Pedaling with pumpkinsPosted: November 16, 2011
I have a fond memory of harvesting pumpkins at a farm in Wisconsin. Someone drove an old delivery van slowly down the side of the squash field. The back doors were open, and another person stood in the back catching the huge vegetables as we tossed them from the rows. It was like a dance: we threw, he caught, he set it on the big orange pile, and on and on.
Eventually, one of us threw too soon or aimed badly. The poor guy in the back would get knocked off his feet, or the van looked like the day after Halloween, with a big orange splotch on its white side panel. My aching arms were a testament to the hard work of the pumpkin harvest, and the end of the growing year.
Lessons from Cambodia
These days I know autumn has arrived, not because my arms ache, but because my calves are killing me. This is after I’ve filled my bike baskets with heavy autumn vegetables from the farmers’ market. Last week I precariously balanced on my overweight bike and somehow managed to turn onto my road without falling over.
I mustered my courage to attempt such a dangerous journey by remembering the awe-inspiring cyclists I saw in Cambodia, where my meagre load of veg in baskets would be laughable. There, people pile their bikes (and also scooters) with monstrous loads, stacks of car fenders, other bicycles, and even small families, then pedal through the chaotic traffic, weaving in and out on both sides of the road, somehow dodging trucks and oxen.
Despite knowing that cycling with pumpkins in Oxford is child’s play compared to the daredevil cycling in Southeast Asia, I was proud to make it home unscathed with my cache of glorious pumpkins: two for eating, one for carving. Let’s face it, there aren’t many vegetables that you can roast, turn into soup, make sweet or savoury pie with, puree and stuff into ravioli, and even cook with ground beef and rice to make a sort of weird pilaf. The fact that you can also carve them to resemble your dog at Halloween, well, that makes pumpkins pretty special.
What’s cookin’ in our kitchen: the great pumpkin!
So, in homage to this year’s pumpkins, we cooked a yummy autumn feast: roast chicken, potatoes, parsnips, carrots, onions, garlic and, of course, pumpkin. Here’s how:
- Heat oven to a medium temperature.
- Clean, peel and chop assorted veg so they are all a similar size.
- Parboil by boiling water in a kettle and pouring it into a big pot. Once it returns to a boil, drop in chopped potatoes and set a timer for 10 minutes. When six minutes remain, drop in chopped carrots and parsnips, and at about four minutes, the chopped pumpkin.
- Drain the veg in a colander using a slotted spoon and let it drip a bit over the sink to get it nice and dry. (I save the blanching water to make soup later – see below.)
- Shake your potatoes. I remove all the drained veg to a giant roasting tray, leaving the potatoes alone in the colander. I then shake the potatoes for all their worth until they start to get crumb-y (but stop before they get crumbly) – the crumbs all over the potatoes get nice and crispy in the oven, so the more the better. This is a Jamie Oliver tip, and in our kitchen has made the difference between just-fine roast potatoes, and totally-freakin’-awesome roast potatoes. (Thank you, Jamie! Here he gives more tips for even awesomer potatoes … I haven’t tried it because I’m afraid I’d eat nothing but roast potatoes for the rest of my life.)
- Lubricate all the veg with olive oil, including the potatoes, which you’ve now tossed onto the huge roasting tray with the other veg and some peeled and quartered onions and unpeeled garlic. It’s important that everything is in a single layer, otherwise the veg will steam rather than roast (which would taste fine, but not totally-freakin’-awesome). Coat it all with olive oil, sprinkle with coarse sea salt, and place in a hot oven, on the shelf below a chicken. We’ve got a fan oven, so it takes about 45 minutes for all of it to be nicely roasted.
- Feast! It was good. Real good. I think we did the pumpkin proud.
Post-roast soup and scalding, or, what to do with the leftovers
Soup and Scalding sounds a bit like something you’d find on the menu of a traditional English pub, but it’s not. It’s my way of awesome-ing up the leftovers from a roasted feast. Here’s how:
- Manhandle your chicken carcass and clean off all the remaining meat, then boil it up in a pressure cooker, using the water saved from blanching the vegetables. At pressure, I let it cook for about 10 minutes, then turn it off until the pressure comes down by itself.
- Make provisions for the dog by straining the stock and putting some in the fridge for your pooch, who probably won’t say no to a splash of chicken stock on his food.
- Dump everything you didn’t eat yesterday (i.e., roasted vegetables) into the stock and heat it all up on the stove.
- Scald self by pureeing the stock and veg with one of those hand-held blenders. Honestly, I’ve no idea how you whir hot things up with those blenders without a serious scalding. But it wasn’t all bad, because plenty landed on the floor, where Harvey was patiently waiting to lap it up. And it left a decorative splattery design on my blouse.
- Apply first-aid and optional toppings, such as aloe for your burns, stain remover for your blouse, and Emmenthal cheese and Greek yogurt for your soup.
- Eat up. Ours was not a totally freakin’ awesome soup, but it wasn’t half bad for leftovers, only left a few minor burns, and the dog was happy.
Pumpkins et. al.
Pumpkins are only one of the many wonderful squashes on offer in autumn. Another favourite is butternut squash. Here’s a recipe for Thai butternut and coconut soup.