I did something a bit spooky last Saturday, at lunch at the Anchor and Hope. It had nothing to do with the smoked cod’s roe or the crumbed pressed pig’s head we chose to start (though these were pretty bold and out of character for me). No. It was the fact that, for the first time ever, I opted for the vegetal main course option. Of course, I have had many vegetable-heavy dishes at restaurants in my time, but these usually star a starch of some kind: a pasta or grain, a potato, or perhaps eggs. But vegetables only? Not usually. I had the baked baby pumpkin, a couple of them in fact, oozy with cheese and chestnuts with peppery leaves and a pickled walnut on the side. And they were delicious.
I am no stranger to a pure-veg plateful at home; a ratatouille or a bowl of steaming peas or cabbage is just the job some lunchtimes. But from a restaurant menu? Usually – and rather unimaginatively – something with a little more…erm, meat to it wins the day. Especially in an old-school *gastropub* like this one (only took us a decade or so to finally get there), which always make me think of chops and burgers. After such a great start, I will certainly be ordering more vegetables in the future.
It is timely that a newly svelte (alright, svelt-er) Hugh Fearnley-Wotsisname has sworn a meat embargo on his latest programme and I am enjoying the recipes very much. So, with this meat-free plateful fresh in my memory I wanted to recreate some pumpkin magic at home last week, whilst the BSG was away. I decided to try and emulate this kind of cosy-October-wonderfulness by trying a stuffed, baked munchkin pumpkin for last night’s supper.
Having had rice in a kedgeree that morning, I was keen for something different to make up the bulk of the stuffing, so opted for couscous, but I do think with hindsight that something with a little more bite and nuttiness would have stood up far better: some wild rice or barley, perhaps.
To stir through the grains I had roasted some onions and red pepper until their extremities were pleasingly caramelised. To these I added some Shwarma spices from our local food haven, Lebanon Gate, which would permeate throughout and fill the house with wafts of warm, festive scents. Again, with the benefit of the experience I would have gone much heavier on these spices, perhaps adding some chilli for kicks, as well as stock for added depth. And cheese – a halloumi or mozzarella perhaps – melted within would have set this particular combo off nicely…
The part of this magic spell that did work first time was the baking; once you’ve nailed this, the possibilities are endless.
After washing and drying it, I carefully sliced the ‘lid’ off the baby munchkin, scooping out the string and seeds (TIP: discard the pith but keep and dry the seeds – they make a great snack when roasted). I then oiled and seasoned the inside of the fruit, replaced the lid and baked it in a shallow dish at 200 degrees for half an hour. During this time, I prepared the filling, mixing the grains, veg and spices together. I removed the pumpkin from the oven, filled it with the stuffing, replaced its lid and baked it for another 20 minutes.
Maybe it’s rather cheeky of me to post a largely imperfect recipe plus a few tweaks and call it worthwhile. However I am acutely aware that these orange orbs will be going very cheap from tomorrow morning, once Halloween has howled itself out, so there’ll be plenty of them around to experiment on. Perhaps I’ll try some kind of stew, or a pumpkin-based daal inside them next time; whichever proves the perfect magic spell, the experience has served as a satisfying display of the versatility of the fruit: a reminder that pumpkins can be a stars of the plate and not just scary Halloween lanterns or impromptu princess transport.