Pumpkin is very good in savoury dishes, as a soup or puréed vegetable, and for those with a sweet tooth it's delicious in a pie. But beware: it can be dishwater dull, unless it is carefully cooked - with shallots and garlic for savoury recipes, and judiciously spiced in sweet ones.
Ignore any recipe that tells you to cook pumpkin in, or over, water. This renders the flesh absolutely tasteless. You will see that for my pumpkin pie I poach the flesh in milk - by doing this the flavour somehow comes to life and it is receptive to the other flavours added to it. I poach it with a split vanilla pod and half a cinnamon stick - those flavours, coupled with the orange and lemon-rich pastry, make a very special pie indeed.
Pumpkin Cream Butterscotch Pie with Orange and Lemon Pastry
For the pastry:
• 4oz/110g butter, hard from the fridge, cut into pieces
• 6oz/170g plain flour
• 1 rounded tablespoon icing sugar
• finely grated rind of 1 orange and 1 lemon, washed and dried before grating
Put the pastry ingredients into a processor and whiz till the texture of fine crumbs. Press this firmly over the base and around the sides of a 9in/16cm flan dish. Put the flan into the fridge for at least one hour then bake, straight from the fridge, in a moderate oven, 350F/180C/Gas Mark 4, for 15 to 20 minutes. If the pastry slips a bit down the sides, use a metal spoon to edge it back up and bake for a further couple of minutes. The pastry should very slightly shrink in from the sides of the flan dish, whether metal or ceramic, and be biscuit-coloured.
For the filling:
• 1lb/450g pumpkin flesh, weighed when raw
• 1/2 pint/185ml double cream
• 1 split vanilla pod
• 1/2 cinnamon stick
• 4oz/110g butter
• 4oz/110g soft brown sugar
• 2 large eggs plus 2 yolks, beaten together well
Put the pumpkin flesh into a saucepan which has a tight-fitting lid, with the double cream, vanilla pod and half stick of cinnamon. Over a moderate heat, 350F/180C/Gas Mark 4, bring the cream to a gentle simmer and cook the pumpkin at this heat until the flesh is quite soft. To test, lift the lid and squish a piece of pumpkin against the side of the pan - it should be mushy. Melt the butter and dissolve the soft brown sugar over a low to moderate heat. Let this mixture bubble for about three minutes, stirring all the time, then remove from the heat.
Take the pan off the heat and cool the contents, then remove the vanilla pod and cinnamon stick - throw away the cinnamon but rinse the vanilla pod thoroughly under running hot water, dry it, and it's ready to use in another recipe (a vanilla pod can be used twice before being thrown away).
Mash the cooked pumpkin in the remainder of the cream - some will have been absorbed during cooking. Mix the beaten eggs and yolks into the pumpkin mush, and stir in the butterscotch mixture, mixing well. Pour and scrape into the baked pastry case, and smooth even. Bake in a moderate heat, 350F/180C/Gas Mark 4, until the filling is just firm in the middle. This should take about 30 to 35 minutes, but it may take longer. Serve warm or cool but not hot - it will be too soft to cut into neat slices.
Puréed Roast Pumpkin
This makes a delicious vegetable that goes very well with any and everything - fish, meat, chicken or game.
• 2lb/900g pumpkin flesh, cut into roughly even chunks
• 2 onions, skinned and sliced thinly
• 5 tablespoons olive oil
• 1 teaspoon flaky salt (Malden), lots of black pepper and a grating of nutmeg
• 1 to 2 fat cloves of garlic, skinned and chopped
Put the pumpkin pieces and sliced onion into a roasting tin lined with a sheet of baking parchment. Add the olive oil, salt, pepper, nutmeg and chopped garlic. With your hands, mix thoroughly - this ensures that the vegetables are well coated with olive oil. Roast in a hot oven, 420F/220C/Gas Mark 7, for 15 minutes, then shuffle the contents around and return to the oven for a further 20 minutes.
Turn the roasted vegetables into a food processor and whizz until smooth. Taste, and add more seasoning if necessary. Butter an ovenproof dish and scrape the purée into it, smoothing it even. If you like, scatter pumpkin seeds over the surface. Cover with baking parchment and reheat in a moderate oven, 350F/180C/Gas Mark 4, for about 10 to 15 minutes. Turn the heat right down to keep warm until you are ready to serve.