Take a stroll, if you will, to fabulous Parkway Greens in Camden. There you’ll see numerous varieties of pumpkins and winter squashes including the spaghetti, sugar, cheese, little honey and pattipan, all organic and grown in the UK.
The extensive range they carry inspires me to try new recipes with produce I’ve never cooked before and even better is their impressive knowledge of the all fruit and veg: which squash, for example, is most suited to making a pie? And what’s the best for soup?
I settled on the cheese squash, sometimes called the Cinderella for their fairytale shape, and apparently the winning choice for a traditional pie (see box below).
Whatever the variety, this North American native boasts bright flesh, and is suited to both mains and desserts. The vivid hue is a result of the high levels of Vitamin A-generating beta-carotene. Low in calories, pumpkins are also a great source of fibre as well as other vitamins and minerals, while the seeds, beyond being delicious, are high in protein, magnesium and zinc.
The traditional Jack o’lantern pumpkin, while edible, lacks flavour and is best kept for carving. Although with Halloween long gone now, you might want to wait till next year for that.
In the meantime, here’s how to make your own fresh pumpkin puree and prepare the seeds for eating, plus a recipe to serve up this month.
Pumpkin puree in 4 easy stepsMaking fresh is more time consuming than grabbing a can but the end result is worth it. You can make puree ahead and fridge for up to one week, or freeze for up to 3 months.
• Preheat your oven to 180C. Cut the pumpkin in half and pull out the seeds before scraping out the rest of the innards with a spoon. Discard the pulp but hold onto the seeds.
• Cut the halves into quarters then place them in a roasting tin and bake for about 45 minutes or until they are fork-tender. You don’t need to add oil.
• Once done, leave to cool, enough that they can be handled. Then you should be able to peel off the skin. If you find it difficult just use a spoon to scoop again, add the cooked flesh to a food processor or blender and whizz until silky smooth.
• As pumpkin flesh holds a lot of moisture it needs draining first. A muslin cloth is best for this; add the puree before tying up and leaving to drain for an hour. A gentle squeeze will help it along. Alternatively, line a sieve with paper towel or coffee filter and set over a deep bowl.
…and a note on the seeds
Once dried out, the seeds can be eaten with their shell on or off. For the following recipe it’s the green seed from within that we’re looking for.
• Once removed from the pumpkin, use a colander to rinse the pulp from the seeds.
• Lay them out on a tray lined with baking paper and leave to dry, before using a rolling pin carefully to crack the outer shell but not the seed inside.
• Bring a pan of water to the boil then add the cracked seeds and simmer for 30 minutes. The seeds will be released and sink to the bottom while the shells rise to the top. Use a slotted spoon to remove the floating shells, before straining the whole lot into a sieve and laying them out on a baking sheet.
• Roast the seeds once dry at 75C for 15-20 minutes, no more. The cooking temperature and time are important to preserve their unsaturated fats.
Clare Zerny is the founder of Flour of London, and a regular stall holder at street markets like the annual Alma Street Fair. Follow her on @flouroflondon