Autumn feast: cooking with squashes and pumpkins

Date:29-10-2013 08:58:43 read:6

Autumn feast: cooking with squashes and pumpkins

The fleshy delights of pumpkin and squash seem made for autumnal fare.

Butternut squash strata Photo: YUKI SUGUIURA
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Sometimes I think that growing up in an era before every conceivable food was available is what made me a keen cook. I have made so many dishes by compromising, substituting and imagining. Hard though it is to believe, there were no pumpkins and squashes in Ireland in the 1970s (or at least, not in the greengrocers).

Our Hallowe’en lanterns were made from turnips (yes, you read that right) so I never complain about hollowing out my children’s lantern. Pumpkin flesh is nowhere near as unyielding as that of turnips. I used to dream about pumpkin lanterns like the ones I saw in American children’s books. When I was older I filled pasta parcels with a mixture of sweet potato and carrot in an attempt to ape pumpkin’s flavour. But nothing else tastes the same.

Now pumpkins are everywhere. There are so many piled up outside my local greengrocer’s they’re almost hazardous. But I don’t take them for granted. Their soft, melting flesh is an autumnal joy and works with so many different flavours, from such varied cultures. You never run out of ways to cook it.

TRY THIS: Pumpkin pancakes with pecan-maple butter recipe

In the past week I’ve had roasted chunks flecked with grated nutmeg and tossed with pasta (pumpkin flesh loves parmesan too) and a Vietnamese pumpkin curry. It’s enhanced by coconut and tempered by the freshness of lime and lemon-grass in south-east Asian dishes. American treatments tend to up its sweetness – pancakes and big smiling wedges are flavoured with cinnamon and maple syrup – but you can bring out its savouriness by cooking it with lentils and mushrooms.

TRY THIS: Pumpkin laksa recipe

I used to get confused about the difference between pumpkin and squash. It’s a difficult area. Local usage often dictates which is which. They belong to the same family. Pumpkins are usually the jack-o’-lantern shape we associate with Hallowe’en, with thick orange skin; squashes can be smooth, warty, striped, stippled, their skins as smooth as mangoes’ or as coarse as old boots. They can be the colour of apricots, flames or fir trees and come in myriad shapes – acorns, turbans, melons and snake-like curls. Their flavour may be sweet, nutty, corn-like (or, unfortunately, bland, if you find a bad specimen).

TRY THIS: Butternut-squash strata recipe

The important thing is to find one you love. The best all-rounder, to my mind, is Crown Prince. It’s an elegant grey-blue with not a hint of the deep, intensely flavoured orange flesh inside. My children are disappointed when I buy it because of its colour – they think brightness means sweetness – but you can’t judge a pumpkin by its skin.

    Ever For Health Copy Rights 2013