ArchiveNovember 12, 2023

Pumpkins and Squash

For the past few weeks, the table in the hall at the Ballymaloe Cookery School has been piled high with pumpkins and squash. At least 15 different varieties…

Pumpkin/Squash varieties

Tiana, Orange Summer, Amish Pie, Jack o Lantern, Queensland Blue, Pottimason. Squash – Crookneck, Uchiki Kuri, Sweet Dumpling, Trombonchino, Fictor, Butternut, Green Hokkaido, Waltham Butternut, Futsu Black.

Halloween is well over, but we still have lots to enjoy and keep us going for the Winter.
They come in all shapes and sizes and colours. Some like Crown Prince and Turks Turban and butternut squash will keep for months, but be careful as they are frost sensitive, others like Delicata should be used up within the next few weeks. It’s now become a tradition for children from the local schools to come to the vegetable patch every year to harvest the pumpkins and to take some home to carve. But herein lies a properly scary fact, I couldn’t find any figures for Ireland, but it’s estimated that in the UK over 15 million pumpkins ended up in the bin after Halloween. That’s an estimated £27 million worth of edible food, enough to make 95 million meals which ultimately make it to landfill, emitting methane. So, remember the flesh of those carving pumpkins is edible, not super tasty but of course can be jazzed up with lots of herbs, spices and toppings. If you don’t have time to use within a day, maybe steam, purée or freeze for another day.
We grow a wide variety every year, principally for flavour, but on a recent visit to the Malvern Autumn County Show in the UK, I found a whole tent, full of ginormous vegetables including some giant pumpkins and squash, many weighed more than a sack of flour. I loved listening to the nerdy growers, earnestly discussing their entries.
Opinions vary about the best variety of pumpkin for carving. The ghostly White Polar Bear is definitely the most spooktacular and despite the colour of the rind, the insides are bright orange, and are particularly good roasted and made into a pumpkin mash.
Believe it or not, it can grow to be up to 15kg, but the larger it is, the less flavour it has. The green and cream striped Dumpling squash makes a perfect size soup bowl.
Oval-shaped spaghetti squash is fun to roast. The texture of the insides resembles spaghetti or noodles. The flavour is mild so I love to serve it with a ragu, a feisty herb butter or a spicy olive oil.
The warty ones like goosebumps are, despite their appearance still sweet and delicious, also great for window, mantelpiece or table decorations.
The beautiful orange and stripey green Turks Turban is actually a squash, and it has to be said it looks rather more dramatic than it tastes, but nonetheless, it has a mild slightly nutty flavour and it too benefits from lots of spices and fresh herbs.
Acorn squash looks like a giant acorn, half and scoop out the seeds, then it’s perfect for roasting and stuffing.
Then there’s the long slender and sometimes curly Trombochino also known as Zucchetta, they can grow up to 3 feet plus. We use their tender flesh to spin out vegetable stews or a casserole, pan fried or grilled in slices and also roasted – it’s super versatile and of course partners brilliantly with tomato fondue or a peperonata.
There are literally hundreds of varieties of summer and winter squashes and pumpkins. A brilliant standby and a perfect opportunity to get creative. What other vegetable keeps the kids happy for hours, can decorate the house both inside and out and provides a nourishing ingredient for a variety of yummy dishes from soup to stews, tagines, risottos, purées pickles, jams, pies, candid pumpkin and toasted pumpkin seeds. The ingredient that keeps on giving, long after the ghouls and ghosts are forgotten.

Pumpkin Spice Scones

Stamp them out with as little waste as possible, the first scones will be lighter than the second rolling.

Makes 9-10 scones using a 7 1/2 cm cutter

450g plain white flour

2-3 tsp pumpkin spice (see below)

pinch of salt

1 heaped tsp plus 1 rounded tsp baking powder

25g caster sugar

75g butter

2 small free-range eggs

200ml approx. milk to mix


egg wash (saved from scones)

2-3 tbsp pumpkin seeds for coating the top of the scones

First preheat the oven to 250°C/Gas Mark 9.

Sieve all the dry ingredients together in a large wide bowl. Cut the butter into cubes, toss in the flour and rub in the butter. Make a well in the centre. Whisk the eggs, put into a measure and add milk to bring the liquid up to 300ml, add all but 2 tablespoons (save to egg wash the top of the scones to help them to brown in the oven) to the dry ingredients in one go and mix to a soft dough.

Turn out onto a floured worktop.  Don’t knead but shape just enough to make a round.  Roll out to about 2 ½ cm thick and cut or stamp into scones. * Brush the tops with egg wash and dip each one in pumpkin seeds.  Arrange well-spaced apart on a baking tray – no need to grease. 

Bake in a hot oven for 10 minutes until golden brown on top. Cool on a wire rack.

