My only experience of pumpkins while in Ireland was at Halloween during my first year in Dublin. One of my then housemates bought a pumpkin and carved it into a grinning Jack O’Lantern to sit in the window. I had only ever made Jack O’Lanterns from turnips before and was amazed at how easy it is to hollow out a pumpkin rather than spending ages digging your difficult way through the tough flesh of a turnip! With touching (and undeserved) faith in my cooking abilities, he set the pumpkin flesh aside and informed me that it was my job to turn it into something edible. I failed the challenge, I must admit. Every time I opened the fridge the watery yellow flesh rebuked me and it wasn’t too long before it made the trip to the dustbin. Since then I’ve seen pumpkins appearing in Irish supermarkets in time for Halloween each autumn but I’ve never even been remotely tempted.
However, it’s an altogether different story over here in New Zealand. In autumn, pumpkins in every kind of shape, size and colour are piled high at the markets and, due to their superior keeping abilities, they linger happily on in kitchens long after the first harvest. There are many different varieties, but the Crown Pumpkin – a medium sized round pumpkin with corrugated grey skin and, unlike that Halloween one, sweet orange flesh – is one which I’ve used most.
Despite that bumpy past introduction, I’ve really enjoyed eating and cooking pumpkins here. I love roasted pumpkin – toss it in salt, freshly ground black pepper and olive oil and cook at 180°C for about 40 minutes – to accompany stews, especially a recent Bean and Pork Hock one. Any leftovers brighten up a miserable wintery day when converted to Spiced Pumpkin Soup, there’s an interesting-looking Pumpkin Salad here and it can be used in curries, with pasta, for a tortilla, to make gnocchi, or in pies. It has a great affinity with kumara, the Maori sweet potato, and the Boyfriend’s mother recently cooked us a rich and delicious Pumpkin and Kumara Soup. In short, the humble pumpkin is an entirely versatile vegetable that can be used in either sweet (Govinda’s Pumpkin Pie, for instance) or savoury dishes and has an affinity with either spices (cumin, coriander, cinnamon) or herbs (rosemary, sage). I wonder if I’ll be able to get pumpkins that taste this good when I’m back in Ireland?
Spiced Pumpkin Soup
Olive oil – 1 tablespoon
Onion – 1, chopped
Garlic – 1, chopped
Turmeric -1 teaspoon
Ground cumin – 2 teaspoons
Ground coriander – 2 teaspoons
Garam masala – 2 teaspoons
Roasted pumpkin – 1kg
Chicken stock – 1.5 litres
Coconut cream – 200ml
Fresh coriander – a small bunch, chopped
Heat the oil in a large saucepan and fry the onion and garlic for a few minutes over a moderate heat, until softened. Add the spices to the pan and fry for a moment until the mixture smells fragrant. Tip in the roasted pumpkin and chicken stock, bring to the boil then reduce the heat and simmer for 15-20 minutes.
Purée with a hand-held blender or use, as I do, a potato masher for a more textured soup. Add the coconut cream, warm briefly then serve, sprinkled with chopped fresh coriander.