Pumpkins are, of course, most closely associated with Hallowe’en but just as puppies are for life not just for Christmas, so I believe that pumpkins, gourds and squashes should be celebrated for much longer than a single candy-fuelled day of ghosts, ghouls and dressing up like a slutty witch (c’mon – have you seen the sort of costumes marketed at women these days?). Most of the pumpkin/squash/gourd (for brevity’s sake I’ll just say ‘pumpkin’ from now on) genus Cucurbita is in season from the end of September until mid-December and during those months I wolf down as many as I can – I hated pumpkin as a kid, and as an adult I’m making up for lost time with this gorgeous fruit-cum-vegetable that skates the boundary between sweet and savoury.
Pumpkins are at their very best when baked – a high, prolonged heat makes the flesh meltingly tender and turns its sugary flavour into something more mellow and savoury. Combine that with a heapload of dairy (in this case both cream and cheese) and you have heaven in a spoonful – sweet, savoury, rich, creamy, tangy – all at once. This is another of my super-indulgent seasonal dishes (like my unctuous sauce for sprouting broccoli) that I only do once or twice a year, as the calorie count is through the roof, but believe me, it’s worth every gram of fat. In theory this is a soup, although that hardly does justice to the rib-sticking nature of the feast involved – use your spoon to crape tender pumpkin flesh through a sea of creamy goo for every mouthful, and have some good hearty bread to go with it – wholewheat or spelt are best – you can smear spoonfuls of pumpkin on the bread and then dunk in the centre for the ultimate treat. It’s easiest (and quickest) to do individual pumpkins for everyone, but you can also do one show-stopping large pumpkin for 4-6 people, in which case it will need to be cooked for much longer and serving is a bit messier.
Whole baked pumpkin with Comté & cream
1 x 900g-1kg pumpkin (for a main course; go much smaller for a starter portion)
100g Comté or Gruyère cheese, grated (the nuttiness works well with the sweet pumpkin)
75-100ml double cream
salt, pepper, nutmeg
1. Preheat your oven to 200˚C/fan180˚/Gas 6.
2. Just as if you were making a carved pumpkin/jack-o-lantern, use a very sharp knife to cut a small lid from the pumpkin and use a large spoon to scrape out all the seeds (bake or fry them with chilli & salt for delicious pre-pumpkin nibbles) and any excessively stringy flesh. Trim the flesh from the lid so it’s no more than 1.5cm deep, finely chop the spare pumpkin flesh and throw it into the cavity. Add the cream, grated cheese and plenty of salt, pepper and grated nutmeg. The pumpkin should be around three-quarters full (adjust the quantities to suit your pumpkin – they all vary!).
3. Replace the lid and place your pumpkin(s) on a foil-lined baking sheet in the middle of the oven and bake for around 1 hour. To test if the pumpkin is cooked, lift the lid and carefully poke the flesh with a small knife – it should sink in as easily as into butter. Serve whole in shallow bowls, so as to catch any spillage whilst eating.