Pumpkin, Part 3

pumpmuff

OK, so the pumpkin thing was never meant to be a trilogy – the roasted pumpkin with tahini was supposed to simply be a savoury sequel to the pumpkin pie (and a way to use up the leftovers) – but then I couldn’t resist these muffins.  So this is now a three-parter, but given the abundance of pumpkin and squash at the moments, more recipes containing them can hardly be a bad thing.  Again, these are rather a good way of using up leftover pumpkin or squash as you only need about 250g (the average butternut weighs about a kilo) and you could easily modify the other ingredients to use up leftover bits you have hanging around the fridge, although we’ll get on to that later.

Savoury muffins, for me, are always the acceptable face of baking.  Yes, they’re technically a cake, but they also contain vegetables.  In fact, screaming “They contain vegetables!” is often a useful tool in deflecting the judgemental stares of a friend / relative / colleague to whom you recently bemoaned your weight gain and who knows you probably shouldn’t be reaching for that second (or third…) treat.  The fact that they contain vegetables means that you can get one of your five-a-day on the move and without resorting to supermarket salad pots to keep up the nutrient levels.  I know that two of my friends and fellow bloggers use savoury muffins as a tool to trick their children into eating more vegetables. Yep, if you are a salad-dodger, these are great.  If you eat them warm from the oven, you can even kid yourself that through the consumption of vegetables, protein (cheese) and carbs (dough) that one or two muffins equals a balanced meal.  Almost.

For me, the only cheese to set off the sweet pumpkin is a salty feta – it also keeps its shape during cooking and does not melt into the dough.  This combination alongside the tang of coriander and slight oiliness from the pine nuts makes for a handful of autumnal deliciousness.  As mentioned before, the individual components of this recipe are fairly small in quantity, so it is a great way to use up leftovers.  You could, of course, make some substitutions:  you could forgo the spinach in favour of other greens, replace the pine nuts with chopped walnuts or sunflower seeds or even use a different root vegetable instead of pumpkin.  I’ve tried this recipe with other cheeses and they do not tend to work as well, although if you are a fan of blue cheese, a crumble of Stilton or Dorset Blue Vinny may be an interesting substitute!

Savoury Pumpkin Muffins

  • 250g pumpkin or squash, cut into small cubes
  • 1 handful spinach
  • Small handful coriander leaves, chopped
  • 40g pine nuts, toasted
  • 40g parmesan
  • 100g feta, cut into small cubes
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 tsp mustard powder
  • 175ml whole milk
  • 250g plain flour
  • 3 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 200ºc / 400ºf / gas 6.  Line a 12-hole muffin tin with paper cases or pleated baking parchment.

Put the squash on a roasting tray and coat with olive oil and salt.  Roast in the oven until tender and crispy at the edges.

Reserve a handful of the squash and tip the rest into a mixing bowl with the spinach, coriander, pine nuts, parmesan and 75g of the feta. and gently fold together.  Add the eggs and milk and beat together.  Sift together the flour, baking powder, mustard powder, salt and pepper and fold into the other ingredients until fully incorporated.  Do not overmix.

Spoon the mixture into the muffin cases, filling each one about ¾ full.  Top the muffins with the remaining pumpkin and feta and bake in the oven for about 20 minutes until risen and golden.

Recipe adapted from one by 101 Cookbooks

Pumpkin, Part 1

Pumpkin Pie

In these dark few weeks of mid-October, when the transition from Indian summer to winter chill leaves us contemplating the bleak winter months ahead, we can at least be thankful for the abundance of autumnal food sent to keep us warm and well fed. Pumpkins, at the moment, are everywhere and, whilst the supermarkets are selling the great big orange globes best suited to carving, the markets and farm shops are selling an array of squashes and pumpkins from the lovely little cricket ball varieties to the ubiquitous butternuts.  The approach of Hallowe’en and Thanksgiving sends us all a bit pumpkin crazy – I even bought a Jack’o’Lantern-shaped cookie cutter last week – but it is a great time to make use of this vegetable in both sweet and savoury autumnal recipes.

