Even though I know Halloween is a bit of a commercially-driven juggernaut, I kind of like it. I’m a big fan of dressing up and being a bit silly. I also have a penchant for sticking up wispy spider webs and scary pumpkin decorations on my front door. They’re great for inviting in the many local trick or treaters, who are oh-so-polite, taking only one sweet or chocolate at a time. The little ones in spooky skeleton outfits are so funny; they can often barely walk and really don’t have any idea of what’s going on. I’m quite happy to get sucked into commercialism if it involves having fun.
The other reason I like Halloween is that it’s the time of the year for pumpkins to burst onto the scene in all their golden orange glory. Along with the multi-coloured autumnal leaves scattering the ground and the smell of wood-burning fires starting to be lit up, they are one of my genuine pleasures at this time of the year.
The sweet earthiness of pumpkin is satisfying and versatile, working well in both savoury and sweet dishes. I had a fantastic salad recently at Ask For Janice in Farringdon which was the perfect example of all that’s good about pumpkin. Warm juicy wedges of roasted Crown Prince squash were stacked on the plate with roasted cobnuts, melty-cheese-centred fava bean croquettes and a scattering of fresh green pea shoots. It was incredibly comforting, nourishing – and simple.
Another part of the appeal of pumpkins is in their names; they’re often fairy tale-like and a little quirky. I can just imagine Cinderella arriving at the ball in a ‘Crown Prince’ carriage. Then there’s Turks Turban, Harlequin Acorn, Kabocha, Sweet Lightning and the aptly-named Golden Spaghetti pumpkin; each has it’s own distinct appearance and a slightly different flavour. And although the ever reliable butternut squash might be a bit less exciting in name, it is nonetheless another tasty autumn standby.
It’s best to store pumpkins or squash somewhere cool, either in the fridge or a cool pantry. And don’t throw away the seeds! You can make your own roasted pumpkin seeds very easily. Wash them first to remove the pumpkin pulp and ideally soak overnight to make the seeds easier to digest. Alternatively, simmer them in water for 10 minutes. Spread the seeds on a tray, drizzle with a little oil, season and pop in the oven at 180°C (160°C fan) for 10-15 minutes.
Pumpkin flavour partners
Pumpkins like warming spices, appropriate to the cooler weather outside. Cumin, coriander, nutmeg, ginger and cinnamon all work well with pumpkin. A pinch of chilli adds a nice spicy kick.
Creamy dairy is also a good option: butter, goat’s cheese, ricotta, feta – take your pick! You can also enhance pumpkin’s natural sweetness with a drizzle of honey, molasses or maple syrup.
Pumpkin and pulses are a good combination: chickpeas and lentils both make good pumpkin companions.
5 ways with pumpkin and squash
This is pumpkin at its most straightforward. Peel your pumpkin, slice it in half and remove the seeds. Cut it into small chunks and steam in a steamer basket over boiling water for about 15 minutes. Season the cooked cubes with a little salt and pepper, and drizzle over a little extra virgin olive oil for a simple side. Alternatively, add the warm or cooled pumpkin chunks to a salad of your choice.
To roast, cover sliced or chopped pumpkin with a good drizzle of olive oil, add a teaspoon of spices of your choice, and season with some salt and pepper. For an extra level of caramelisation, drizzle over a little maple syrup or honey. Pop the pumpkin into a pre-heated oven at 180°C (160°C fan). Roast for around 30 minutes, turning once or twice, until the pumpkin is golden and crispy around the edges.
Unless the skin on your pumpkin is particularly tough, it’s actually nice to leave on when roasting. You can cut the pumpkin into cubes or wedges depending on what you prefer (don’t forget to remove the seeds first!). Roasted pumpkin wedges are lovely on their own, and roasted chunks make a nice addition to salads or risottos.
To purée pumpkin, steam or boil peeled chunks for about 20 minutes until the pumpkin is very soft. Reserve a little of the steaming / boiling water. Put the cooked pumpkin into a blender or food processor with a splash or two of the reserved water, and blend until smooth.
Puréed pumpkin can be added to sweet or savoury dishes. Use it as a filling mixed with ricotta and nutmeg in ravioli, or for the US favourite of pumpkin pie. Pumpkin scones and muffins are a nice afternoon treat with a cup of tea.
Pumpkin soup with a chunk of crusty bread is one of the most satisfying dishes to eat in the cold weather. For a simple soup, fry sliced onion, add chopped and peeled pumpkin, some ground cumin and coriander, and cover everything with vegetable stock. Simmer for 20 minutes and then blend. A hint of chilli lifts the flavour. This is also a great way of using up the insides of your Halloween jack-o-lanterns.
Pumpkin is a great option for a tasty vegetarian curry. Pumpkin chunks add body and texture to a vegetable curry, and the flavour of pumpkin works really well with fried onion and Indian spices. For added protein throw in a tin of drained chickpeas, maybe a few spoonfuls of coconut milk, and serve with a bowl of steaming brown basmati rice.
Need more pumpkin ideas?
Pumpkin and peanut curry (Delicious Magazine)
Thai pumpkin soup (BBC Good Food)
Best-ever pumpkin pie with stem ginger cream (BBC Good Food)
Malted pumpkin ginger bread (Izy Hossack for Sainsbury’s Magazine)