Why ruin a perfectly good pumpkin? Every Halloween you see 100’s of ‘Jack-o’-laterns’ in peoples windows and porches each emitting a faint eerie glow through sketchy-carved out features, not that I am one to poo-poo a time honoured tradition. When it comes to the end of October I feel pumpkins should be purchased in pairs, not because they are particularly sociable vegetables, because one can be carved out and the other can be used for filling your belly.
As I remember I used to be a bit of a dab hand at carving pumpkins, I loved drawing as a child and to be able to put a scary face on a vegetable was something you don’t get to do everyday. The only down side I found with carving a mean looking pumpkin and sticking it by the gates was that no-one would get to see my handiwork (not at the end of a half mile driveway on the forest anyway).
The pumpkin’s association with Halloween was conceived in North America around the 1860’s and in folklore terms it had something to do with warding off demons. Cinderella used to get the fairy godmother to turn a pumpkin into a carriage when she went for a night on the town and even Harry Potter is quite partial to pumpkin juice or three.
So now you have the historical facts about the pumpkin, what use does it have in the kitchen? Being a member of the squash family it can be used for all sorts: mashed, baked, roasted, sautéed and pureed, there is no end. One of my favourite ways to eat a pumpkin is taken from the River Cottage Cookbook. I have to hand it to Hugh, he did a fantastic job with this one. I‘ve made a few changes like adding pancetta and using cheddar instead of gruyere.
A great by-product of this recipe is the pumpkin seeds themselves. If you are feeling thrifty, then one of the things I like to do while waiting for the pumpkin to bake is to chuck the seeds in a bowl with a splash of olive oil and balsamic vinegar, a sprinkle of mixed herbs and a pinch of salt & pepper and roast them in the oven for 5-10 minutes. Yum!
Baked Pumpkin with Cheddar and Pancetta.
Not the healthiest meal, we’re talking gluttony of the highest order and one hell of a winter warmer. (Serves 1)
- 1 smallish pumpkin.
- 500gs of mature cheddar (depending on size of squash)
- 1 small pack of Pancetta
- 200ml of double cream
- Freshly grated nutmeg
- a small knob of butter
- Black pepper
Slice off the top of the pumpkin (about 1” down) and put to one side, you will use this as the lid later. Scoop out all the seeds and the stringy, soft bits. Keep the seeds for roasting (as mentioned earlier).
Preheat the oven to 190C. Fry off the pancetta and place on a kitchen towl to cool for 10 minutes.
Season the inside of the pumpkin with pepper, the pancetta will provide the saltiness. Fill the pumpkin 2/3 full with the cheddar and pancetta and pour in the double cream till ½ and inch from the top.
Add the knob of butter, black pepper and a pinch of freshly grated nutmeg.
Put the lid of the pumpkin back on and place in a dish in the oven (190C) for 45 minutes to 1 hour. Test for doneness by poking the flesh on the inside.
Serve piping hot with a nice chunk of bread for dunking.
I have done this dish many a time and it is so simple and so delicious. You can also add onion and play around with different cheeses, even add some different meat if you like. The beauty of this dish is being able to scoop off bits of pumpkin flesh from the sides, just try not to go through the skin and cause a terminal leak as I have on occasion!