Burnished butternut is autumn's reward
A Southland autumn is the prince of seasons. More often than not, morning fogs give way to calm, sunny days – perfect for a burst of work indoors or out – and the cool nights that follow demand something scrumptious to top up the batteries.
Right on cue comes the butternut pumpkin. The grey-skinned crown is the biggest seller – perhaps because it keeps its shape when cooked – but sometimes the butternut has the edge.
Its flesh is denser and sweeter and it is easier to peel with a knife, though when baked or roasted the skin is edible. And of course the bulgy end contains a hollow that must be filled.
Slice the butternut in half, scoop out the seeds and fibres, stuff the halves with a mixture of minced lamb or beef, cooked rice and spices such as nutmeg, chillies and cumin, and bake in the oven. Or try a mixture of chopped melty cheeses, such as mozzarella, pecorino and fontina, with a little chopped fresh thyme and freshly ground black pepper.
Pumpkin chunks are great with the traditional Sunday joint, but they are equally delicious when roasted with other root vegetables. Cut the lot into smallish cubes and toss in two tablespoons of olive oil in a shallow baking tray with dried rosemary or dried mixed herbs. Roast for about an hour at 200C , turning the veg half-way through.
Or ring the changes by roasting thick slices of pumpkin in butter and fresh herbs, and serve with farmhouse sausages and a chunky home-made tomato sauce.
Pumpkin soup is everyone's favourite.
A dash of fresh orange juice as you puree will add depth to your usual recipe, as will crisp bacon pieces scattered over each bowl.
Today's recipe, which I have adapted from Claudia Roden's Mediterranean Food, pays tribute to a ristorante somewhere in Brindisi, on the heel of Italy, where I once had to stay overnight after a late train meant a missed ferry. Long before risotto became popular around the world, this modest eatery served up a dish of such flavour that I can still taste it today.
The secret was the chicken stock, a hearty broth that took two days to concoct from scratch.
You are well advised to use the best-quality stock you can find. Serve this one-bowl meal with a separate bowl of grated parmesan for people to help themselves.
Ingredients (serves 4-6)
800g peeled pumpkin
1 onion, finely chopped
5 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
400g arborio rice
200ml white wine at room temperature
1.5 litres chicken stock, warmed
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
70g butter, cubed
150g grated parmesan
Chopped fresh parsley
Method: Cut half the pumpkin flesh into 1cm cubes and chop the rest coarsely.
Soften onion in 3 Tbsp oil over a medium heat in a large saucepan or frying pan. Add the rice and chopped pumpkin and cook for 3-4 minutes, stirring constantly.
Pour in wine and cook, still stirring, over a low heat until it is absorbed.
Gradually add stock, one cupful or ladleful at a time, stirring constantly until it is absorbed.
Season with salt and pepper. Continue cooking until the rice is tender and the mixture creamy, about 20 minutes.
Saute pumpkin cubes in the remaining oil until soft.
Season with salt and pepper.
Stir butter and parmesan into rice.
Top with the pumpkin cubes and sprinkle with parsley.
The Southland Times