We should eat them like we do other more mainstream root vegetables, because they are equally delicious. The pumpkin and squash family, collectively known as cucurbits, are actually a fruit. They have hundreds of relatives; nearly a thousand to be precise, including melons and cucumbers.
Years ago you would hardly see pumpkins and squashes in the shops except for at Halloween but you would see many varieties in ethnic shops and markets.
The butternut became relatively popular a few years ago, so farmers began growing more and more varieties, some of which are not much use to eat as the there’s too much skin and seed to flesh ratio – only really good for decorating the table.
You can tell by looking at them if they are going to be ripe and fleshy, and better still, some of the giant walnut pumpkins are sold in wedges so you can see exactly what’s what. They’re fantastic for making soups, simply roasted with a bit of spice, or (as they do in Italy) scattered with crushed amaretti biscuits.
One of my favourite risottos is butternut squash, using the peelings to make a deep orange stock. Filled pasta like cannelloni or ravioli is another classic way to use the pumpkin family, or try shaving very ripe ones with a peeler and tossing them in a dressing as a side dish or starter. Next time you find yourself staring at one in a shop, pop it in your basket and give it a try.
Autumn spiced squash soup
Of all the squashes and pumpkins, my favourite is butternut for this kind of dish. It’s always sweet and has a deep, vibrant colour with a better ratio of flesh to skin than some of the larger and obscure varieties.
- 1 small leek, chopped and washed
- 1 small onion, peeled and roughly chopped
- 30g root ginger, peeled and finely chopped or grated
- 1 large chilli (half finely chopped for garnish and the rest roughly chopped)
- Good knob of butter
- 1kg butternut squash, peeled, seeded and roughly chopped
- 1 ltr vegetable stock (a good quality cube will do)
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tbsp pumpkin seeds, lightly toasted
- The finely chopped chilli above
- A few sprigs of coriander, shredded
- 1-2 tbs olive oil
Gently cook the leek, onion and roughly chopped chilli and ginger in the butter for 2-3 minutes until softened. Add the butternut squash and stock, bring to the boil, season and simmer for 20 - 30 minutes.
Blend the soup in a liquidiser until smooth, then strain through a fine-meshed sieve. Re-heat the soup, and adjust the consistency with a little vegetable stock or water if necessary and re season to taste. Mix the pumpkin seeds, chilli and coriander with the oil. Pour the soup into warmed bowls and spoon the pumpkin seed mixture on top.