There is no vegetable more evocative of autumn than the pumpkin, yet its versatility is often overlooked. These recipes show you can enjoy it in many tasty dishes, rather than just baked in an American-style pie.
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The sweet flesh of winter squash is the perfect foil for punchy Asian ingredients, as in wonderfully smooth soup brightened by lemongrass, ginger and chilli, or paired with lamb and sesame in a simple backed one-pot meal. It also makes a surprisingly good match for fresh rainbow trout in the form of a sweet-and-sour salsa, adds depth to classic ricotta gnocchi or provides an excellent and delicious vessel for a bubbling fondue.
When it comes to sweet dishes featuring squash, my instinct is to make a rustic and heavily spiced cake, but the curd sponge with its hint of orange blossom is rather more refined, while indulgent fluffy blackberry hotcakes are a treat for a special weekend breakfast.
MINIATURE BAKED SQUASH WITH GRUYERE FONDUE
This indulgent yet laid-back supper is perfect for chilly nights. Use the finest quality Gruyère you can find for the best results.
4 small pumpkins or winter squash50g soft salted butterHandful sage leavesSalt and black pepper375ml dry white wine150ml milk400g Gruyère, grated2 tbsp plain flourCrusty bread, to serve
1. Pre-heat the oven to 200°C, gas mark 6. Slice the top off each pumpkin, about a quarter of the way down. Scrape the seeds out of the pumpkins and the tops using a spoon (if the seeds are plump and shiny, rinse and reserve). Rub the insides of the pumpkins and the tops with most of the butter. 2. Pop a sage leaf or two into each pumpkin and season, then stand on a baking tray, with the tops tucked in alongside. Roast for 40 minutes, until the flesh is tender and the skin is beginning to darken. Remove from the oven and set aside. Turn the oven down to 180°C, gas mark 4. 3. Pour the wine into a medium saucepan and bring to the boil for a few seconds. Reduce the heat so that the wine is barely simmering. At the same time, pour the milk into a small saucepan and gently warm through. Toss 350g of the grated Gruyere with the flour to coat the strands. 4. Add the flour-coated cheese to the wine, a small handful at a time, stirring between each addition and making sure the cheese has melted smoothly before adding more. Gradually whisk in the hot milk, then season. 5. Divide this mixture between the pumpkins, filling them almost to the top. Rub the remaining butter over the rest of the sage leaves and place on and around the pumpkins, along with a handful of pumpkin seeds, if they were reserved. 6. Top the pumpkins with the remaining Gruyere and return to the oven for 15-20 minutes, until bubbling and golden. Serve with warm crusty bread for dipping and spoons to eat the flesh of the pumpkin containers.
PUMPKIN AND RICOTTA GNOCCHI
For this dish, I favour Kabocha squash, which has a dry, floury texture.
350g ricotta1kg peeled, deseeded pumpkin or winter squash, cut into 2cm cubes2 tbsp olive oil75g pecorino cheese, finely grated1 large egg, beaten1½ tsp freshly grated nutmegSalt and black pepper90g wholemeal flour, plus extra for dusting75g unsalted butter2 tbsp shredded fresh sage180g shredded cooked ham hockLemon juice
1. Put 200g of ricotta in a sieve over a bowl and leave in the fridge for 1 hour to strain off the liquid. Pre-heat the oven to 200°C, gas mark 6. 2. Toss the pumpkin with the oil in a large roasting tin and roast for 50-60 minutes, until caramelised, dried out and soft. Pass 450g of the pumpkin through a potato ricer or mash with a potato masher. If the pumpkin isn't very dry and fluffy, put it in a saucepan and dry out over a low-medium heat for 10 minutes, stirring constantly. Allow to cool slightly. 3. Mix together the pumpkin puree. strained ricotta, half the pecorino, the egg, nutmeg and a generous pinch of salt in a large mixing bowl. Gradually stir in 90g of the flour, then knead gently until the dough holds its shape. If it is sticky, add a little more flour, but not too much. 4. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and divide into 6 equal portions. Cover with a tea towel. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment and sprinkle lightly with flour. 5. Uncover 1 portion of dough and roll out using your palms to form a 2-3cm diameter cylinder. Cut into 3cm lengths with a sharp knife. One at a time, roll the gnocchi along the back of the tines of a flour-dipped fork, making ridges on one side and pressing a thumb indent on the other side as you roll. 6. Transfer the gnocchi to the baking sheets. Repeat with the remaining dough. Cover with cling film and chill for 1-5 hours. 7. Working in batches, cook the gnocchi in one or two pans of gently simmering, salted water for about 5 minutes (once it floats to the surface, cook for a further minute). Transfer to the lined baking sheets using a slotted spoon. 8. Melt the butter in a large frying pan over a medium heat, stirring constantly until it is pale amber. Add the sage and gnocchi and cook gently, turning the gnocchi, until golden. Add the ham and remaining pumpkin to warm through, then season and add lemon juice to taste. Serve in bowls with spoonfuls of the remaining ricotta, scattered with pecorino.
