Turn into a pumpkin (fan)
Halloween is one of my favourite festivals. I have a great interest in folklore and mythology intertwined with history so Halloween marries this interest with my other great passion: food and where it comes from.
The pumpkin is probably the most iconic symbol of Halloween and the story of how this came about may surprise you. Plus, beyond being a perfect vegetable to carve into scary faces, pumpkin can be a delicious vegetable for autumnal cooking.
The Jack-O-Lantern, another iconic symbol of Halloween, actually originates in Irish folklore. It commemorates Jack, a shifty Irish villain, so wicked that neither God nor the Devil wanted him. Rejected by Heaven and Hell, Jack was doomed to wander the earth endlessly for a resting place, his only source of warmth a candle in a carved-out turnip.
Irish immigrants to America during the potato famine found pumpkins to be a perfect substitute for turnips, which were harder to find.
The pumpkin is in fact a fruit and belongs to the gourd family which includes cucumbers, gherkins and melons. It has a high water content and is very resilient.
A pumpkin will stay fresh for weeks if stored in a cool, dark place. A fridge will make it deteriorate as it is too moist an atmosphere. As long as the skin is smooth and it smells fresh, it is good to eat.
Orange-fleshed pumpkins contain high levels of carotenoids, which studies suggest may help to prevent certain types of cancer, including cancer of the colon, as well as heart disease. Pumpkins are also rich in antioxidant vitamin C, which is needed for efficient immune system function. This will help fight colds and improve general overall resistance to disease.
In addition pumpkins contain fibre, which will help lower cholesterol. Fibre will also improve digestion by encouraging the elimination of waste.
It was Gillian McKeith, I think, who quadrupled sales of pumpkin seeds across Ireland and the UK when she started promoting them as an aid to male virility. Pumpkin seeds are very rich in zinc and iron which will have a beneficial effect on both male and female libido.
If you can find little pumpkins, slice in half and scoop out the seeds. Fill with your choice of filling, wrap in foil and bake in the oven at 180Â°C till just tender.
Children in particular love this as it looks so cute. My favourite fillings are wilted spinach and feta cheese, sauteed leeks or sweetcorn and cheese sauce.
Then there is always of course pumpkin soup, but do spice it up with cinnamon or cumin. Pumpkin seeds are great toasted and sprinkled over salads, porridge or muesli. Toast with a little soy sauce for a savoury snack.
To view some of these recipes being made go to www.topfruit.com/halloween.
Baked Stuffed Mini Pumpkins
4 miniature pumpkins
225g baby spinach leaves
2tbls sunblush tomatoes
200g feta cheese, crumbled
200g chorizo sausage, diced
1 tin of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
Salt and pepper
•Bake pumpkins in the oven for about 30-45 minutes at 180Â°C until tender. Check by prodding with a dinner knife. Pumpkins should be tender but not collapsing.
•Fry the chorizo until crispy in a non-stick pan.
•Add the chickpeas, sunblush tomatoes and spinach and heat through in the chorizo oil. Season.
•Slice the 'lid' off the pumpkin. Scrape out all the seeds very well with a spoon.
•Spoon in the filling and sprinkle with feta cheese.
•Replace the 'lid' and serve with extra filling on the side.
Serves four as a side dish
2 cups of cooked pumpkin
4tbls plain flour
2tsp baking powder
1 egg, whisked
Sunflower oil, for frying
3tbls granulated sugar
1tsp ground cinnamon
3 lemons, cut into wedges
•Steam the pumpkin until tender. Leave to drain well and cool down. The more moisture that evaporates from the pumpkin, the less flour you will need and the lighter the pumpkin fritters will be. Mash well till lump free.
•Mix together the mashed pumpkin, egg, flour, salt and baking powder. The mixture will be quite runny.
•Heat a little oil in a non-stick frying pan, drop spoonfuls of batter onto the pan. Fry until golden brown on both sides. Drain on kitchen paper.
•Mix the sugar and cinnamon and sprinkle over the pumpkin fritters.
•Serve warm with lemon wedges, which bring out the flavour.
Spicy Orange Pumpkin Cake
200g butter, softened
300g light muscovado sugar
2tsp mixed spice
1tsp ground cinnamon
1tsp vanilla essence
300g self-raising flour
1tsp bread soda
Zest and juice of 1 orange
100g dried cranberries
300g grated pumpkin
225g cream cheese
85g butter, softened
100g icing sugar
Zest of a whole orange, juice of half
50g hazelnuts, toasted and chopped
•Soak the dried fruit in the orange juice and zest. If the fruit is very dry, you can cover the bowl in clingfilm and heat for two minutes in the microwave. Alternatively, heat in a small pot on the hob.
•Cream together the butter, sugar and spices.
•Add the vanilla essence and one egg at a time, beating vigorously in between.
•Sift in the flour and bread soda, folding in.
•Fold in the orange and soaked fruit and grated pumpkin.
•Grease a 20 x 20 cm square cake tin and pour in the mixture.
•Bake for 45 at 180Â°C for minutes. Cover with foil and bake for a further 30 to 45 minutes. Insert a skewer to see if it's baked through. Pumpkin is very moist so it may take a little longer.
•Allow to cool on a wire rack for two hours before icing.
•Mix all the icing ingredients, except the nuts. Beat well until it's lump free.
•Spread over the citrus icing and sprinkle with nuts and orange zest.
Spicy Pumpkin Pie (below left)
1 sheet shop-bought shortcrust pastry
450g peeled and cubed fresh pumpkin
115g light brown sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground allspice
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
2 eggs, beaten
120ml double cream
Orange zest, to garnish
•Line a tart tin with the sheet of shortcrust pastry. Mould into the fluted edges and trim off any excess pastry. Bake in the oven at 180Â°C for 10 minutes until light golden.
•Steam the pumpkin until just tender. Allow to drain and cool down.
•Mix the pumpkin, sugar, egg, salt, spices and cream together until it forms a smooth pureé.
•Pour the pumpkin filling into the pastry case and bake for 30 minutes at 180Â°C until just set.
•Serve with whipped cream and orange zest.
Health & Living