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You Shall Go To The Ball

November 8, 2012
Anyone who reads this blog regularly, or knows me personally probably
knows how much I love pumpkin. Pumpkin, in my opinion, is the ultimate
vegetable. If I ever invent a game of vegetable top trumps, pumpkin
will be the card that everyone wants to hold. It just rocks. Look at
the evidence:

– It has a cute name. If you had a tiny kitten it would be really
sweet if you named it “Pumpkin”. Naming it Courgette, or Sweetcorn
would just be stupid. The cuteness of the word “pumpkin” is surpassed
only by “Munchkin”, which is what some people call the miniature
pumpkins.

– They’re the most decorative of all vegetables. Obviously there’s
that whole Halloween carving business we’ve just been through. I know
we imported this tradition from America, and when I was little we used
to carve a swede or a turnip or a particularly unpopular neighbour,
but I think we owe the US for this one. Pumpkins are easier to scoop
out, and they look much nicer than a swede. (I always think a carved
out swede looks a bit gruesome – like it might actually be a small
rotting head). There are also some very impressive example of pumpkin
carving to be seen. Quite apart from that, though, pumpkins look
lovely even when they haven’t been carved. That beautiful bright
orange – the luxurious dumpy shape- it looks like that orb that’s part
of the crown jewels. And who wouldn’t want the edible equivalent of
the crown jewels in their kitchen?

– They have their own fairy tale. OK, so the story of Cinderella has
some questionable messages (get rescued from a life of work by
marrying a prince who values you mainly for your shoe size), but the
bit with a pumpkin turning into a coach is kind of cool.

– They are incredibly versatile. My sister’s boyfriend asked me
recently for ideas of what to do with the inside of a pumpkin once
they’d carved it out for Halloween, and I spent the next ten minutes
going “ooh – ooh – or soup…ooh…ooh… curry…ooh…and you can
make cake with them too apparently….”. You can do SO MUCH with a
pumpkin it’s actually a bit ridiculous. They work sweet and savoury.
You can peel them, or, if you’re cooking them a long time, eat the
skin as well. You can puree them or eat them in chunks. You can hollow
them out and stuff them with other things (I once saw soup served in a
large pumpkin, with the pumpkin acting as the bowl. I thought this was
lovely). If you buy a big pumpkin now – and they should be pretty
cheap in the shops now Halloween has just gone, you can chop it up and
freeze handfuls in sandwich bags or Tupperware for use in recipes for
the next few months.

My favourite things to do with pumpkins are:
–  Roast them in the oven in oil and herbs, with other vegetables,
plus maybe some almonds or cashews and then just serve with cous cous
or bulgur wheat.
– Put them in curry – often a Thai style curry. I think pumpkin goes
especially well with coconut.
– Make soup. Just something simple with lentils, leeks and stock, or a
fancy one with Thai curry paste.
– Put them in risotto – the creamy texture of pumpkin is really good
in risotto. I also like to use spinach or peas when I’m using pumpkin,
mostly because I like the colour clash between the green and the
orange, but it also tastes good.
– And this pasta recipe here, which has recently become a bit of a
staple, and a good alternative to my usual stand-by of
pasta-with-red-sauce. You can actually use butternut squash instead of
pumpkin for those terrible times when pumpkins are not available, and
it’s still good, but pumpkin is better. You can add other vegetables
or herbs if  you have any lying around – again, spinach is good.

Pumpkin Pasta

Ingredients:

A pumpkin/ part of a pumpkin – chopped into small cubes
cooking oil (Something with a bit of flavour, like a nut oil adds
something, but just plain vegetable oil is fine)
An onion
Tin of butter beans or cannelini beans – drained
Some garlic (I use  one clove per person I’m cooking for, but I do like garlic)
Soya cream, or single cream
Pesto, or, at a pinch, some mixed herbs
chopped fresh rosemary (optional, but lovely)
Nutritional yeast (optional)
Sun-dried tomatoes (optional)
Dried pasta
Salt and pepper

– Heat the oil in a pan. Chop the onion and garlic into very small
pieces and stir fry for five minutes
– Add the pumpkin and move around to coat in oil. Cook for a couple of
minutes, then turn the heat down low, stick a lid on the pan and leave
it for 20 minutes- half an hour, stirring occasionally, until the
pumpkin gets nice and soft and a bit squishy.
– Put the pasta on to boil according to the packet instructions.
– Pour the beans into the pan and mix in. The pumpkin should be soft
enough that it’s starting to break up a bit. Now turn the heat off and
get a hand held blender (You can do this with a potato masher, but a
blender is easier). Blitz the pumpkin and beans until it becomes a
mushy mix, but not so much that it liquifies. You’re not making soup.
– Add around a cupful of cream, a big dollop of pesto and/or the herbs
and the sun-dried tomatoes if using. Stir these in and reheat the
whole pan, gently on the hob until heated through. Then turn off the
heat and add the yeast and season to taste.
– Drain the cooked pasta and mix the pumpkin mush into it, a dollop at a time.

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