A pumpkin has been sitting in my front hall for weeks now. I keep it there because it is the coolest place in the house. There is also a certain aesthetic. The muted grey green skin of this particular pumpkin blends well with the colours of the old encaustic floor tiles and it looks nice, sitting quietly as it does, between the Nike trainers, Ugg boots and other contemporary teenage gear that litter the entrance.
It is not there as an ornament; it is being kept cool until I decide what to do with it. When a workman came to the house last week for some repairs, the words: “Let me just move that pumpkin…” came forth, which felt suddenly ridiculous. There will be more in my box this afternoon, so time to cook the hallway one.
Since bookshelves have now been sorted, and the entire cookbook collection is finally accesible, the morning was spent hunting down pumpkin recipes. Something other than soup. There are many more than anticipated. I found: Lebanese pumpkin kibbeh, Italian pumpkin ricotta gnocchi, a South American pumpkin and meat stew, Mexican pork and pumpkin stew, French pumpkin gratins, Ottolenghi roasted wedges, …but still not sure what to make.
The Victory Garden Cookbook by Marian Morash was sitting on a low shelf. I only recently bought this, second hand from Amazon, because it was one of Patricia Wells’ favourite books when I worked for her all those years ago, and she knows a thing or two about cookbooks. For those who don’t know, Marian Morash is a contemporary of Julia Child (and was a chef on her show) who had a cooking show of her own on PBS in the U.S. in the 70s, about the veg patch she and her tv-producer husband had (and still have, apparently) in the garden of their Nantucket home. The name ‘Victory Garden’ was inspired by the home-garden phase which followed WWII, and feels very similar to the current phase of grow-your-own and CSA. The common thread is a need, or desire, for self sufficiency. Anyway, Patricia always said it was one of the best books ever and, twenty years later, I feel the same. Although the layout is dated, as are many of the recipes, you cannot beat it for information on how to handle produce, either from your garden or direct from the farm. Loads of growing information as well.
The thing about pumpkins, I find, is the skin is a bit daunting; it’s like working through armour plating to get to the flesh. I looked up pumpkins in the Victory Garden book. Lots of ideas and a great tip for preparing pumpkins. She suggests trimming both root and stem ends, to remove the skin and to keep it flat. Then, with a flat end on the worksurface, peel off the skin, working round, as you would if you were removing the skin from an orange. There is a photo in the book, which says it all. Everyone on the box scheme should have this book. You could also watch this video on youtube which shows the technique, demonstrated very well, if somewhat slowly, by a jolly, pumpkin-shaped chef:
As for the fate of my hallway dweller, although tempted by the Ottolenghi recipe, it is going to get a Tex-Mex treatment, to make more of a substantial meal. Pumpkin goes well with tomatoes and spices, I’ve always found.
Vegetable Chilli with Spiced Pumpkin Wedges
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 onion, minced
1 large carrot, finely chopped
1 red pepper, finely chopped
250 g mushrooms, finely chopped
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon dried oregano
½ teaspoon cayenne or chilli flakes
½ teaspoon allspice
2 x 400 g tin kidney or black beans, (or 1 of each) drained
400 g tin chopped tomatoes
Pinch of sugar
Sea salt and fresh ground pepper
Large handful chopped fresh coriander
For the pumpkin:
1-2 small pumpkin(s), peeled, seeded and cut into wedges
6-7 tbsp vegetable oil, such as sunflower or rapeseed
2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp dried oregano
2 tsp ancho chilli powder, or 1 tsp chilli flakes
Sea salt and black pepper
Grated cheese, for serving
Creme fraiche or soured cream, for serving
Cooked brown or white rice, for serving
Hot sauce, optional
Preheat the oven to 200C.
In a skillet, combine the oil, onion, carrot, red pepper and mushrooms and cook until soft and browned, 5-8 minutes. Add the cumin, oregano, cayenne and allspice. Cook, stirring often, until aromatic, about 1-2 minutes more. Season with salt and pepper.
Stir in the beans, tomatoes and sugar and simmer, covered,for 20 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning. Uncover and continue simmering at least 10 minutes more, or until the pumpkin is ready.
Meanwhile, line a baking tray with baking paper and brush with oil. In a bowl, mix together the oil and spices. Brush this over the pumpkin wedges and arrange them on the tray in a single layer. Sprinkle with salt. Roast until tender, 20- 30 minutes.
To serve, stir the coriander into the chilli, then spoon the chilli and rice onto plates alongside pumpkin wedges. Pass around the grated cheese, creme fraiche and hot sauce.