The autumn abundance of pumpkins brings the colours and flavours of fall into the home.
Bermudians eat so much pumpkin—literally, tons and tons of it—there should be a Facebook page called Bermudians Love Pumpkins. We eat it all year round. Walk into any grocery store at just about any time of year and you’ll find chunks of pumpkin, which is actually a fruit, sharing space with the broccoli and cauliflower and carrots, its exposed pale-orange flesh contrasting with its streaky greenish-gray skin.
“Bermudians love to eat pumpkins, mostly steamed and served as a side dish,” according to farmer Carlos Amaral. “They season it up, and sometimes serve it sweet with brown sugar and butter.”
Most local growers and consumers refer to this pumpkin as calabaza squash, or West Indian squash. Confused yet? Let’s just say that unless you’re entering a specimen in a horticultural competition, the distinction between a pumpkin and a squash is immaterial. Most people use the two names interchangeably, although you’d never call the iconic Halloween pumpkin a squash and you’d never call zucchini a pumpkin. The bottom line? Don’t worry about it.
Bermudians who love pumpkins are doing themselves a favour. The orange flesh is high in the important antioxidant beta-carotene, and according to current research, a diet high in beta-carotene may offer protection against heart disease and may reduce the risk of certain types of cancer. One cup of cooked pumpkin has only 49 calories, provides 2 grams of protein and contributes 3 grams of dietary fibre.
All Bermudian farmers grow pumpkins, according to Amaral. “We try to grow it all year round, but they prefer summer weather,” he says. “We should be harvesting in July, but this year they won’t come on line until late August or September, not with this year’s heat and drought.”
Organic farmer Tom Wadson of Wadson’s Farm says he’s picked four and a half tons of Hubbard squash already this season and has about two tons left to go. Irregularly shaped Hubbards generally have bluish skin with deep-orange flesh, which is nuttier in flavour than the sweet calabaza.
Wadson encourages Bermudians to explore different types of squash and pumpkin. “I have the good fortune of having a sister who’s a chef and who worked with Alice Waters at Chez Panisse,” he explains. “We spend a certain amount of effort to educate our customers to get beyond the normal Bermuda pumpkin.” He recommends the bright red kuri squash, with its chestnut-like flavour, and the deep-orange kabocha squash, which is sweeter than butternut.
Bermudians who take the culinary path less travelled are likely to be rewarded. Our recipes, both savoury and sweet, will take the intrepid cook beyond “steamed and baked.” As Mother Nature paints the fall with every shade of orange from amber and apricot to burnt umber, there’s no better time to celebrate the great pumpkin.
Kabocha is a Japanese variety of winter squash and in some cultures it is revered as an aphrodisiac. Commonly called Japanese pumpkin, kabocha is hard, has knobbly-looking skin, is shaped like a squatty pumpkin and has a dull-finished deep-green skin with some celadon-to-white stripes and an intense yellow-orange colour on the inside. An average kabocha weighs two to three pounds but can weigh as much as eight pounds. It has an exceptional naturally sweet flavour, even sweeter than butternut squash. It is similar in texture and flavour to a pumpkin and a sweet potato combined. Like other squash-family members, it is commonly mixed in side dishes and soups or anywhere pumpkin, potato, or other squash would be.
Carnival squash is a small-to-medium-sized squash ranging in diameter from five to seven inches. It is cream coloured with orange spots or pale green with dark green spots in vertical stripes. Carnival squash have hard, thick skins and only the flesh is eaten. It is sometimes labeled as a type of acorn squash. The delicious yellow meat, although somewhat stringy, is reminiscent of sweet potatoes and butternut squash and can be baked or steamed then combined with butter and fresh herbs.
Kuri squash, also known as Japanese squash, orange hokkaido or uchiki kuri squash, has a small teardrop shape and a bright orange skin. Often used as a vegetable side dish for winter meals, kuri has a hard outer skin with firm flesh that provides a very delicate and mellow flavour similar to the taste of chestnuts. The red kuri squash is a perfect ingredient for a variety of soups, stews and casseroles. One can also make cakes, quick breads, muffins, cookies and pies with its succulent nutty-tasting flesh. Excellent baked, boiled, microwaved, steamed, sautéed or fried, this special squash adds sweet flavour and texture to stir-fries. Its seed cavity is ideal for stuffing.
Sweet Dumpling Squash
Sweet dumpling squash is a small, mildly sweet-tasting squash resembling a miniature pumpkin with its top pushed in. It has cream-coloured skin with green specks. Weighing only about seven ounces, it has sweet and tender orange flesh and is great for roasting and presenting whole. The sweet dumpling’s flesh is starchy and pale yellow in colour but has a honey sweet flavour. When selecting, choose those with green stripes and those that are heavy for their size.
Calabaza is a type of pumpkin-like squash that is round in shape and varies in size. It has a sweet flavour and its texture is firm. Calabaza can be as large as a watermelon or as small as a cantaloupe. The colour can also vary and may include greens, tans, reds and oranges. It is also commonly called a West Indian pumpkin. Most commonly baked, calabaza can either be cut in sections or in cubes. Its seeds may also be roasted in a similar way as pumpkin seeds. Simply place on a baking sheet coated in cooking spray until brown and crisp.
