In conversation with Raf Epstein, 774 ABC Melbourne, 2 May 2017
Alice Zaslavsky, food educator and author of Alice’s Food A to Z, dives into the fleshy world of pumpkins on Foodie Tuesday. Callers share their own favourite cooking methods and recipes, and we fail to answer the vexing question of where the Jap pumpkin got its name.
Alice’s good gourd tips
Seasonality: The best time for buying and cooking pumpkin and squash is autumn through to early winter
What to look for: Depending on the type of gourd, its colour will vary, but you’re looking for a firm stalk with no signs of mould (this means it’s had rain damage and won’t last as long). If you’re not feeling confident, but one that’s already been cut in half for you – that way you can check on the firmness (and vibrancy of its flesh and for any tell-tale slime).
Varieties to look out for: There are plenty of interesting types out there, but my favourite pumpkin is the Japanese – it’s got a lovely, sweet flavour and holds its shape nicely when you roast it. Butternut squash is also fabulous for roasting.
How to store: When left whole and stored properly, pumpkins can last several months in a cool, dry place, elevated off the ground. Squash is slightly less hardy (because of its thinner skin) so try and use within a month of purchasing. Once cut, keep the exposed surface away from oxygen by covering with cling wrap/beeswax wrap and store in the fridge. If it’s looking like you won’t use the pumpkin/squash for ages, cut into cubes and freeze – ready for roasting, steaming or stewing when you’re up for a hit.
How to cook: Pumpkin and squash are on the sweeter spectrum of root vegetable. In fact, North Americans use pumpkin almost exclusively for desserts like pumpkin pie. They benefit greatly from heat – roasting especially, as it brings out the natural sweetness and really adds depth to your soups. They can be finely shredded and eaten raw, too.
Souper Easy: For an easy pumpkin soup, cut your pumpkin into cubes (roughly 1-2cm in size), add a few crushed cloves of garlic or shallots, coat with olive oil and roast on 200C for 30-40 mins (or until golden brown and soft). Meanwhile, warm up some chicken or vegetable stock. Add the cooked pumpkin, peeled garlic/shallot to your stock and blend with a stick blender (or pop into your blender to do the job – but be careful that the hot liquid doesn’t spit). Season to taste and serve. Pumpkin can also be roasted the night before, for the quickest dinner in a flash!
Complementary pairings: Butter, Cheese (especially goat’s, feta, gruyere and parmesan), Cinnamon, Cloves, Cream, Ginger, Nutmeg, Orange (especially zest), Sage.
Feeling seedy: don’t forget to add toasted pumpkin seeds (pepitas) to your dish for extra texture, flavour and context – we eat with our eyes after all.
© 2017 Alice Zaslavsky