Hurray! It's pumpkin season! (And it's also Pumpkin Day over at Slashfood!) If you're in need for inspiration for using up the remnants of your carving activities this weekend, head over to Simply Recipes, where Elise collects finger-licking good recipes for pumpkins. And here's my contribution:
So far, I have mostly taken pleasure out of this season by looking at all the glorious shapes and colours (and carving the occasional one for Halloween), but rarely used them in cooking. It's like with most things - if you haven't grown up with something, it takes a really strong hook to get you, well... hooked. My husband used to hate fish and when we moved in together, he slowly learnt that fish doesn't equal fish fingers - and is now a much happier person for it.
As far as pumpkins go, I am thankful to my friend Martina who recently got me to experiment with them... she made some delicious canapés for her party in September and I just had to try these for myself: roast bits of butternut squash, topped with a pumpkin seed pesto and a tiny bite of crispy bacon on top. Although this is by no means a traditional way of serving this vegetable, the use of the seeds and the oil is nevertheless quintessentially Austrian. Growing pumpkins is a major industry in the southern province of Styria and the pumpkinseed oil that we produce there is now sold the world over. It's one of Austria's big exports, like Red Bull and Mozartkugeln, and whereever you look, pumpkinseed oil usually comes from Austria, no matter what the brand. I usually buy my oil back home, choosing a bottle from a small mill, which will invariably taste better than something produced on the large scale for some supermarket. We have a shop in my hometown where all sorts of oils and vinegars are sold straight from the cask - you can buy bottles there or bring your own. Vom Fass (German for "from the cask") is a German franchise and there are now shops in Notting Hill and other locations in the UK.
The pumpkinseed oil they sell at Waitrose here is not too bad either, though, and if you want to try something new (and incredibly healthy, by the way) go for it - it's a really thick and rich, dark green oil with a distinctly smokey and nutty taste, though somehow richer and smoother than walnut or hazelnut oil. We eat it drizzled over salads (mixed leaves or potato), stir it into soups (especially pumpkin) or mashed potatoes... the possibilities are endless, but you must never cook with it. And one word of warning, wear something old when you use it, the stains are nasty and don't respond to any kind of detergent - the trick is to hang it out on the washing line and let the sun "bleach" it... so bear that in mind when you try it!
Roast squash bites with pumpkin seed pesto
(makes 24-30 bites)
500 g butternut squash
oil for spraying
2 tbsp pumpkin seeds
1 tbsp finely grated parmesan or aged pecorino
2 tbsp pumpkin seed oil
2 tbsp groundnut oil
24-30 mini-skewers or toothpicks
24-30 thin bacon bits* (one per skewer), to decorate
Pre-heat oven to 200 C.
Peel and core the butternut squash, then cut into bite-sized chunks (remembering that the pieces will shrink in the oven). If necessary, trim them at the bottom to make sure they will stand firmly on the baking/serving tray. Using a melon baller, cut the squash into shape, making space for the pumpkin seed pesto. Your bites should look like little crescents or not quite half-moons with a dip in the centre**. Arrange on a baking tray and spray lightly with oil. Put into the pre-heated oven and bake for 20 minutes until soft and starting to brown.
In the meantime, toast (dry-roast) the pumpkin seeds in a non-stick pan, stirring continuously, until they're throwing blisters and starting to brown. Remove from the pan to prevent them from burning. Chop finely with a knife or in a multi-mix, then combine with the parmesan and oils and season well. You can prepare this well in advance and store in a glass in the fridge (beware of plastic containers, as the oil will leave nasty stains!)
Fry the bacon bits until browning, leave to drain and crisp up on a paper towel.
Assemble the canapés by putting each squash bite on a skewer, topping with a generous dollop of the pumpkinseed pesto
* I use a very lean bacon made from the loin. If can't find this type of bacon (I get mine from Austria), you could also try a very tasty ham.
** If you are using a larger squash or pumpkin, you can also cut bite-sized dice instead, cutting a little well on top, for the pesto.