Say hello to Aimee Hunt our new online columnist! Along with her husband, Ross, Aimee runs two restaurants in High Wycombe – Tin Kitchen and the new lata lata. Both focus on serving imaginative dishes using the best seasonal produce and working with local suppliers – in short, everything we are fans of here at the Magazine! In her column, Tales from Tin, Aimee will chat more about her favourite ingredients and her life in the kitchen. In the first instalment she tackles pumpkins…
I have a complicated relationship with pumpkin, in so much as that can be possible. In the month of October, where you can’t but see for seasonal squash recipes & Pumpkin Spice Lattes, there’s something so overwhelmingly gimmicky about them that I can find it all a bit off-putting. And yet, I wonder- am I doing the humble pumpkin and its family a disservice? Do they not deserve the same respect- nay, reverence, as I harbour for asparagus, or wild garlic? I’m not one to deny their beauty; on the contrary, I’m more likely to seek out a motley collection of gourds to stick on my dining table as a centrepiece (Instagram gold, surely?) than I am to turn them into pumpkin pie.
Why? Well, to be frank, they’re a minor ball ache. You have a 50/50 chance of losing a finger in their dismantling, for they’re hardy buggers in need of a sharp knife and sharper nerve. Then there are the seeds. To chuck? Or lovingly roast, and then forget about? It all just seems like rather a lot of effort. And yet, every year, I fall prey to their autumnal charms. Whether it’s for Instagram posterity, abysmal pumpkin-carving, or bashing out one token seasonal pumpkin recipe, I just can’t help myself. Perhaps it’s as much the ceremony of dragging my husband and (somewhat more enthusiastic) four-year old out to pick the best of the bunch from Peterley, mid-October every year, like clockwork. Or, perhaps it’s the minor victory of retaining all ten digits after dealing with them. Either way, it’s become a marker of the seasons in the same way as my asparagus-picking and Christmas-tree-decorating are. I just need to spend a little more time caring about the edible dimension to the damned things, I think.
With this in mind, I’ve made a concerted effort this autumn to come up with some more inspiring reincarnations. And since it’s been something of an Indian summer, I wasn’t entirely ready to go full-on Pumpkin Soup on you all. The days have been bright, and unseasonably warm. I don’t know about you, but personally I’m not quite there for the heaviness of the pumpkin stew, or pie, or casserole. I want something to bridge the seasons, and this is it:
Pumpkin, Pepperoncino and Pancetta Salad
2 small gourds, or 1 medium pumpkin. Different varieties have different flavours- pick your favourite.
1 tsp pepperoncino/dried chilli flakes
Salt & pepper
1 small handful of diced smoked bacon or pancetta
1 small handful sage leaves
1 small red onion, sliced
2 ripe figs, quartered
200g crumbly, feta-style goat’s cheese
3 tbsp chopped toasted hazlenuts
1 head radicchio
1 bulb chicory
2 handfuls watercress
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
First, prepare your pumpkin or gourds. Some varieties can be roasted & eaten skin-on, others need it removing. The easiest way to figure this out is to roast without peeling, and deal with it after; it’s easy enough to remove once tender if you think it too tough to consume. Long, thin slices are attractive and save a lot of leg work.
Toss in olive oil & the pepperoncino, and season well before roasting in a 200 degree oven until tender. This can take around 40 minutes, depending on the cut & water-content of your pumpkin. Once cooked, keep warm.
In a casserole dish or non-stick pan, brown off your bacon or pancetta on high until the fat has nicely rendered. Once there is some excess fat in the pan, add your sage leaves and cook until crisp. Remove both, and drain the leaves on kitchen towel.
Add your sliced red onion to the pan, topping up with a little olive oil beforehand if necessary. Once softened, add the quartered figs and a splash of balsamic. Cook for 2-3 minutes until lightly caramelised.
Arrange your radicchio, pumpkin slices, chicory & watercress on a plate. Dot the fig quarters around the pumpkin, and scatter the red onion & bacon.
Crumble over the goat’s cheese, and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil & a little balsamic.
Season, before garnishing with chopped hazlenuts & the crisped sage leaves.