Serve split in half with butter.

I sometimes add a little pumpkin spice and a little caster sugar to the butter for extra deliciousness.

Pumpkin Spice

1 tsp ground cinnamon (not cassia)

¼ tsp ground nutmeg

¼ tsp ground ginger

scant ⅛ tsp ground cloves

Mix all the spices together and store in a sealed dark glass jar.

Pumpkin Soup with Rosemary Oil

Virtually all soups freeze perfectly.  A brilliant standby for lunch or supper is to defrost soup that has been frozen in a small container.

Use Crown Prince or Uchiki Kuri varieties of pumpkin if possible.

Serves 6

50g butter

150g chopped potatoes, 7mm dice

110g peeled diced onions, 7mm dice

salt and freshly ground black pepper

350g chopped well-flavoured pumpkin, 7mm dice

1.2 litres homemade chicken stock or 1 litre stock and 150ml creamy milk

3 tbsp fresh rosemary, chopped

Rosemary Oil

110ml extra virgin olive oil

2 tbsp fresh rosemary, chopped

Melt the butter in a heavy bottomed saucepan.  When it foams, add potatoes and onions and turn them until well coated.   Sprinkle with salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Cover and sweat on a gentle heat for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile make the rosemary oil.  Heat the chopped rosemary with the oil until hot but not smoking.  Cool and strain.

Add the pumpkin and stock to the saucepan with the potatoes and onions.  Boil until soft, do not overcook or the vegetables will lose their flavour.    Liquidise with the chopped rosemary.  Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary.

To Serve

Drizzle a little rosemary oil over each bowl of soup before serving.

Marinated Chicken with Roast Pumpkin Salad

Recipe from ‘Cooking Simply and Well, For One or Many’ by Jeremy Lee published by 4th Estate

Jeremy loves this recipe which he says was inspired by Hamersley’s Bistro in Boston, USA.

Serves 6

6 chicken breasts, wings still attached

1 soup spoon extra virgin olive oil


4 sprigs of thyme

8 cloves of garlic, peeled

4 branches of rosemary

1 small onion, peeled and chopped

½ tsp freshly ground black pepper

a large bunch of flat-leaf parsley, leaves picked

100ml extra virgin olive oil

juice of 1 lemon

100g Dijon mustard

Place the thyme, garlic, rosemary, onion and black pepper in a food processor and grind to a coarse purée. To this add a handful of parsley leaves at a time, adding a few spoonfuls of olive oil as you go, until you have made a thick green paste. Add the lemon juice and the rest of the olive oil. Stir in the mustard. Evenly spread the marinade over the chicken, cover well and leave to marinate at least overnight.

Preheat the oven to 200°C/Gas Mark 6.

Heat a large roasting tin in the oven and, when hot, remove, strew with sea salt and a spoonful of oil and lay the chicken skin side down on the salt. Place in the oven and cook for 45 minutes. With care, lift the chicken from the oven, check for doneness, then cover and rest for 20-25 minutes.

Return the chicken to the oven to ensure it is heated thoroughly before serving with the roast pumpkin salad.

Roast Pumpkin and Almond Salad

This is a salad that makes excellent use of the great many varieties of onion, pumpkin and squash around.

1kg pumpkin

30ml extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for the onions and dressing

3 red onions, peeled and sliced into rounds 5mm in thickness

2 soup spoons red wine vinegar, plus extra for the onions and dressing

a small bundle of thyme

a small bunch of sage

3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped

grated zest of 1 unwaxed lemon

a big pinch of dried chilli flakes

salt and black pepper

salad leaves, a handful of each, e.g., large-leaf rocket, young spinach, watercress, wild cress, land cress, picked and washed

a bunch of flat-leaf parsley, leaves picked and chopped

a bunch of mint, leaves picked and torn

75g blanched almonds, roasted at 150°C for 8 minutes or so until golden, then coarsely sliced

Preheat the oven to 220°C/Gas Mark 7.

Split the pumpkin, remove the seeds and cut into wedges. Heat a large roasting tin in the oven for a few minutes, add the extra virgin olive oil and the slices of pumpkin and return to the oven. Cook for 20 minutes, checking from time to time that the slices are not colouring too fast and may need turning. Add a little more oil if necessary.

Meanwhile, place a wide griddle or frying pan on a moderate heat, and lay the red onions in the heated pan to colour well. Cook for 5-8 minutes, then turn and repeat for a further 3-4 minutes. Remove the onions to a dish, cover and set aside for 5 minutes. Remove the cover and discard any burnt pieces of onion. Lightly dress with 1 soup spoon of vinegar and 2 soup spoons of extra virgin olive oil.

