The majority of British pumpkins are grown for carving, but, as Tom East
discovers, there’s a whole world of wonderful winter squash dishes out there
In India, they cook grated pumpkin in sugar-sweetened milk for
the classic dessert halwa, Italians stuff envelopes of pasta with
pureed squash, while in Mexico, its seeds are blitzed and mixed
with tomatoes and stock for a nutty sauce to go with chicken. As for
Britain, well, one of the most famous pumpkin dishes in the world is said
to originate in England – the Thanksgiving classic, pumpkin pie.
Native to North America, pumpkin was exported to France and
hopped over the channel to England in Tudor times, where it was used
as a pie filling (the first mention of which was in a 1675 book called A
Gentlewoman’s Companion). From there, the Pilgrims are said to have
taken it back to New England, and it became a traditional part of the
Thanksgiving feast, but it is as English as Henry VIII!
We are starting to reclaim it as one of our own as more and more
British people have started celebrating Thanksgiving (one in six, according
to a report a few years ago), which is probably just an excuse to stuff
ourselves silly with turkey, the mother lode of trimmings, and – if you
still have room, a selection of puddings. The increasing popularity of
Halloween in the UK has played a role too. No cook can resist such an
abundance of pumpkins piled high for the 31st October.
Whatever the origins, the beautifully spiced pie is just one example
of pumpkins and squashes being revered across the Atlantic. From a
Jamaican curry to a Trinidadian cumin and chilli spiked mash, pumpkin
is enjoyed all over the Caribbean, while the Peruvian porotos granados
soupy stew, made with pinto beans, sweetcorn and green beans, is one of
the finest pumpkin dishes in the world. Chunky and sweet, pumpkins and
squashes also make for great curries, whether it be a Sri Lankan wattakka
kalu pol, in which the spiced veg is cooked in coconut milk, or the lentil
and vegetable broth sambar, a dish so nutritious that it’s eaten for breakfast
with idli (a steamed rice and lentil cake) across southern India.
Bringing it all back home to our own harvest, pumpkin comes into
season in October, when our root veg are their best. Got any parsnip or
swede left over from your Sunday dinner? Roast with pumpkin and blitz it
all up for a silky, smooth soup.
Thick pumpkin soup
1 small pumpkin (about 500g)
1 medium-sized sweet potato
1 medium-sized floury potato
2 red chillies, finely chopped
1 onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
Large pinch of chilli flakes
½ pint vegetable stock
1. Heat the oven to 200°c. Peel and chop your pumpkin,
sweet potato and parsnips into big equal sized chunks
and tip into a large roasting dish. Sprinkle with chill
flakes and drizzle with olive oil. Roast for 30-45 minutes.
Don’t worry if the edges brown – it adds flavour.
2. Peel one medium sized floury potato and cut it into
quarters. Boil for 10-15 minutes until cooked. Drain.
3. When the veg is all cooked, heat your olive oil in
a large saucepan and gently fry the chopped onion
for five minutes. Then add the chillies and continue
cooking for two minutes, before adding the garlic and
giving it a quick stir around for another minute. Next,
add the cooked pumpkin, sweet potato, parsnip and
potato to the pan with the vegetable stock and bring
to the boil. Take the pan off the heat and liquidise
the soup in either a food processor, blender or, even
better, in the pan using a stick blender. Return to the
heat to warm through and serve with good bread. For
a thinner soup add more stock.