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Tuesday, 6 December 2011

A Pumpkin that Smiles

So I experimented on Ranbir today.

No, I didn’t turn him into a Rabbit, in case you were wondering (which, by the way, is precisely what 'spellcheck' does to his name...)

What I mean by “experimented on" him is that I carved him a jack-o-lantern to see if he is old enough (or smart enough) to “get” it.

Ya, ya, I know it's way past Halloween and jack-o-lantern season, but we missed all of that, what with being in India and all, see. And better late than never, as they say. And anyhow, Waitrose still seem to have a large supply of pumpkin on their shelves, Halloween or not. So, I bought a monstrously large pumpkin, placed it at the bottom of Ranbir’s pram (see, I knew I kept my baby around for a reason), and effortlessly wheeled it home. It took all my strength, however, once I got home, to carry it down the stairs and into the kitchen, where I lugged it on the countertop, caught my breath, cut the top off, scooped the inside flesh out, carved a face, placed a candle inside and finally replaced the lid. 

And ta-da! We had a jack-o-lantern in December. Hurrah.

Sadly, it was a bit too early (circa, a year or two too early...) to be cheering because I got absolutely no reaction from Ranbir.
Who seemed far more engrossed in Sid’s Blackberry.
So, to be more precise, my experiment was a big fat failure. Big and fat. Like pumpkin big and fat. Cause clearly, my pumpkin’s (highly expressive) triangular eyes and (cute button) nose and (funny crooked smiley) mouth evoked no emotion in my little boy whatsoever. So: No. I conclude, sadly, that Ranbir is not old enough (or smart enough) to “get” it.

(Though some might argue that sending emails from his father’s work Blackberry demonstrates a level of intelligence far greater than reacting to his mother’s attempt at a funny-faced Pumpkin).

However – to quote Shakespeare (erudite chick that I am), “All’s well that ends well” and I’m still quite pleased,  because now you see, I have a whole bunch of pumpkin deliciousness to cook with!

And I LOVE pumpkin. Absolutely LOVE it. In any form.  I love pumpkin soup, I love pumpkin salad, I love pumpkin risotto and I love pumpkin subzi, cooked the Indian way with mustard seeds and amchoor and dried red chilies.

Pumpkin is really the ultimate Fall/Winter food – it’s a great accompaniment to a heartier, perhaps meatier meal, or it’s a perfectly delicious one-pot meal in itself. Apart from the undeniable fact that it is BRIGHT orange in colour, and by virtue of that alone, will light up the darkest, most dreary evening, it lends a sweetness and wholesomeness and comfort and warmth to the palette that is just fantastic.  Say "Pumpkin" in my ear, and I think of fall colours and log cabins and bonfires and marshmallows and the smell of wood smoke in the air…

I’m making a simple Roast Pumpkin for dinner tonight that is so good that I guarantee there will be no leftovers. And even though Ranbir isn't smiling at my smiling jack-o-lantern, I'm fairly sure he's going to be smiling after his dinner.

Here’s what you need:

- 1 large pumpkin
- 3 tbsn olive oil
- 6 stalks fresh thyme or 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
- 100g walnuts
- 2 tbsp dried cranberries
- 125g goats cheese
- Salt and pepper, to taste

Here’s how you do it:

Preheat the oven to 220°C. Quarter the pumpkin so it is of a manageable working size and then skin each bit. Scoop out the seeds, then cut into cubes, trying to keep the pieces uniformly small.  Add the olive oil to a roasting tin and then scatter the pumpkin cubes on it. Strip the leaves from 4 stalks of thyme, and sprinkle liberally over the pieces. Roast in the oven for about 30-45 minutes or until tender. Once out of the oven,  ladle the pumpkin into a large serving bowl and scatter the walnuts and cranberries over it. Crumble the goats cheese on top, then toss everything together gently.

I love this dish because it’s simple and aromatic and comforting all at once. You have meltingly sweet cubes of pumpkin offset with the fragrance of thyme, the warm crunch of walnuts, the tartness of cranberries and the rich, decadent saltiness of crumbly goats cheese.


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