Pumpkins aren’t just for Halloween! Graeme Pallister, chef patron of 63 Tay Street in Perth, is a firm believer in cooking with squash.
Even though I’m a grumpy Scotsman who believes that lanterns should be carved from neeps rather than pumpkins, I am a fan of the squash family as an ingredient in my kitchen. I know this is a bit of an alien concept for most home cooks – after all, who wants to stand for an hour peeling and cutting something that doesn’t mash well, doesn’t chop easily and you’d be there all day grating them.
However, treat these scrumptious squash with some love and attention and I promise you will be rewarded with endless culinary delights. The trick is to engage with the whole vegetable. Don’t try to fight with it. Out goes peeling and chopping and in comes new age cooking where the whole thing goes into the oven – skin, seeds, the lot.
You want to choose some of the smaller sized squash for this – slicing the edges off a pumpkin to fit it through your oven door is a disaster waiting to happen. The wee ones also taste so much sweeter. Cut it in half, scoop out the seeds – for butternut squash, go for a long neck and short fat bell – and smother the whole thing in rapeseed oil and sea salt before roasting in a hot oven until the skin blisters. Slice it once it’s cooked and serve with roast chicken and some garlic butter for a real Sunday treat.
If, like me, you want no waste at all then try this great little tip. Take a medium sized pumpkin and cut in half, scooping out the seeds into a colander. Slice each half of the pumpkin into six wedges – a bit like a melon – and roast. Whilst this is cooking, wash your seeds and pat dry. Toast them on a hot, dry skillet with cumin seeds and sprinkle over your roast veg with some crowdie cheese and a twist of black pepper. Heaven!
Let’s not forget the carnivores in this lovely veggie column. Choose a small, round squash and core the middle like an apple. Stuff it with minced pork, sage and garlic and cook in a hot oven; the oils and fat are going to melt through that sweet, soft flesh and give you a wonderful, meaty dish that everyone will love. If you want to go the whole hog, pour a creamy béchamel sauce into the hole and serve with wild rice.
Finally, for the quickest ever soup, set a whole squash onto some sliced onions and garlic and roast slowly in the oven until it is super soft. This is a great one for doing while you potter in the garden – apart from anything the house smells amazing when you go back in. Once it’s done, throw the whole thing into a pot with some boiling water and a can of coconut milk. Easy-squash-peasy and tastes amazing!
Chef’s tip: Use earthy spices and herbs with squash, so cumin, rosemary, ginger and a nice smokey paprika will all work extremely well.