Autumn 2013
Pumpkin Palooza
Pumpkins galore. Pumpkin dinner. Pumpkin dinner. Pumpkin Rachel.
It's that time of year again - time to grab all the pumpkins you need before they disappear forever at the stroke of midnight on Hallowe'en.
I may have overdone it this year, but at least I was able to match up pumpkin sizes to everything I needed, from salad bowls to a pig-roasting tray.

Eschewing my usual Pumpkin-In-A-Chicken-In-A-Pumpkin-Palaver Chumpalaver?? I decided to try Pig-In-A-Pumpkin for a change. Muh. It's OK, but it takes an awful lot of effort to get it to taste as good as it did, and a lot of time too.

I invited eight people before I'd remembered to count up my chairs (7) so in some ways it was quite handy that my flakey friend Jenny decided not to show up, despite the fact that she was the pivotal link between my sailing and studying buddies. Even so I was slightly concerned that my meagre-looking pork shoulder joint would never feed everyone. No need to worry - they didn't even get through half of it: when the pork is pulled into shreds it goes a surprisingly long way (though it needed more sauce, a factor not helped if one of your guests goes all Freddy Kruger on the pork's ass and slashes its pumpkin to pieces thus losing all the precious, precious juices. I'm looking at you Aidan!).

Frankly I vastly underestimated the amount of work in getting this meal out, whether because feeding 8 guests rather than my usual dinner party of 4 is a whole exponential increase in the time required, or because cutting and cleaning dozens (well, 6) pumpkins is a lot of work I hadn't counted for, or because of my poor choice of particularly labour-intensive dishes (I'm looking at you Salt Cod, Chickpea and Chorizo Soup!) I'm not sure.
I mean, it's not as if I hadn't set up a sufficiently detailed meal plan but for whatever reason I was still desperately scooping out Bloody Tomatoes when the first guests arrived. Despite having taken off the whole day before to get a head start.
As a result a couple of dishes I had planned: crackling, roasted pumpkin (we probably didn't miss those), some Borlotti beans to pimp out the pork (completely unnecessary as it turned out) and a broccoli side dish (to break up the rather monotonous pumpkin colours of the main course), never quite made it to the table.

There was also a lot of oven juggling to slow things down - I think if I was going to attempt something along these lines again, I'd prepare a larger number of smaller stuffed or filled pumpkins that I could fit a half-dozen or so in the oven at once and that would cook in a shorter time. Maybe next year?

Anyway, what with a bucket-load of empty Bloody Tomatoes, a dozen bloody egg yolks and a score of bloody pumpkins to get rid of I won't be starving any time soon! Which is handy - as it means I can avoid eating my disastrous leftover stew.

menu
On the Side
Pumpkin Bread
Pumpkin Seeds
Bloody Tomato
A bloody mary, served in a hollowed-out beef tomato!

Salad
Watermelon, Black Olives and Feta Cheese Salad
Mixed Greens scattered with Crispy Ham and dressed with a Pomegranate Vinaigrette
All served IN A PUMPKIN!

Soup
Salt Cod, Chorizo & Chickpea Soup
IN A PUMPKIN!

Main
Pulled Pig in a Pumpkin
Cider Braised Cabbage
Pumpkin and Mustard Gratin
IN A PUMPKIN!
Roast Potatoes and Parsnips
Floured and gingered - you gotta have roasties!


Dessert
Pumpkin Soufflé & Ginger-Lime Sorbet
A very enthusiastic soufflé served with a angry ginger sorbet.



Bloody Tomato
Bloody mary served in a hollowed-out tomato
drink veg
I had the idea of this novelty method of serving bloody marys when I failed to get that drink during one of our sailing trips to the Churches Hotel due to their lack of tomato juice. I'm glad to finally try it out.
Pretty cool - if a bit time-consuming to prepare, and very wasteful of tomatoes. You'd better have a leftover vodka-flavoured tomato recipe on hand!

I figured I couldn't do any worse than follow Felicity Cloake's perfect recipe for the bloody mary.

Serves 8 - or a couple of thirsty lushes

Ingredients
Method
Grate or juice! the horseradish into a pitcher or use it to infuse your vodka for a day if you have the time. Mix together the tomato juice, Tabasco, Worcestershire sauce and celery salt and briefly squeeze each lemon wedge into the jug, leaving some juice in each. Season well with black pepper, add more salt if necessary and check the spice level for your taste, adjusting if necessary. Drop the lemon wedges into the jug and stir together well. Cover and chill for at least 30 minutes. If you don't have room for the jug in your fridge - stir in a bunch of ice cubes.

Cut a small hole in an upper slope of each beef tomato, cut away the stalk inside the tomato, and using a teaspoon handle scoop out the tomato innards as best you can. You can use the leftover bits for a mediocre stew if you're frugal. Tidy up the hole with a sharp knife, cut a short piece of celery to sit in the hole and lay a straw on the celery stick.
Pour the vodka and sherry into the jug and stir well with a celery stick. Using a funnel, carefully fill each tomato.
Serve immediately.
Hmmm. Stylish and alcoholic!

