Kai with soul: Pumpkin power
Just like the fairy godmother in Cinderella, John Hudson has been turning pumpkins into magical fare.
But instead of conjuring a stagecoach, the Witt chef tutor has made nachos perfect for vegetarians, a pumpkin pie set off with pecans and a hearty soup starring ginger.
The latter is John's favourite version of pumpkin soup because of the spices - it also has a hint of nutmeg and cinnamon.
"That's a traditional flavour and one that I can throw together for my family quite quickly."
But to do so, the pumpkin needs to be diced up for speedy cooking - but not too fast.
"Make sure it cooks out thoroughly. Don't try to rush it. Pumpkin isn't something you can get away with if it's under- cooked."
To create a magic moment, John suggests serving the soup in a whole cooked pumpkin. Take out the top, scoop the seeds out, throw in some olive oil and salt and pepper and roast for about 1 hour 15 minutes, until the pumpkin is soft.
Take out of the oven, scrape around with a fork and pour in your already-made pumpkin soup.
"Serve your soup with lots of cheese and garlic bread around the fire with the ones you love," John says.
The main course is the pumpkin nachos, which lures in the hospitality staff.
"It's nice to cook for my mates - I don't usually get the opportunity," he says.
They respond with mmms and yums to the heaped pan of corn chips, red kidney beans, salsa, cooked diced pumpkin, fresh coriander, cheese, and sour cream.
"If it passes their test you know you are doing all right - everybody is a foodie and food critic in here."
John has a tip and a warning for making this dish.
"Dice the pumpkin before baking otherwise you would have a mushy mess."
He also says people must take care when cutting pumpkin.
Always have a flat side down when chopping pumpkin and also make sure you leave space on your chopping board by putting the cut pieces in a bowl or pot as you go.
"The worst cuts I have seen have been cutting vegetables like pumpkin because it's a round shape and sometimes not on a solid cutting surface and lots of people put a excessive force on often blunt knives," he says.
Cut a whole pumpkin into two pieces and scoop out the seeds with a spoon. Lay each half flat side down and cut into half, then half again and then half again. Trim the skin off with care and then dice.
For this In Season session, John topped the nachos with miniature honey-roasted vegetables, but at home people could choose spring onions and their favourite chilli sauce.
To finish off, he has made a pumpkin pie, which isn't a savoury dish, but a traditional American dessert. "When I was a kid, I thought cheesecake had melted cheese in it," he laughs.
His pie is dark with spice and black-strap molasses and coupled with pecans that have been tossed in reduced maple-flavoured syrup.
John has a couple of hints for the best results. "Watch your temperatures. The bigger and deeper the pumpkin pie, the longer and slower the oven temperature needs to be, otherwise you will get burnt pastry and unset filling."
Instead of blind baking the pastry cases, he recommends chilling them in their tins so the butter goes hard. "It stops the liquid filling soaking into your pastry and prevents shrinkage."
Pumpkin pies are served at Thanks Giving in the United States, so would be ideal for this time of year in New Zealand.
"It would be really good for a midwinter Christmas right now. It's got all the Christmas flavouring, the festive connections and we love it," John says.
Pumpkins are an excellent source of cancer-beating phytochemicals, especially carotenoids. "The stronger the flesh colour, the more carotenoids the pumpkin will contain," says the vegetables.co.nz website. Carotenoids are a source of vitamin A and also are potent antioxidants. Vitamin C, potassium and B vitamins are also supplied in small amounts. Pumpkin is lower in carbohydrate and energy compared to vegetables of similar texture like kumara or potatoes, however, buttercup squash has a similar carbohydrate and energy content to potatoes.
4 cups cubed fresh pumpkin
2 Tbsp olive oil
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper
1 packet tortilla chips
1 can red kidney beans, rinsed and drained
1 cup salsa
3 cups grated cheese
Handful fresh coriander, roughly chopped
Spring onions, chopped
1. Heat oven to 200 degrees Celsius.
2. Place pumpkin in a greased baking pan. Drizzle with oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper and toss to coat. Roast 25 to 30 minutes or until tender, stirring occasionally.
3. Reduce oven setting to 150C.
4. On a greased baking pan, layer half of the chips, beans, pumpkin, salsa and cheese. Repeat layers. Bake 8 to 10 minutes or until cheese is melted.
5. Once cooked, sprinkle fresh coriander and spring onions over top and serve immediately with sour cream on the side and your favourite chilli sauce.
Pumpkin and Ginger Homestyle Soup
1 small onion
1 clove garlic, crushed
250g crown pumpkin, peeled and diced
Pinch nutmeg and cinnamon
1 tsp tomato paste
10g fresh ginger root, peeled and sliced
600ml chicken stock
2 sage leaves
Freshly ground pepper and salt
Chopped chives, for serving only
1. Quickly saute the onion and garlic in butter, taking care not to colour - the onion should be transparent only.
2. Add all the remaining ingredients except the cream, pepper and salt.
3. Slowly simmer until the pumpkin is soft, skimming off any impurities as they rise. Once cooked, cool a little, place in a liquidiser and process until smooth.
4. Return to clean pot and season to taste. Bring back to the boiling point then add the cream just before serving. Do not boil once the cream has been added.
5. To serve, pour into six hot soup bowls and sprinkle with plenty of chopped chives.
Pumpkin and Pecan Pie
2 sheets sweet pastry
1 1/2 cups mashed pumpkin, well drained
3/4 cup cream
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup Blackstrap Molasses
1/4 cup flour
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp ginger
1/2 cup maple-flavoured syrup
1/2 cup pecan nuts
1. Heat oven to 165 degrees C. Line a 23cm loose-bottomed tart tin with the pastry sheets and trim neatly. Chill until required.
2. In the food processor, combine the remaining ingredients and blend until smooth and fragrant. Pour into the chilled pastry shell and bake for 40-50 minutes, until golden and set.
3. Serve warm with cream or French vanilla icecream and maple pecans.
1. Simmer the maple-flavoured syrup for 2 minutes, then add the pecan nuts and swirl to coat.
2. Pour on to a lined baking tray and leave for 5 minutes to harden.
Taranaki Daily News