Saturday, 22 January 2011

Pumpkin Party!

Gosh, 70 days since my last post. I don't know why I find this so difficult in the winter - it's not like there's nothing to write about. Less, but not nothing.

70 days ago I told you about the 64lb pumpkin we were given absolutely free. Well, two weeks later we invited all our friends over and fed them a monster 14-dish pumpkin feast...

We cut the pumpkin open the night before so we'd have time to come up with something else if it wasn't very good inside. It was so big and had been sitting around for so long I was concerned it'd be flavourless or stringy or dry, or maybe even mouldy. I needn't have worried! The flesh inside was the thickest, firmest, juiciest and most fragrant I have ever seen in a squash! The whole house filled with the fresh, fruity scent as we carved it up and cubed it, stuffed it into bowls and pans, roasted big pans of it for puree and crammed the rest in the fridge. We even nibbled some raw, and it was just delicious - like melon but without the sweetness. It had never even crossed my mind to eat pumpkin raw before! We took out around 8kg of flesh (we could have had more) and we kept the shell as intact as we could...

Next day my friend Dave and I spent pretty much twelve hours straight in the kitchen, preparing our four course buffet. Eddie took an apple corer to the pumpkin shell and turned it into a rather lovely candle-holder, filled it with tea-lights, and scattered bright red autumn leaves from the garden around it to complete the autumn theme. He cooked up some hot spicy cider (with a pinch of nutmeg, allspice berries, cinnamon sticks, cloves, 2tbsps brown sugar per litre of cider, and a splash of brandy) and we were ready to go...


Spiced Pumpkin Seeds
Having saved all the seeds when we carved the pumpkin, rinsed them and dried them, we tossed them in a hot frying pan with olive oil, salt, paprika, smoked paprika and cumin, and then spread them out on a baking tray to finish roasting in a medium oven for 30-40 minutes. I've seen plenty of recipes similar to this, where you leave the seeds unhulled, but I have to say I found the hulls rather chewy. Are they always this chewy? They were delicious, anyway, and people were still muching the leftovers at the end of the evening.

Pumpkin Houmous
I got this recipe from here. I took the easy route and mixed the pumpkin and spices into shop-bought houmous, and served the dip with carrot sticks and strips of pitta bread. Different and delicious.

Curried Pumpkin Puffs
These deep-fried fritters were dead easy to make and really indulgent and tasty, although I think they could have had a bigger proportion of pumpkin in them as the flavour was a little lost.

Pumpkin and Chestnut Roulades
A rather complex and cheffy dish from Simon Rimmer. We had to use mascarpone as we didn't have enough ricotta, and we had terrible trouble with the delicate sponge (coloured bright yellow with turmeric!) sticking to the baking trays, but somehow we kept it together and pulled this off, and it was well-worth it; the roulade slices looked really fancy and tasted even fancier!

Pumpkin and Goats Cheese Tarts
I rolled puff-pastry out thin and cut it into 2" squares, then scored another square a few mm inside, just cutting halfway through the pastry, glazed the edges with egg wash, and chucked them in the oven for a few minutes until they rose. Then I mixed pumpkin puree up with some seasoning, a big pinch of rosemary and a squirt of tomato puree, dolloped it into the pastry cases, topped with a slice of goats cheese and baked again until the cheese was melted. These improvised tarts were one of the favourite dishes!

Pumpkin Soup
I found a recipe that claimed to be the 'perfect pumpkin soup', but I'm afraid I wasn't impressed and thought it rather bland. However, a few generous pinches of mustard powder and cumin spiced it right up and made it a winner!

Main Courses

Spicy Squash Stew
Yep, I couldn't resist whipping up my favourite veggie pumpkin and bean stew, featured previously on this blog.

Chicken Tagine with Pumpkin
We made this Moroccan-spiced dish in Dave's slow cooker, and by the time we were ready for it the chicken was falling off the bones and the flavours were beautiful. The chicken is marinated in spices first and, with potatoes included, it really does constitute a complete meal. Must make this again...

Sausage and Pumpkin Casserole
Now this is probably my favourite dish of the evening, and one I've made a couple of times since and will make many times more. The flavours are just incredible - really sweet and fragrant.

Pumpkin and Ricotta Gnocchi with Red Pepper Sauce
I wasn't a big fan of these - I found them rather pasty and bland - but my sister loved them. I think perhaps they'd be better finished off under the grill, or perhaps with less flour to let the pumpkin and cheese flavours come through properly.


Pumpkin Pecan Pie
Well we couldn't have a pumpkin party without a pumpkin pie, could we? But I'm not one to do things the normal way, so we made this variation with a 'praline' layer of brown sugar and cruched pecans at the bottom. Of course, I was completely stuffed by the time it came to dessert and only had a tiny piece, but wow! The creamy texture and spicy flavours were fab.

Pumpkin Teabread
Couldn't resist trying this moist teabread glazed with honey and served with butter. It came out incredibly dense, but went down a treat.

Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Cookies
These were one of the first things we baked in the morning and we could help nibbling on them throughout the day, they were so good. They have an unusual very light, cake-like texture - we took to calling them cakies instead of cookies!

Pumpkin Fudge
This was the only real failure of the evening (although the guy who ended up eating it out of the dish would disagree!). It tasted lovely and was really creamy, but it just didn't set! Ah well - it's got to be worth another go I reckon...

Needless to say, everyone was full by the end, and the leftovers kept us going for a few days too! Actually we could have used even more of the pumpkin - much more! - if we hadn't wished to keep the shell looking nice. I felt a bit guilty letting the rest go to waste. Next time I will plan better and use more. Still, I've learned some good recipes, hopefully got a few people to try something a little different, and I have a feeling this may turn into an annual event...
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