Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Pumpkin is for Cows

Barely enough pumpkin.

Even though we found ourselves in the possession of a massive Puerto Rican pumpkin courtesy of our mates Sunny and Blake aboard Slow Mocean, we had barely enough of the gorgeous orange stuff to make all the recipes we were drooling over. It’s hard to imagine any group of people more accustomed to eating pumpkin than Australians. We love it and cook it in so many ways, least of all as pumpkin pie which is essential to a Thanksgiving meal in the States. In fact after 13 years in the States, I still can’t get my taste buds around a sweet pumpkin pie served with cream or ice cream. My loss, no doubt.

I grew up with the good old “meat and three veg” diet of so many Aussies, thanks to the dominantly British and Irish heritage of most of us back then (The Brits never called themselves European in those days!). We might have starved if it weren’t for sausages, lamb chops, mashed potato and pumpkin and green beans or peas! These still represent comfort food for me. My favorite is roast pumpkin, preferably Queensland Blue variety, a must along with roast potato and sweet potato cooked in the same roasting pan with chicken, beef or lamb. Oddly, when I travelled through the UK in 1981, I did not often see pumpkin for sale and was told that was because they only fed it to cows! Mooo, don't call cows silly!

Seasoning Peppers

As a result of immigration from Southern Europe after WWII, Aussie tastes eventually changed and matured. The types of vegetables commonly available to us became more interesting. We can thank the Australian Women’s Weekly for introducing wonderful collections of recipes, Italian, Chinese, etc. and encouraging Aussie Mum’s to try them.

Soon my Mum was cooking stuffed zucchini, canneloni and lasagne like we imagined Italians would. Chinese take-away was always available (the Chinese came initially with the Australian Gold Rush of the 1800’s) but with the influence of immigrants from a list of Asian countries, especially Vietnam and Thailand, food tastes changed some more, to the point where Australians seem to have the best of all worlds. The variety of fresh fruits and vegetables just can’t be beat.

Never known to bow to authority or tradition, Aussie chefs over the past 30 years have been the most innovative, courageously ignoring culinary “norms” in favour of combining ingredients that rarely share the same plate. I recall a Peter Howard recipe of the early 80’s; roast pork with puree of kiwi fruit and onion. Now that’s a taste sensation. As for fusion, heck, Aussie chefs should have taken out a copyright on the word when they introduced the concept!

Coconut is perfect with pumpkin.

What has all this to do with pumpkin? Nothing, except to say that the humble pumpkin has never gone out of fashion! Here are some of the ways we used that Puerto Rican pumpkin, as pictured above.

Pumpkin Soup

Pumpkin Soup
I adapted the recipe of Chef Christopher Walker of Villa Monzon in Montego Bay, Jamaica (Morgan Freeman & Friends Caribbean Cooking for a Cause). The beauty of this soup is that vegetables can be left out or substituted depending on what is available and so the finished flavour is often a surprise even to the cook!

250 grams potato
500 grams sweet potato
500 grams of pumpkin
250 grams yams or dasheen
2 carrots (peeled and sliced)
1 Chayote (choko) squash (peel, remove seed and cut into 1” pieces)
2 medium tomatoes
1 teaspoon minced garlic
3 spring onions or green shallots
4 cups shredded cabbage
1 hot chili pepper
1 can coconut milk
6 cups vegetable broth or stock
Tablespoon of butter or oil
Red pepper for garnish (very finely sliced)

You’ll need a stockpot. Peel and cut the potato, sweet potato, yams and pumpkin into 2” pieces.

Gently warm the butter and garlic in the pot. Add the root vegetables, pumpkin and carrots along with the coconut milk and broth. Bring to the boil and simmer for 10 minutes.

Add the chayote, tomatoes, spring onions, cabbage and chili pepper to the pot and simmer for 20 minutes more, or until the vegetables are tender.

Season with freshly ground pepper and salt. Serve garnished with finely sliced sweet red pepper. Serves 6.

Pumpkin Curry

Pumpkin Curry
Our 1982 reprint of “Caribbean Cookery” by Elisabeth Lambert Ortiz, originally published in 1973 as “The Complete Book of Caribbean Cookery” by M. Evans and Co. Inc., is positively indispensible as we sail the islands of the Caribbean. Ms. Ortiz attributes the following “colombo de giraumon” to the region Martinique - Guadeloupe. Here is her recipe.

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1oz. unsalted butter
1/4 lb. bacon, chopped
1 medium onion, choped
1 bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1 teaspoon curry powder
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
2 medium tomatoes, peeled and chopped
1lb West Indian pumpkin (calabaza), peeled and cut into 1” cubes
Salt, freshly ground pepper to taste
1 large clove garlic, crushed

Heat the oil and butter in a heavy saucepan, add bacon, onion and pepper and cook, stirring from time to time, until the onion is tender but not browned.

Add the curry powder and cook, stirring for a minute or two. Add cloves, tomatoes, pumpkin, salt and pepper. Cover and cook on the lowest possible heat, stirring occasionally to prevent the mixture from burning.

When pumpkin is very tender and almost reduced to a puree, mix in the garlic and cook, uncovered for a minute or so longer.

This dish is a perfect accompaniment to plainly cooked meat, fish or poultry.

Elisabeth Lambert Ortiz died on Oct 27, 2003 at the age of 88. To say she was extremely talented would be a gross understatement. Again we turned to her “Caribbean Cookery” book for inspiration.