Food and Drink

   

In Season: Pumpkin

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I used to think pumkins are pumpkins, that is until a visiting Italian chef told me that the Queensland Blue was the best pumpkin in the world for making pumpkin risotto.

There’s a place up Coldstream way where, at this time of the year, a roadside stall sells a wonderful variety of heirloom pumpkins. All different shapes, colours and sizes, each one is individually priced, you take your pick and drop your coins into the honesty box. These are not the varieties you’ll see in many shops, they are beautifully rich in flavour, and it’s really interesting getting to know their characteristics. One was so sweet it was crying out to be turned into a real American pumpkin pie, and it needed no added sugar! One I picked up last week had such a thin skin I could peel it with a potato peeler.

New season pumpkins are available right now and are in peak condition, though many say storing pumpkins for awhile, especially if they get a touch of frost, improves their flavour. Of the more common varieties, the Butternut, is a great all-rounder, smooth in soups or cakes; Jap has a sweet, nutty flavour and the small, bright orange Kent (or Golden Nugget) is a great smaller variety for cooking whole.

Now the cold has hit, pumpkin is a real winter warmer, so here’s a recipe for stuffed baked pumpkin to try on a cold evening – it’s vegetarian and makes 2 large portions

1 whole Jap pumpkin (around 1kg)
2 cloves garlic
1 onion
2 sprigs lemon thyme (chopped)
1 chilli (seeds removed)
2 tablespoons pitted black olives (roughly chopped)
50g rice (Basmati)
75g currants (or ‘craisins’)*
50g toasted almonds or pistachios
1 pinch cinnamon
200ml vegetable stock

Cut the top off the pumpkin, scoop out the seeds then scoop out some extra flesh to hollow it out. Chop up the removed flesh and sauté in oil with the garlic, onion, chilli and lemon thyme until just cooked. Add the olives, currants, nuts and cinnamon. Season then mix in the rice (rinsed first), stock and simmer for 3-4 minutes. Fill the pumpkin with this mixture, replace the top, brush the whole with oil, wrap in foil and bake at 180° for about 1 hour, or until easily pierced with knife. Serve cut into wedges.

You can also make individual portions using the Golden Nugget but they won’t take so long to bake, so leave the rice longer during its initial cooking.