By Nathan Carey
Every October the people of Ireland buy hundreds of thousands of pumpkins to carve and decorate their homes. According to research however, only about one third of consumers use the innards or whole pumpkin itself as an ingredient. This staggering fact reveals a ghostly truth behind the pumpkin business, over two thirds of pumpkins purchased for Halloween are discarded as food waste. But fret not! There are a multitude of ways you can use your pumpkin in the kitchen and avoid adding to the ever growing food waste problem.
Pumpkin carving may have originated from the practice of carving faces into vegetables such as turnips. This practice was common during the Gaelic celebration of Samhain. The carved vegetables were placed outside as lanterns with flames inside to illuminate the night when spirits roamed free. These days a carved pumpkin is the pinnacle mascot of Halloween. Pumpkins are part of the Cucurbitaceae family which includes fruits such as squashes, cucumbers and gourds as well as melons. These fruits are used widely in kitchens around the world and so it is no surprise that the pumpkin lends itself as a great autumn ingredient. Inside the pumpkin you will find a stringy mass of innards and many small seeds. Most people see these ‘pumpkin guts’ and immediately grab the spoon to scoop them out and toss them in the bin, however these innards can be used in a multitude of ways. The stringy mass can be kept in the freezer and used as an ingredient in a vegetable stock or even puréed and used in baked goods. The seeds are another source of inspiration, as they can be removed from the innards, washed, dried and then placed on a tray. From here you can let your imagination run wild! Adding some olive oil, salt and pepper before roasting in a 160 degree oven for 30 minutes, rewards you with the perfect Halloween snack. If you prefer sweet treats, try coating the seeds in some melted butter with cinnamon and sugar before baking. When it comes to the pumpkin flesh itself, the applications are endless. The easiest way to approach preparing the flesh is to cut the pumpkin into quarters. After this you can use a regular vegetable peeler to make easy work of the skin (be sure to compost this if you can!). Once peeled, the flesh can be chopped roughly into cubes. By keeping the pieces a similar size you can ensure the pumpkin will cook evenly. From here you can roast it, fry it, purée it or even freeze it for a later date.
If you know you’re going to be cooking with your pumpkin rather than using it for decoration, there are certain varieties that are more suitable and offer a richer taste. Sugar pumpkins are one such variety. These smaller fruits are slightly sweeter and have a smoother flesh, with less fibres. Other varieties like the ‘Casper’ pumpkin, which has a striking white coloured skin, are also sweeter and are great for baked goods. If you can’t get your hands on pumpkins themselves, many types of winter squash can also fit the bill – think butternut, acorn or delicata squash. No matter which you choose, there are a myriad of recipes out there to get the most out of your pumpkins. I’m going to share a few of my favourites here that you can make over the next few weeks to capture that autumn spirit!
Super Simple Pumpkin Soup
This recipe is based on one of the first dishes I ever cooked. I can still remember the chaos. Halloween 2013, and we had just carved a pumpkin. I had the bright idea to roast off the seeds in the oven. While they were roasting I realised that we had a second unused pumpkin that would be perfect to make soup with. I quickly realised that my 13 year old hands weren’t the best at peeling and chopping a pumpkin, but with some help from my family we made quick work of it. The great thing about this soup is that you can whip it up on a free weekend and have a tasty meal ready to go in the fridge during the week.
- Olive oil
- 2 yellow onions
- 5 cloves of garlic
- 1 red chilli
- 1tsp cumin
- 1l of vegetable or chicken stock
- 200ml heavy cream
- Around 1kg of pumpkin
- 1 red pepper
- Preheat your oven to 200°C.
- Peel and chop the pumpkin into equal sized chunks (around 2cm) and place on a rimmed baking tray. Drizzle 2 tbsp of olive oil onto the pumpkin and season with salt, pepper and 1 tbsp cumin. Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until the pumpkin is fork tender.
- In a large pot add finely chopped onion and red pepper to 1tbsp shimmering olive oil. Cook for 5 minutes.
- Add finely minced garlic and chopped red chilli. Fry until fragrant (Around 2 minutes).
- Add 1 litre of vegetable or chicken stock to the pot and bring to a low simmer.
- When the pumpkin is cooked add it to the simmering stock. Use an immersion blender to blitz the mixture smooth.
- Add 200 ml of heavy cream and stir through.
- Season to taste with more salt and pepper.
- Top with toasted pumpkin seeds and an extra swirl of cream.
As mentioned above, you can swap out the pumpkin in this recipe for any variety of winter squash. If you can’t finish all your delicious soup in 3-4 days, you can freeze the rest for a quick autumn hit whenever you need it! You can also make this recipe vegan by using vegetable stock and subbing in coconut milk in place of the heavy cream.
If you’re looking for something a bit sweeter this spooky season try out these cinnamon spiced pumpkin muffins!
- 200g canned or homemade pumpkin purée (see below)
- 250g plain flour
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 1 tbsp cinnamon
- 75g white sugar
- 75g light brown sugar
- 2 whole eggs
- 125g unsalted butter
For the Pumpkin Purée:
- Roast evenly sized chunks of peeled pumpkin on a baking sheet at 200 °C until fork tender. You can also steam the pumpkin if you prefer. Mash or blend the pumpkin until smooth.
- Preheat your oven to 180 °C and line a muffin or cupcake tin with 12 liners.
- Mix the flour, baking powder, cinnamon and sugars together in a large bowl.
- Add 125g of unsalted butter to a small saucepan and heat on medium until melted. Continue to heat the butter while stirring constantly. The butter will start to foam and the milk solids will slowly brown. Pull the butter off the heat once its sufficiently darkened. This ‘brown butter’ adds an irresistibly nutty flavour to the muffins.
- Whisk together the pumpkin purée, eggs and cooled brown butter.
- Add the wet ingredients to the dry, carefully folding through until there are no remaining dry spots.
- Add the batter to the liners and bake for about 15 minutes or until golden brown and slightly risen.
- Allow to cool completely before serving.
They will keep for up to 3 days in an airtight container. These muffins are best eaten under a blanket with a cup of tea and a spooky movie playing in the background!
I hope that whatever you get up to this Halloween, you’ll find a moment to relax and make some seriously good food using fresh autumn ingredients. As always if you make any of the recipes featured in the Express, we would love to see them! You can post a picture on Instagram or Twitter with the hashtag #ExpressCooks.