Although pumpkin pie was eaten in England prior to the exploration of the Americas, it features in several cookbooks dating as far back as the 17th century, it is with American celebrations that we have come to associate it with.  It is eaten traditionally at Thanksgiving and Christmas and is now such an integral part of those celebrations that a number of different recipes exist for the traditional pie, regional variations and other ‘pumpkin spice’ items such as cookies and cakes, that replicate the flavour of the pie.  Pre-baked pie shells and canned pumpkin pie fillings are even available for the non-cook or time poor.

Most traditional pies follow the basic formula of a sweet Shortcrust case and a filling of puréed pumpkin and spices thickened with eggs and cream, all baked in the oven. The main variations come from the type of pumpkin used and the combination of spices. I first made pumpkin pie for some ex-pat Canadians a couple of years ago and have been working on the recipe ever since. Recently I have discovered that I prefer the flavour and texture of butternut squash in a pumpkin pie – it is less stringy in texture, so requires less preparation. Getting your pumpkin spice mix right takes a little bit of practice and trial-and-error until you find a combination that you like. The most common spices used are ginger, all spice, mixed spice, nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, mace, ginger and cardamom, and the best way to start is to make combinations of three or four spices in equal measures and adjust the ratios accordingly once you find a combination you like.  If you plan to make a number of pumpkin spiced items throughout the winter, make your spice mix in a large quantity  and store in an airtight jar – it should retain it’s potency for a good few months.

My own personal spice mix is: two parts cinnamon, one part mace, one part ginger, one part allspice, one part ground cloves.

Pumpkin Pie

Pumpkin Pie

For the pastry:

  • 220g plain flour
  • 125g unsalted butter, cold, cut into small cubes
  • 30g icing sugar
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 tbsp cold water (more if needed)

For the filling:

  • 565g pumkpin or squash (prepared weight)
  • 2 large eggs, plus 2 yolks
  • 90g dark brown sugar
  • 3½ tsp pumpkin spice mix (see above)
  • 330ml double cream

To make the pastry, put the flour, butter and icing sugar in a food processor and pulse until the mixture has the consistency of fine breadcrumbs.  If you do not have a food processor, rub the butter into the flour and sugar by hand until it reaches the same consistency.  Add the egg yolk and water and pulse or mix until the dough starts to come together.  Turn out on to a floured surface and work with your hands until it forms a smooth ball.  Flatten into a disc, wrap in clingfilm and chill in the fridge for half an hour.

Preheat the oven to 200ºc / 400ºf / gas 6.  Flour the inside of a loose-bottomed tart tin.

Once chilled, roll out the pastry and line the inside of the tart tin, gently pushing the pastry into the grooves.  Do not, at this point, trim the edges, instead allow them to hang over the edge of the tin – this will help to prevent the pastry from shrinking during cooking.  Line the pastry case with greaseproof paper and baking beans and bake blind in the oven for 12-15 minutes. Remove from the oven, remove the paper and beans and carefully trim the edges of the pastry case with a sharp knife.  Return the pastry to the oven for another 10-12 minutes until lightly golden and completely dry.

In the meantime, make the filling.  Cut the pumpkin into 1in pieces and cook in a steamer over boiling water until tender.  Puree the pumpkin in a blender or in a large bowl with a hand-blender.  Set aside.  In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs and set these aside also.  In a large saucepan, heat the cream, sugar and spice mix in a pan, whisking occasionally, until it reaches simmering point.  Pour this mixture over the eggs, add the pumpkin puree and whisk together until smooth.  Pour the filling into the cooked pastry case and cook for around 40-45 minutes until risen with a slight wobble in the centre.  Allow to cool in the tin for 20 minutes, then remove and serve on a plate.