Winter Squash Soup – Serves 4
3 tbsp. butter
1 lb. winter squash or pumpkin, peeled, seeded and cut into 1-inch cubes
1 lb. tart apples, peeled, cored and chopped into medium chunks
1 large onion, large dice
Salt and pepper to taste
4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1/2 cup white wine
1/4 tsp. dried tarragon
1 cup light cream
Parsley for garnish
Place butter in a large saucepan and melt over medium heat. Add the pumpkin, apples and onion. Cook until the onion softens, about 5 to 10 minutes. Add the stock, wine and tarragon. Turn the heat to low and cook for about 30 minutes, until the pumpkin is extremely soft. Cool, then puree the soup in a blender. Return it to the pan and cook over low heat just until heated through. Do not boil. Add the cream and cook until hot. Garnish and serve.
Spicy Pumpkin Seeds – Makes 2 cups
2 cups fresh pumpkin seeds
2 tbsp. canola or olive oil
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cayenne, or to taste
1/2 tsp. cumin
Rinse seeds in a bowl of water to separate them from the pumpkin strings. Dry between paper towels. Mix with the oil and the salt and spices until they are coated. Bake on a baking sheet in a 350° oven for 30 to 45 minutes, tossing occasionally, until they are tan and crisp. They will crisp up further as they cool. Vary the spices by replacing the cayenne and cumin with curry powder or chili powder.
Penne with Pumpkin – Serves 4 to 6
1 lb. pumpkin or butternut squash, peeled and seeded
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tbsp. butter or extra virgin olive oil
1 lb. penne
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes, or more to taste
1/8 tsp. nutmeg, or to taste
1 tsp. sugar (optional)
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Parsley for garnish
Cut the pumpkin into chunks and pulse in a food processor until it appears grated. You can also grate it by hand. Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat and add the pumpkin, salt and pepper and about 1/2 cup of water. Cook stirring occasionally and adding water about 1/4 cup at a time as the mixture dries out. Take care not to make it soupy, and continue to cook until the pumpkin disintegrates, about 10 to 15 minutes. At this point, boil the pasta. While it cooks, season the pumpkin with the red pepper, nutmeg and sugar if using. When the pasta is cooked al dente, take about 1/2 cup of the pasta water and reserve it. Drain the pasta and toss in the skillet with the pumpkin, adding the reserved pasta water if the mixture seems dry.
Taste and add more of any of the seasonings you like, then toss with the Parmesan, garnish with the parsley and serve.
Pumpkin Clafouti – Serves 8
1 4-5 lb. Hubbard or butternut squash (you can substitute canned pumpkin puree)
5 large eggs
3/4 cup plus 2 tbsp. sugar
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1-inch piece of vanilla bean, split lengthwise, pulp scraped
Pinch of salt
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
1/3 cup chopped toasted hazelnuts
Preheat oven to 350°. Cut the squash in half and remove the seeds. Place the halves, cut side up, on a baking sheet and bake for 1 1/2 hours.
When cool enough to handle, scrape the flesh into a food processor and puree. Line a sieve with a double layer of cheesecloth and place over a bowl. Add the pureed squash and drain overnight in the refrigerator. Pass the puree through a fine sieve to yield 2/3 cup.
Place the eggs, 3/4 cup of sugar, milk, cream, vanilla extract and salt in a food processor and blend until very smooth. Add the puree and blend well. Add the flour and pulse until well combined. Pass the batter through a fine sieve, then let it rest at room temperature for 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 425°. Brush a 9-inch quiche pan or pie plate with the melted butter and sprinkle with the remaining sugar. Sprinkle the hazelnuts over the pan. Pour the batter over the nuts. Bake for 15 minutes, then lower the heat to 375° and bake until the centre is set, about 12 more minutes. Serve immediately.
Indian Pumpkin Bread – Makes 3 8˝ x 4˝ loaves
2 cups sugar
1 1/4 cups light brown sugar
1 29-oz. can of pumpkin puree
1 cup walnut oil
3 1/3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/3 cups corn meal
1 tbsp. baking soda
1 1/2 tsp. each of ground cinnamon, cloves and coriander
1 tsp. salt
1/2 cup good-quality cream sherry
Preheat oven to 350°. Grease 3 8˝ x 4˝ loaf pans.
In a large bowl, combine the sugars, pumpkin, eggs and nut oil. Beat until smooth.
In another bowl, combine the flour, corn meal, baking soda, spices and salt. Combine the wet and dry mixtures and beat until smooth. Stir in the cream sherry. Vigorously beat until thoroughly blended. The batter will be thick and fluffy.
Scrape the batter into the loaf pans, filling each no more than 3/4 full. Bake in the center of the preheated oven for 65 minutes or until a cake tester inserted into each centre comes out clean. The tops will be somewhat crusty and have a long centre crack. Let stand 5 minutes before turning out onto a cooling rack. Cool completely, wrap in plastic wrap and leave at room temperature overnight before serving. Alternatively, wrap cooled loaves for freezing; they’ll keep for a month.