The future's orange
It’s that pumpkin time of year again. But there is no need to make a face.
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The red/golden pumpkin is a glorious sight and now farmer’s market stalls are laden with these wonderful squashes. Of course they are not mentioned in the Bible because they arrived as galleon treasures from the New World, originally transported by Spanish conquistadors but distributed by Jewish merchants in exchange for silks and spices from the Orient.
However, both the Sephardi and Ashkenazi rabbis were quick to endow these solid squashes with Jewish symbolism, so they evolved as a traditionally Jewish vegetable. Beautifully round and sometimes golden, they came to signify money. The super-tough peel has been described by sages as a metaphor for our lives, in that we should be strong and resilient, shielding ourselves from enemies.
Certainly, eating pumpkin and its seeds may help our health. New investigations published by a Chinese university found that chemical compounds in pumpkin will promote regeneration in damaged pancreatic cells.
The Chemistry and Industry Journal reported that pumpkin extract may be “a very good product for pre-diabetic patients, as well as those who already have diabetes; possibly reducing or eliminating the need for insulin injections for some type-one diabetics”. The study did not include type-two diabetics and this research is still in its infancy, but nevertheless the signs are positive.
The vegetable does contain large amounts of carotene, giving it its tempting colour, while its magical anti-oxidant properties help in the fight against cataracts and macular degeneration. It also has large amounts of Vitamin A and C, zinc, iron and high fibre, apart from the seeds, which have health-giving properties.
Remember the large specimens have been grown for decoration. So the smaller, heavier variety produced for the table are the ones to choose. And once you cut through the thick, outside peel, the golden flesh begs to be cooked.
My husband enjoyed a deliciously fragrant lunch in the centre of Mantova, where pumpkin flesh was combined with amoretti biscuits, then encased in delicate, pasta parcels and served with a buttery sage sauce.
You can create some glorious recipes with pumpkin. Slice the flesh into segments and roast it with chunks of half-cooked potato, red onion and a little thyme to accompany your roast chicken. Or perhaps after roasting, pare away from the skins and cut into chunks, adding the sweet flesh to a kugel or tzimmes.
Or, since pumpkin is quite bland, make a relatively healthy dessert by slicing through the whole vegetable and lay slices in an oven-to-table dish with cored, sliced pears. Then sprinkle with a little muscovado sugar mixed with mixed spice or cinnamon and dried fruit. Pour over some mango-juice or a little kiddush wine and bake on gas mark 4, 180˚C, 350˚F for 40 minutes to 1 hour until luscious and sweet. Serve the succulent slices with vanilla yoghurt.
Or given the news from China, maybe try my tasty pumpkin and five-spice soup — a fusion dish that accentuates the pumpkin flavour. Substitute the stock, or part of it, for coconut milk for a rich dinner-party course.
Pumpkin and five-spice soup
● 1 small pumpkin approx 1.4 kilo
● 2 large onions
● 1 desert spoon vegetable oil
● 2 cloves garlic
● 2 tsp salt
● Roughly 2½ cm piece of grated ginger
● ½ red chilli finely chopped, minus seeds and white membranes
● 1 litre vegetable stock
● 300ml soya milk
● 1 tsp five spice powder — increase to 2 for a really spicy flavour
● 1 tsp sugar
● 2 cut up potatoes — optional for thicker soup
● 1 well-stirred can coconut milk (optional)
● Finely sliced spring onion — garnish
● Cut pumpkin into slices, discard seeds.
● Place in steamer or roast until flesh is soft.
● Peel onions and garlic.
● Crush garlic with salt.
● Slice onions, sweat in oil with ginger until soft.
● Add garlic, five spice powder and chilli. Pare away pumpkin from skin. Add flesh to pan with potatoes, if using.
● Pour in stock. Simmer until potato is tender. Process, adding soya milk for a smooth soup.
● Season with sugar and maybe extra salt.
● Serve topped with spring onions, adding a swirl of coconut milk for a richer, unctuous flavour.