It’s the season for pumpkins and what a fabulous vegetable they are to cook with. They’re versatile, going in sweet and savoury dishes in a pinch, and work well with the spices we crave at the time of year – ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg. I think the mild sweetness brings out those flavours.
Pay attention to what kind you buy. Avoid large, Hallowe’en-style pumpkins for carving, as they’ll be watery and flavourless. The smaller varieties – bluey-green-skinned ironbarks, Italian delica and crown prince – work best for cooking. The flesh is much sweeter and packed with flavour.
You can leave the peel on or off; I peel mine to make pumpkin soups or the pumpkin custard pie here, cutting them into large chunks first and then taking to them with a normal vegetable peeler. But when roasting pumpkins (or even puréeing the roasted flesh afterwards), you just need to cut them into wedges, wrap in foil with a head of garlic, olive oil and a sprig of rosemary, and roast until tender and fragrant.
Pumpkin in sweet dishes is definitely something we’ve borrowed from the USA, where pumpkin pie is a staple of Thanksgiving dinners – though you do see pumpkin paired with sweet flavours in Italy. In Mantova, pumpkin tortelli is often dusted with crushed amaretti biscuits to add a bit of sweetness. I love the dense sweetness that pumpkin brings to sweet dishes, much like carrot.
Warm seasonal salads like pumpkin and artichoke – or the pumpkin and beetroot salad below – are also on regular rotation in my kitchen. With a few chopped walnuts or pumpkin seeds on top, it’s perfect for a lunch enjoyed in the golden autumn sun.