you want one that weighs somewhere between 500-700g – you don’t need to use a whole one though, if there’s some left over, just wrap it in cling film and stick it in the fridge. Also, for this recipe, and most recipes where the pumpkin is cooked a long time, you don’t need to take the skin off (this will save you time, and possibly a finger), just chop it up into chunks.

 

Oil (Ideally sunflower or coconut, but vegetable oil will do)

1-2 red onions cut into fairly big wedges

2 chopped cloves of garlic

A big blob of Thai green curry paste (if you’re veggy, check it doesn’t contain fish).

A good chunk of grated creamed coconut OR a can of coconut milk

Some dried mung beans, soaked overnight or a can of ready to use mung beans 9otheer pulses also work – including lentils)

A pint of vegetable stock

A lime or a lemon

Spinach leaves

Dried Thai seasoning herbs, or a lemongrass stalk if you can get them

Fresh coriander (optional)

 

Fry the onion and garlic in the oil in a nice big wok over a gentle heat until they’re nice and soft and golden.

Add the pumpkin; be careful not to splash the oil onto your arm as you do so (!)

Stir gently and cook for a few more minutes before adding the curry paste (how much is a matter of taste and how hot the paste you’ve bought is – a bit of trial and error may be involved!), and the mung beans.

Now add the stock and the creamed coconut / coconut milk. If you’re using creamed coconut you may want to add a smidge more water to create a more liquid sauce. Bring to the boil then add the Thai seasoning or lemongrass stalk.

Turn down the heat and simmer for about half an hour until the pumpkin is nice and tender when you sink a fork into it. Then remove from the heat and stir in the lime juice, spinach and coriander.

Enjoy with rice!

Autumn artwork

 

 

 

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