Pumpkin Bread Machine Bread
bread
Very good bread with a rich taste and firm texture - though you can overdo the seeds.

Makes a 1kg loaf

Ingredients
Method
Beat the eggs and mix in the milk, pumpkin, sugar, spices and oil. I added a dash of cumin and ginger. Pour into the bread machine.
I found the perfect dough mixture was 3 cups strong white flour and ½ cup milk, but the loaf was just a little bit too big for my machine, so I reduced the flour and milk quantities as above. Keep some milk back until you see how the dough is doing, and then moisten as necessary.
Mix up the flours and salt and add to the bread machine. Add the yeast.
Really good bread - moist with a nice crumb.
The seeds and nuts go very well too.

Salt Cod, Chickpea and Chorizo Soup (with Pumpkin)
soup fish meat
For a special Autumn edition I added pumpkin to Emma Sturgess's base recipe, and went to the absurd effort of actually cooking the soup in a pumpkin. You really need to use a good stock (I used chicken but I'm sure pork would also be fine) for this, but it's definitely worth it.
I was surprised how difficult it was to find un-pre-packaged Serrano ham here in Edinburgh that I could have sliced to my specifications. I had to go to all the way to Harvey Nichols and pretend to be someone's manservant for God's sake.

Fortunately for my sanity I can buy salt cod homemade by my local fishmonger. So there: local Fucking Supermarkets™.

Serves 4-6

Ingredients
Method
Put the cod in a dish, sprinkle with salt and chill in the fridge for 1hr.
Alternatively, if you've acquired some proper salted cod, soak it overnight in a couple of changes of water.

Halve or quarter the red pepper, remove the seeds and grill until the skin chars. Place in a plastic bag to cool, then peel off the skin and cut the flesh into 1cm squares.

Heat the oil in a large pan over a medium heat, add the carrot, then the onion, and cook for 10 min until softened. Add the garlic and cook a little, then the Chorizo and sprinkle with the paprika once it begins to darken.
If you're using dried chickpeas which you have soaked overnight, then cover with water and cook them with a few bayleaves now until they soften up.

Add the chickpeas, red pepper, stock, saffron and oregano and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 10min.
If you're mad enough to want to cook this in a pumpkin, fill the hollowed-out pumpkin now and bake for an hour in the oven at Gas Mark 5 instead.
Choose a pumpkin quite a bit larger than you need as it will collapse a little hopefully :) as it cooks.

If you're adding pumpkin, then cut the pumpkin in half, scrape out the insides and set aside the cleaned seeds for roasting. Lay cut side down on a lightly oiled oven tray and roast at Gas Mark 5 for 20-30 minutes until softened and the skin starts to separate from the flesh. Peel and cut into chunks to add to the soup.

Remove the cod from the fridge, rinse, pat dry and add to the soup with the Serrano ham and spinach. Simmer for 5 min more.
Or bake for another hour in the pumpkin.
Divide the soup between individual bowls and serve immediately with plenty of crusty bread.
Truth is, this is quite a delicious soup, but it doesn't reheat particularly well, and it's a huge amount of work, what with the cod and chickpea soaking, the cod skinning and de-boning, and the sheer number of ingredients to be prepared.

Pulled Pig in a Pumpkin
Slow-cooked pork shoulder, finished in a pumpkin.
main meat
There's something of a problem with slow-cooking pork - it dries it out. Which is why the method is usually used to make pulled pork, which can be re-lubricated with an unctuous sauce. Barbecue, say.
I used apple/cider flavourings rather than barbecue to make the sauce for this autumnal dish, but you definitely need to get it as rich as possible. Then hopefully your guests won't notice the slightly twiggy aspect to the meat!

The slow-cooking will break down collagen in the meat (usually a well-muscled cut such as shoulder) to gelatin producing very tender meat, but the necessary temperature (70-80°C/160-180°F) and time required for this to happen exceeds the temperature at which the meat fibres begin to shrink and release their moisture, drying the flesh out (60°C/140°F).
The effect isn't too bad when you have pieces of meat in a stew, which can absorb much of the flavour and moisture of the sauce, but is quite obvious when cooking a single piece.

Here I wanted to keep the pork as a single piece to serve cooked in a pumpkin, but I knew that I wouldn't be able to cook the joint for long enough to tenderise it in the pumpkin without setting it on fire, so I opted for getting the joint started in my slow cooker.
The meat could then be finished off in a pumpkin for a shorter time, but at a relatively higher temperature in the oven without destroying the pumpkin, and at the same time nicely crisping the generous layer of fat I had left on the shoulder joint.

You'll need a joint which fits snugly into your slow cooker for this to work: I took my cooker insert along to the butcher and had him trim the joint to suit. You'll also need a good fitting pumpkin for the final roasting, so it helps if you have a bit of selection to hand!!
Get your butcher to pick out a shoulder joint with a generous covering of fat, but trim away any skin. You can keep that for crackling.

Serves 8-10

Ingredients
Method
Thoroughly rub your pork joint with the garlic, ginger, salt and pepper. Cover it, or wrap in a plastic bag, and leave in the fridge at least overnight. Remove the joint a good hour before you need to start it cooking.

