How to cook pumpkin: five ways for autumn
Meedu Saad — head chef at London restaurant Kiln — shares five ways to make the most of this bold and versatile winter squash, from a turmeric curry to an unlikely ice cream dish.
As a child, I remember walking into the kitchen and smelling cinnamon and nutmeg just as Mum’s pumpkin pie was coming out of the oven. Waiting for it to cool down, so I could top it with a big dollop of whipped cream, was the most difficult hour of my life.
Pumpkins are members of the winter squash and gourd family, and come in many different shapes and sizes. Their textures vary greatly once cooked, and they’re best compared to potatoes — you want to make sure you have the right one for whatever you’re making. They carry bold flavours well, such as spices, salt and strong cheeses, due to the natural sugars present in them.
In my opinion, roasting and grilling are among the best ways to cook pumpkins. Reducing their liquid content concentrates the flavour, and the caramelising sugars create complex notes when met by the amino acids — this is known as the Maillard reaction. It leads to nutty, toasted and umami flavours being released, and, when handled well, a slice of pumpkin can be as satisfying as any other form of protein.
I’m lucky to have had access to many varieties of squash over the years. Some of my favourites are butternut squash, for its texture and versatility; Crown Prince pumpkin, for its intensity of flavour; kabocha squash; and acorn squash. All of these contain a good quantity of sugars, which I caramelise slowly by burying the entire squash in hot ash overnight, before peeling to reveal the perfectly concentrated flesh.
Five ways to use pumpkin
Given their natural sweetness, pumpkins work really well in desserts. Try whipping some double cream to stiff peaks, then folding it through a pumpkin puree and topping with some ground cinnamon.
Pumpkin soup is simple but delicious. Try roasting the pumpkin first to intensify its flavour before pureeing. I like to roast the seeds and use them to garnish the soup along with a little salty cheese like feta or ricotta salata.
Potatoes can easily be replaced with pumpkin to make gnocchi. Make sure to use a variety that’s dense in texture and has a low water content, then roast or bake to remove any excess moisture. They're particularly delicious when finished in some foaming brown butter and topped with sage.
4. Chocolate ice cream
You’re going to have to trust me on this one, but pumpkin seed oil and chocolate ice cream are a match made in heaven. The seed oil, as well as being nutty and delicious, has many health benefits and can be found in any good general health food store.
5. Turmeric curry
This is a staple at Kiln. Sour and sweet complement each other well in this dish, and we change the ingredients based on what’s available seasonally.
Meedu’s sour turmeric curry with wild mussels and pumpkin
Takes: 25 mins
13g large red dried chilli, chopped
30g red bird’s eye chilli, chopped
6 garlic cloves
80g Thai shallot, chopped
20g fresh yellow turmeric, chopped
30g shrimp paste
200g Crown Prince pumpkin, peeled
500ml fish stock
20ml fish sauce
200g wild mussels (debearded)
10g Thai basil
1. Soak the large dried chilli in water until soft. Use a mortar and pestle to crush the soaked chilli, bird's eye chilli, garlic, Thai shallot and yellow turmeric until it forms a fine paste, then add the shrimp paste and grind until well combined.
2. Use a mandoline or peeler to cut long, fine strips of the pumpkin.
3. Heat the fish stock in a pan set over medium heat until it reaches a simmer, then season with the fish sauce and tamarind. Add the chilli-and-turmeric paste.
4. Add the mussels and cook for 3 mins, or until all the shells have opened. Discard any unopened shells.
5. Remove the pan from the heat, add the pumpkin strips and leave to stand for 3 mins. Serve in bowls and garnish with the Thai basil.
Meedu Saad is head chef at Kiln.
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