Pick the thyme and sage leaves and chop small, then mix with the garlic, lemon zest and chilli flakes. Season with salt and black pepper. Remove the pumpkin from the oven and insert a knife into the slices, which should offer no resistance. If still firm, return to the oven for a further 5-10 minutes.

Strew the herb seasoning over the roast pumpkin. Pour over 1 soup spoon of vinegar. To assemble the dish, carve each chicken breast in three and keep warm. Tumble all the leaves onto a big dish. Lay the pumpkin on the leaves, along with any juices still in the tin, and scatter the onion over the pumpkin. Tumble on the slices of chicken. Strew the mint leaves, parsley and sliced almonds over the salad, finishing with one last fluffy of vinegar and olive oil.

Caponata di Zucca Rossa (Squash Caponata with Raisins and Toasted Almonds)

Recipe from ‘A Curious Absence of Chicken’ by Sophie Grigson published by Headline Home

A brilliant recipe made with orange-fleshed squashes. This recipe is best eaten at room temperature.

Serves 6

600g butternut squash or other orange-fleshed winter squash

4 stems of celery, trimmed and thinly sliced

5 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1 onion, chopped

1 x 400g tin of chopped tomatoes

salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 tbsp caster sugar

4 tbsp red wine vinegar

1 tsp ground cinnamon

3 tbsp chopped flat-leaf parsley

45g flaked almonds, toasted

40g raisins

2 tbsp capers, rinsed if salted

100g black olives, stoned and sliced

a small handful of mint leaves, roughly chopped

De-rind the squash and remove and discard the seeds. Cut into 2cm cubes. You will need around 500g prepared weight. Slice the celery stems into half-moons, about as thick as a 1 euro coin. Line a baking tray with a couple of layers of parchment paper.

You must cook the squash and celery separately, either one after the other in the same pan or get two roomy pans heating on the stove at once. Add a couple of tablespoons of olive oil to each one. Once it is hot, add the squash to one pan, the celery to the other. Sauté over a high heat, until both are browned. It takes a surprisingly long time for celery to brown because of all the water trapped in its cells, which has to evaporate off before browning can begin. The squash needs to be just cooked through, but not collapsing. Tip each one out onto the paper-lined tray to drain off some of the oil but try to leave a little oil in one of the frying pans.

Put the oily pan back on a lower heat, and fry the onions in it slowly, adding a little more oil if needed, until they are soft and very tender. Add the chopped tinned tomatoes and a small glass of water. Season with salt and plenty of freshly ground black pepper. Simmer gently for 20 minutes or so, until thick. Stir in the sugar, vinegar and cinnamon and simmer for another 2-3 minutes. Set aside a little of the parsley and the almonds for garnishing and stir the rest into the sauce, along with the squash and celery, the raisins, capers and olives. Give it all a final couple of minutes over the heat to bring all those flavours together, then leave to cool until tepid. Taste and adjust the seasoning (you’ll probably need more salt to balance the sweetness of the squash and sugar). Serve at room temperature, sprinkled with the reserved parsley and almonds, and the mint.

Butternut Squash and Coconut Curry

This will definitely become a favourite, make twice the recipe if you can.

Serves 4-6

225g onion, peeled and finely chopped

25g butter

1 tbsp olive oil

700g butternut squash, peeled and cut into 2cm dice

2 tsp black mustard seeds

1 tsp cumin seeds

1 tsp fennel seeds

1 tsp ground turmeric

1 tsp ground coriander

seeds from 8 green cardamom pods, lightly crushed

20g fresh root ginger, peeled and finely chopped

3 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped

2 green chillies, deseeded and finely chopped

sea salt and black pepper

1 x 400g tin chopped tomatoes

400ml vegetable stock or water

200ml coconut milk

handful fresh coriander leaves


Mint or Coriander Yoghurt

Melt the butter and the oil in a wok, add the onion and sweat over a gentle heat until soft and translucent.  Meanwhile, prepare the butternut squash, add to the onion and cook uncovered for 3-4 minutes. 

Stir in the mustard, cumin and fennel seeds and cook for 2 minutes, careful not to brown the seeds or they will become bitter.  Add the ground turmeric, coriander, crushed cardamom seeds, ginger, garlic and chillies and cook for 30 seconds.  Season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, add the chopped tomatoes, stock or water. Bring to the boil and simmer for 20 minutes, then add the coconut milk and cook for a further 20 minutes or until the vegetable is tender.  Taste and correct seasoning if necessary. Pour into a hot serving bowl, scatter with coriander and serve with rice, naan bread and mint or coriander yoghurt.

Mint or Coriander Yoghurt

300ml yoghurt

4 tbsp coarsely chopped coriander or mint

Mix the yoghurt with the coriander or mint.


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