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KaiApril 21, 2023

Ingredient of the week: Pumpkin

(Image: Archi Banal)
(Image: Archi Banal)

It is once again pumpkin season, and some culinary inspiration may be in order – here are some tips on how to liven up your relationship with the gourd.

Autumn means tomatoes are out, and pumpkins are in. No ingredient strikes me as more essential to a chilly, dusky evening than the pumpkin – warming, filling, sweet, and soft. It’s nature’s comfort food.

Pumpkin, or “mature winter squash of the genus Cucurbita” to its parents, is native to North America and botanically a berry. Crucial to Halloween, Cinderella, headless horsemen, giant produce competitions and of course soup, the pumpkin is a being of many personalities. 

Pumpkin seeds, or pepitas, are the most nutrient-rich part of the pumpkin. While the flesh is mainly water and some carbs, supplemented with vitamin C and a handful of B vitamins, the seeds are packed with protein, magnesium, copper and zinc. New to me – the leaves of some pumpkin varieties are also used in cooking across China, Korea, Kenya and Zambia. 

I hope you’re a pumpkin fan, because over autumn and winter, pumpkins are around for a good time and a long time. Sometimes it feels as though pumpkin is one of the only affordable fresh veg options around, which means it’s time to dust off your pumpkin recipes, and get excited. 

 A bowl of smooth pumpkin soup topped with basil. On the side is a chunk of baguette.
An easy classic, pumpkin soup. (Image: Wyoming Paul)

Where to find pumpkin

So, how are our supposedly affordable friends faring in these times of mad food prices? Over at New World, a buttercup is $8.99, and a crown pumpkin is $9.99. A quarter of a crown pumpkin is $5.99. So far, so… not that affordable. 

Things are similarly pricey at Countdown. Whole butternuts (which range from 1kg – 1.4kg each) are $7.80, and whole crown pumpkins are a shocking $13.50. Cut crown pumpkin is $5.50/kg. 

Pak’nSave is a bit more affordable: a whole crown pumpkin is $7.99, or $3.99/kg. But online supermarket Supie is putting the monopoly to shame, with whole butternuts for $3.89 – half the price of Countdown – and a quarter of a crown pumpkin at $3.59. May the prices continue to decrease as the weather gets cooler, so we can dig in without our eyes watering. 

How to make pumpkin terrible

Sometimes, pumpkin is watery and flavourless and basically a disappointment that can only be concealed in a well-spiced and seasoned soup. Selecting the right pumpkin is a bit of an art. Choose one that isn’t too big (unless you’re carving a jack-o’-lantern), has undamaged skin and is heavier than it looks. 

Another pumpkin problem is cutting it up and removing its thick, hard skin – without removing your own skin. Use a heavy, good knife, or for thinner-skinned pumpkins, a potato peeler. You can also microwave chopped pumpkins for between 30 seconds and three minutes to make the job easier. Finally, never, ever, try to chop up a pumpkin while balancing it on one of its many curved surfaces: create a flat surface on your pumpkin first to avoid injury. 

Pumpkin and lentil curry. Served with rice on a mosaic design plate on a blue tablecloth.
Pumpkin and lentil curry on rice. (Image: Wyoming Paul)

How to make pumpkin amazing

When staring down the barrel of a pumpkin-filled winter diet, the good news is that there are a wide range of ways to use our versatile squashy friends. Mashing, roasting, blending; bulking up a quiche or frittata, topping a pizza, layered into a lasagne; transforming into a pie, cake, or scone. As you can see, there are few places a pumpkin won’t happily go.

First, the easy classic: pumpkin soup. With only eight ingredients, that includes lashings of fresh ginger and coconut cream, this is an absolute killer soup. You can play with the aromatics and spices – a few teaspoons of curry powder is also highly recommended. Or, swap some of the pumpkin for kumara and carrot, depending on what you have lurking in the cupboards. Best of all, you can make plenty, and then freeze extra servings for quick meals later. 

Feta is a pumpkin’s best friend. I’m very partial to roast pumpkin, roast onion, feta, and rosemary pasta. It hits the perfect spot between incredibly easy, satisfying, and delicious. Also excellent? Sliced and roasted pumpkin as a pizza topping, alongside even more feta and caramelised or roasted onion – and on a similar train of thought, roast pumpkin and feta in a quiche. You can’t really go wrong with a caramelised, lightly charred, going-gooey slice of sweet pumpkin and a crumbling of salty, sour feta cheese. Mmmm.

A bowl of orange-coloured pumpkin gnocchi with grated parmesan and sage leaves on a purple table cloth.
Pumpkin a ricotta gnocchi. (Image: Wyoming Paul)

Feeling creative? You can try this recipe for handmade pumpkin and ricotta gnocchi, which, yes, is as delicious as it sounds – and also far easier to make than you would think. Perhaps my favourite pumpkin recipe, however, is red lentil, chickpea, and spinach curry with slabs of roasted pumpkin. The savoury, spiced, salted dhal is so well balanced by the sweet roasted pumpkin, that I’ll happily eat this meal every few weeks over autumn and winter.

Finally, a bonus: If you’d like to make the seeds from a fresh pumpkin into a crunchy, healthy, delicious snack, here’s how. Rinse any pumpkin flesh from the seeds, then boil the seeds in well-salted water for ten minutes. Dry the seeds off, then toss them with oil or butter, a pinch of salt, and any spices you like. Spread evenly on an oven tray and bake for 45 minutes at 150C, stirring occasionally, until golden and crunchy.

Wyoming Paul is the co-founder of Grossr, and runs a weekly meal plan that connects to online supermarket shopping.

Read all the previous Ingredients of the Week here.

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