ROAST TROUT WITH PUMPKIN AND ALMONDS
This is a new and easy take on classic trout with almonds. You could also serve the hot pumpkin salsa with roast chicken or duck.
4 x 240g rainbow trout, cleaned but left whole40g salted butterSalt and black pepper1 small lemon, sliced into roundsHandful fresh herbs, such as dill, Greek basil and thyme3 shallots, peeled, finely diced300g peeled, deseeded and finely diced winter squash or pumpkin4-5 small bay leavesPinch brown sugar2 tbsp red-wine vinegar50g flaked almonds, toasted
1. Pre-heat the oven to 190°C, gas mark 5. Make shallow, diagonal slashes along both sides of each trout, rub with 15g of the butter and season inside and out. Stuff the bellies with the lemon slices and most of the fresh herbs, reserving a couple of sprigs to garnish. 2. Put the trout in a roasting tin and cook in the oven for 20-25 minutes, until the fish yields to the touch behind the head. Meanwhile, melt the remaining butter in a large frying pan and fry the shallots, pumpkin and bay leaves for 10-15 minutes, until soft and caramelised. 3. Add the sugar and vinegar, then simmer the liquid down to glaze the pumpkin. Stir in half the almonds and season to taste. Transfer the fish to 4 plates, spoon the warm salsa over and scatter with the remaining almonds and herbs. Serve with seasonal salad leaves.
BUTTERNUT SQUASH SOUP WITH THAI SPICES
The toppings make this soup, but you can pick which ones you use. Crispy fried shallots are available in Asian shops and some superstores; omit or fry your own if you can’t find them.
650g peeled, deseeded and diced butternut squash2 tbsp groundnut or sunflower oil4 small Thai shallots or 2 normal shallotsThumb-sized piece of fresh ginger, peeled and finely sliced2 lemongrass sticks, trimmed and sliced2 red chillies (1 deseeded and roughly chopped, finely sliced)2 garlic cloves400mil light coconut milk400ml vegetables stockLight soy sauce, ground black pepper and lime juice to taste
To serveHandful cashews, toasted and crushedSmall handful coriander sprigs2 tbsp crispy fried shallots
1. Pre-heat the oven to 200°C, gas mark 6. Toss the pumpkin with the oil, shallots, ginger, lemongrass, roughly chopped chilli and garlic cloves in a roasting tin. Cover tightly with foil and roast for 1 hour, until very tender. 2. Tip half the pumpkin into a blender with the coconut milk and blitz until very smooth. Pour into a large saucepan. Blitz the remaining pumpkin mixture with the vegetable stock. Add this to the first batch and stir well. 3. Put the pan over a low heat and gently bring to the boil, stirring often. Simmer gently for 5 minutes then season to taste with the soy sauce, black pepper and lime juice. 4. Divide the soup between warmed bowls and scatter with the toasted cashews, coriander sprigs, sliced chilli and crispy fried shallots (if using) just before eating.
BAKED LAMB WITH PUMPKIN CRESCENTS AND SESAME
Essentially, this is a tray-bake supper, but its complex, exotic flavours are far more glamorous than that implies. You’ll need to stir it in the oven now and then, but the dish needs little attention once the lamb is browned.
4 lamb necks, trimmed and cut into 5cm piecesSalt and black pepper2 tbsp groundnut or sunflower oil4 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed1 thumb-sized piece of ginger, peeled and finely shredded2 red chillies, deseeded and shredded4 tbsp Shaoxing rice wine or dry sherry3 tbsp light soy sauce2 red onions, peeled, each sliced into 6-8 wedges700g winter squash or pumpkin, deseeded and sliced into wedges2 tbsp rice wine vinegar or lime juice1 tbsp brown sugar2 tbsp sesame seeds, toasted2 large handfuls watercress, tough stems removed
1. Pre-heat the oven to 180°C, gas mark 4. Pat the cubed lamb dry with kitchen towel and season. Put half the oil in a large frying pan set over a medium-high heat and brown the lamb for around 12 minutes, until deeply, golden on all sides. 2. Tip the browned lamp into a sturdy roasting tin, measuring around 25x30cm, and add the remaining tablespoon of oil, the garlic, half the ginger and half the chillies with the Shaoxing rice wine or sherry and 1 tablespoon of soy sauce. 3. Cover tightly with foil and cook in the oven for 1 hour and 30 minutes. Turn everything over with a spatula, add the onions and pumpkin, re-cover and cook for 30 minutes more, until the meat is extremely tender. Uncover, turn with a spatular and add the rice wine vinegar or lime juice, brown sugar and another tablespoon of soy sauce to tin. 4. Cook, uncovered, for a further 30 minutes, until browned and sizzling. Remove from the oven, rest for a few minutes and add the sesame seeds. Taste and season with the remains tablespoon of soy sauce, if you think it is needed; you might want to add a little more vinegar or lime juice, too. 5. Divide between serving plates and gently toss the watercress through. Scatter over the remaining shredded ginger and chillies and serve with brown rice, if liked.