Peel, core and slice the apple and line the bottom of your slow cooker. Moisten with a glass or two of Calvados.
Place the pork in fat-side up, set the cooker on low, and leave the joint to tenderise.
You can use a meat thermometer to check its internal temperature - its centre should spend some reasonable length of time at 80°C to break down the muscle fibres. I cooked mine overnight for 12 hours - though I suspect you could get away with significantly less.

Allow the meat to cool in the cooking liquor (this will help the dried fibres to slightly reabsorb some moisture), and when completely cool remove the joint to a draining tray. Collect and separate all of the stock and fat produced by the cooking. Use the fat for your roasties, and strain and reduce the stock to a reasonably thick sauce. You may need to bulk out the gravy using some stock if you haven't ended up with enough juices from the cooker.
Meanwhile reduce a couple of bottles of cider and two litres of apple juice to a syrupy consistency.
You can keep everything at this stage until you're ready to start dinner.

Preheat the oven to Gas Mark 6.
Choose a pumpkin into which the cooked pork joint will fit snugly. Cut off the top and scrape out the innards and inside walls until all the stringy material has been removed. Fit in the pork joint, fat-side up and put in the oven.
Reheat the reduced pork juices and apple/cider reduction together in a pot. Once the fat has crisped up nicely (15-30 minutes) you can turn pour the hot sauce over the meat, put it back in the oven and turn down to Gas Mark 4 (if you want), and cook until the meat has thoroughly reheated all the way through (I was happy with 55°C at the centre, but 75°C is the recommended reheating temperature for wimps and pregnant women).

Serve the meat from the pumpkin so everyone gets an admiring look, shredding (pulling) much of the meat of each slice and making sure to mix in a generous amount of sauce.
I was concerned that the meat was going to be too dry when it had finished in the slow cooker, but once roasted in the pumpkin and served with the scrumpy reduction sauce, it's really surprisingly tasty. The crispy fat is particularly good!

Ginger-Lime Sorbet
dessert veg vegan
Sharp, but refreshing. A good accompaniment, but probably not a sorbet you would each much of on its own.
You can, though, easily tune it to your taste.

Serves 8

Ingredients
Method
Put 3 cups of water with the sugar into a pot. Some honey might be nice too!
Grate in the peel of two of the limes, and add an inch or so of chopped ginger.
Bring to the boil and simmer gently for 10 minutes to infuse with the fruit and ginger flavours, then strain and set aside to cool.
Use a zester or a sharp knife to curl off nice twists of peel from another lime and add to the liquid.
Juice the other inch of ginger (it really helps if you have a juice machine, but you can do it by hand with a grater and a strainer otherwise).
Juice three or four limes to get ½-1 cup lime juice.
Now add lime and fresh ginger juice to the sorbet liquid to taste - the ginger is very sharp and a little bitter so you won't want to overdo it, but you will probably want to add at least some. Bear in mind that the flavours will be slightly dulled when the mixture is served frozen.
The cooked ginger brings that nice warm comforting cold-remedy back flavour, while the raw ginger brings fire and bite. And possibly a little pain.
When you're happy with the flavour balances, fire up your ice machine and freeze the mixture.
Remember to move it out of the freezer into the fridge about half an hour before serving so it can soften up a little.
Really good as an accompaniment to a pumpkin soufflé, say.
It can be a bit fearsome to eat on its own though, especially if you were heavy-handed with the fresh ginger juice ;)

Fennel Crackling
meat side
Although this never made it into my Pumpkin Palooza dinner, I did get around to making it afterwards at least partly to get rid of the slab of belly pork which was slowly turning leathery and stinking in my fridge.

I bought a fat hunk of belly pork just for the crackling, and had the butcher leave on a very generous layer of fat, and even some of the meat. I scored, then spiced and salted the skin just before roasting, unlike this rendition which to be honest turned out better - some of my pieces in this round turned out either too hard or just a bit rubbery. That might be down to the age of the belly though.
If I learned anything from this latest attempt it's that you're better off completely scoring the skin (about a fingers-width apart) even if you then slice up into fingers for roasting.

Serves as many as you like.

Ingredients
Method
Preheat your oven as hot as it will go (250°C/Gas Mark 9 in my case).

Thoroughly dry the skin and use a Stanley knife (with the blade half-retracted to the right depth) to deeply score the skin all over in a diamond pattern about a finger-width apart. Avoid cutting right through :)
Slice the pork into nice fat fingers across the direction of scoring.

Grind fennel seeds into a powder, mix with fine sea salt and generously rub into the pork.
Spread the pork fingers out on a wire rack inside a (shallow) roasting tin skin-side up, and put in the top of the hot oven for 15 minutes.
Check that the skin has bubbled satisfactorily and turn the heat down to 190°C/Gas Mark 5 for another 15 minutes, or 180°C/Gas Mark 4 for another 30.
Don't let them burn!
To be honest - couldn't really taste the fennel particularly, though the results were perfectly edible.

If you've got a lot of meat under your crackling you can always cut it off and use it in another dish.