Wednesday 4 January 2012

Pumpkin pasties and other squashy delicacies

The pumpkins harvested from the allotment in October have been sitting on top of the kitchen cupboards maturing over the autumn and winter. The dark green Futsu is now a rich ochre colour (see picture, left) and the butternut squash have mellowed from a creamy jade skin to buttery yellow.
It's around now that I cast around for ways to cook them, versatile as they are. Pumpkins are often useful at Christmas time as they will easily feed a crowd, and also I think they always feel like a 'special occasion' food.

Smooth pumpkin soup
A straightforward pumpkin soup – this works best with a dense fleshed variety such as Berrettina Piacentina, which tastes like a cross between sweet potato and chestnuts and has a texture not dissimilar to sweet potato as well. Butternut squash is also good here; anything more fibrous than a butternut might require more in the way of pulping and sieving.
Peel and remove the seeds from half a medium-sized pumpkin. Chop the flesh into roughly 3cm cubes. Put on a baking tray, season lightly with salt and pepper, drizzle with olive oil and roast for 20 mins or so at 200 degrees.
Meanwhile, chop up an onion and two cloves of garlic and sauté them lightly in a splash of olive oil a large pan. They might colour slightly but don't let them brown. When ready, add the squash pieces and enough vegetable stock (eg, Marigold bouillon if none fresh to hand) to cover generously. Simmer for around 15 minutes, then whizz up in the blender.
Taste and adjust seasoning. Divide into bowls for each person and finish with either a swirl of crème faiche, or a dusting of smoked paprika, or a swirl of rose harissa, or a splash of walnut oil, or extravagantly, truffle oil.

For a Thai-flavoured version, add a tablespoonful of red Thai curry paste and some chopped ginger when you mix the roasted pumpkin pieces with the onion and garlic. Stir in a 400ml can of coconut cream with half the amount of stock.

Roast pumpkin slices glazed with soy sauce
Halve a medium-sized pumpkin and remove the seeds. No need to peel. Cut into slimmish wedges and place in a shallow dish. Splash over some olive oil and soy sauce, season and toss the pumpkin pieces until well covered. Leave for 15 mins to an hour, then either tuck the individual pieces around a roasting meat joint, or transfer the whole lot to the oven and roast for around 30 mins at 180 degrees.

Pumpkin pasties
These are mentioned in Harry Potter which might make them tempting to children. On the other hand, it might not, as the pasties served on the Hogwarts Express are clearly meant to be sweet, whereas I can’t bring myself to treat pumpkin as a dessert.
Either – one pack of ready-made shortcrust pastry, or,

225g plain flour
105g butter
Iced water
1 egg, beaten

1-2 shallots
400g flesh from a small butternut squash or similar pumpkin, peeled, seeded and chopped into chunks
125g ricotta cheese
I tbsp Parmesan
1 tbsp chopped fresh mint leaves

Heat the oven to 200 degrees.
First, make the pastry. If you’re making your own, cut the butter into little pieces and whizz with the flour and a pinch of salt in a food processor until it just begins to look like breadcrumbs. Add the water a tablespoon at a time, the then pulse to mix. Stop as soon as the dough looks as though it’s beginning to come together.
Turn out of the processor bowl on to a floured worktop and mould the mixture lightly with your hands until it forms a dough. Wrap in greasproof paper or clingfilm and chill in the fridge for at least half an hour or until needed.

Or, unwrap a sheet of ready-made shortcrust and roll out thinly.

While the pastry is chilling, toss the squash/pumpkin in olive oil, season lightly with salt and pepper and bake/roast, uncovered for around 30 minutes until soft and just beginning to brown at the edges.
Meanwhile, chop the shallots and fry gently in a little olive oil until soft. Pile into a bowl, and add the ricotta and Parmesan. Once the squash chunks are cool enough to handle, chop into 1cm cubes and add to the ricotta mixture. Add the mint leaves and stir well. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Roll out the pastry on a floured worktop until it’s nice and thin. Have the beaten egg and a pastry brush to hand. Up-end a 10cm circular cereal bowl on the pastry to make a template for the pasty and cut around the bowl with a short sharp knife. Put around 1½ tbsp of pumpkin mix in the middle of the pastry cut-out, then brush the outside edge of the circle with beaten egg. Fold the pastry over into a semi-circle and crimp the edges together with your fingers so that they stick together. Place the pasty, crimped edge upwards on a baking sheet and brush the outside all over with more egg. Repeat to make around five more pasties – you may need to roll out the pastry again.

Put the baking tray with the pasties in the oven for 30 mins. They can be eaten hot or cold.

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