WINTER SQUASH HOTCAKES WITH BLACKBERRIES AND HONEYCOMB
Makes 10-12 pancakes
These wholemeal pancakes make a delightful weekend breakfast on autumn days. The batter is subtly spiced, but you could enhance the flavouring with a little ground ginger and mixed spice.
250g wholemeal spelt flour1½ tsp baking powder½ tsp bicarbonate of soda¼ tsp fine salt¾ tsp ground cinnamon284ml buttermilk or thin, natural yoghurt210g pumpkin puree (available in tins)50g light muscovado sugar2 large eggs, separated130ml milk1 tsp vanilla extract300g blackberries2 tsp sunflower oil100g honeycomb
1. Combine the spelt flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, salt and cinnamon in a mixing bowl. In a separate bowl, use a stick blender to blitz the buttermilk, pumpkin puree, 40g sugar, egg yolks, milk and vanilla until smooth. Fold this into the spelt flour mix until almost combined, but with a few clumps of flour still remaining. 2. Whisk the egg whites until they form stiff peaks and fold into the mixture until just combined. Transfer to a pouring jug and allow the batter to rest for 10 minutes. 3. Meanwhile, put the blackberries in a small saucepan with the remaining sugar and a splash of water. Bring to the boil and simmer gently for a few minutes, stirring occasionally, until the blackberries begin to give up their juice, but still retain their shape. 4. Set a heavy frying pan over a medium heat, then dip kitchen towel into the oil and use to lightly coat the surface. Once the pan is hot, spoon or pour in the batter to form circles about 8cm diameter, leaving plenty of space between each (you will have to do this in batches). Lower the heat to medium and cook for 2 minutes on each side, until golden brown. 5. Keep warm on a loosely covered plate in a low oven, and repeat until all of the batter is used, rubbing the pan with more oil if required. Serve in stacks with the blackberries and pieces of honeycomb.
ORANGE AND PUMPKIN CURD SPONGE
As well as making a fabulous cake filling with a difference, this orange and pumpkin curd, with its hint of orange blossom, is excellent spread on toast or spooned on to yoghurt for breakfast.
For the curdZest and 100ml juice from 1 large orangeZest and 30ml juice for 1 lemon100g pumpkin puree (tinned is fine)125g unsalted butter, cubed50g golden caster sugar2 large eggs, lighting heatedFew drops orange blossom water
For the cakes225g soft salted butter225g golden caster sugar4 large eggs200g pumpkin puree (tinned is fine)200g self-raising flour30g ground almonds2 tsp baking powder1tsp finely grated orange zest
For the cream150g fromage frais200ml double cream1tbsp icing sugar, plus extra to dustFew drops orange blossom waterFresh raspberries and pomegranate seeds, to decorate
1. To make the curd, put the orange and lemon zest and juice in a heatproof bowl with the pumpkin puree, butter and sugar. Set the bowl over a pan of boiling water, ensuring the base is not touching the water, and stir until the butter and sugar have melted. 2. Lower the heat slightly, whisk in the eggs and continue to stir for 2–25 minutes until the curd has thickened and coats the back of a wooden spoon. Cool for 5 minutes, then stir in the orange blossom water and strain through a sieve into a warm sterilised jar. This will keep for 2 weeks in the fridge. 3. To make the sponge, pre-heat the oven to 180°C, gas mark 4. Grease two 20cm sandwich tins with a little butter then line the base of each tin with non-stick baking parchment. 4. Beat the butter, sugar, eggs, pumpkin puree, flour, ground almonds, baking powder and orange zest in a large bowl until throughly blended. Divide the mixture evenly between the tins. 5. Bake the pre-heated oven for about 25 minutes, until well risen and the tops of the cakes spring back when lightly pressed with a finger. Leave to cool in the tins for a few minutes then turn out, peel off the parchment and finish cooling on a wire rack. 6. Whip the fromage frais and cream together with the icing sugar and orange blossom water until just billowy and thick. Spread the top of one cake with the curd and the bottom of the other with the cream mix, then sandwich together so that the cream sits above the curd and the base is flat. Sift a little icing sugar over the top and decorate with fresh raspberries and pomegranate seeds.
Styling / Karen Akhtar Photography / Ali Allen