Any Colour – As Long As It’s Orange

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I grew a wheelbarrow load of butternut pumpkins this year.

I was not expecting such a haul, after the rabbits ate most of my seedlings, but one intrepid plant put out many vines and blessed me with about half a dozen nice big fruit.

In another garden bed I actually managed to grow pumpkins from seed for the first time ever. These were also butternuts, and grew unmolested among the last of the lettuce and beetroot plants from last spring. These gave me dozens of smaller fruit.

Butternuts don’t keep as well as the thicker-skinned varieties, but they are a lot easier to cut and peel. I often serve up steamed or roasted butternut pumpkin with the skin left on because it is so thin and soft there is little need to remove it.

So we’ve been having steamed pumpkin with pretty much every meal, but the real beauty of home-grown pumpkin lies in the flavour it gives to soup. I have a fear that my soups will be too bland or too thin, so I like to really jazz my vegie soups up. And with weeks of pumpkin soup ahead of us, I knew that I would have to make a bit of an effort and think outside the box to keep us going back to the fridge and freezer for pumpkin soup lunch day after day.

When I make soup, the first thing I think about is the stock. I hate using bought stock, so I need an alternative base. Some people like their vegetable soups to be all-vegetable, but I think a meat stock base to a pumpkin soup can really give the end result a bit of substance.

I made the first soup not long after I roasted our first home-grown duck. I boiled the frame with some herbs, onion and garlic for a few hours. The next day I strained the stock, added a large cut pumpkin and a couple of big carrots. Soup number one was just a little bit different, thanks to the duck stock.

I had kept the frame from the Christmas turkey in the freezer, pretty much forgotten about, until I went to make the second pumpkin soup and had an ‘aha!’ moment. Second soup became turkey stock and pumpkin, with some fresh coriander and a couple of chili from my cousin Jess’s garden. It had a bit of bite to set it apart from the regular pumpkin soup.

For the next batch I found some lamb necks left over from the sheep we had butchered last year. They got the royal stock treatment as well, boiled for several hours with onion, garlic and herbs. I added a couple of sweet potato to the pumpkin and finished it off with a good bit of home-grown garlic.

Being soup season, there are plenty of ham hocks and bacon bones available at the moment. Most years I would do a pea and ham soup, but this year with our pumpkin haul the logical step seemed to be bacon flavoured pumpkin soup. I made what was effectively bacon stock with some smoked pork bones and used this to cook the pumpkin in. I added a couple of turnips to give a fluffy, silky texture, confident that the bacon stock would provide plenty of flavour, which it did. This was the one the kids liked best.

Last night we had a roast chicken, and since the oven was on I took the opportunity to roast up a whole lot of pumpkin, liberally sprinkled with slices of garlic. The chicken frame became the stock base, and now I have roasted pumpkin and garlic soup for this week.

So where to next..? Someone suggested curry, and I would love to do a fragrant, spicy all-vegetable soup and let the spices and the sweetness of the pumpkin do the talking.

Trying to keep pumpkin soup new and exciting has been a great challenge so far, and a great way to learn about combining flavours and creating themes. I think the lamb and sweet potato has been my favourite so far. I’m down to about 8 fairly small pumpkins so my run will end soon, but it has been fun and I’ve had the whole family taking soup to work and school for lunch in the past few weeks. Making the stock and then making the soup does take a couple of days, but it’s not terribly labour-intensive because most of the time it’s all just on the stove simmering away and smelling amazing.

So this soup season consider trying something a little different and showcase the humble pumpkin with a new theme to create a new taste.

 

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Beetroot – A Most Awesome Vegetable

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All my life up until about six weeks ago, beetroot was that vinegar-smelling stuff in a can that only weirdos, including my younger child, actually liked.

Callum loves beetroot. Back in our McDonalds-eating days, he would order a McOz with extra beetroot. He gets a tin of beetroot in his Christmas stocking. He freaking loves beetroot.

So I decided to grow him some. I got a punnet of seedlings and planted them in groups of four or five, expecting most of them to die of transplant stress. They all lived. I separated them out again. They still all lived. I thought ‘what the hell am I going to do with all this beetroot?’.

The last of the crop.

The last of the crop.

My grand plan of preserving it in slices, reminiscent of the canned stuff, suffered an irredeemable setback when I Googled ‘beetroot recipes’ and discovered the huge world of amazing things you can make from beetroot.

It started with roasted beetroot hummus dip. Progressed through beetroot soup to beetroot relish and red velvet beetroot muffins. There are three left from that original planting, and none have been sliced up and preserved in jars. I just put in another 36 seedlings. Next trick is to grow them from seed.

Beetroot, un-pickled and un-canned, is sweet and slightly nutty in flavour. While it is fun to cook with, it does leave a trail of reddish-purple juice all over the kitchen.

Roasted in olive oil, it makes a great addition to your ordinary roast vegetables, or you can then whiz it up with chickpeas and garlic to make a tasty pink hummus. There are loads of different beetroot soup recipes, or you can freestyle it with some other root vegetables and experiment with spices.

This beetroot relish is sweet and goes well with cold meat or in toasted sandwiches with melted cheese.

 

Beetroot Relish

650g beetroot

1 brown onion, finely chopped (or grated)

1 granny smith apple, peeled, cored and grated

1 cup lightly packed brown sugar

1 cup vinegar

1/4 tsp ground cloves

Method

Boil beetroot for 20 minutes or until just tender. Rinse under cold water. Wearing rubber gloves, peel and grate the beetroot.

Combine onion, apple, sugar, vinegar and cloves in a medium saucepan. Bring to the boil and stir until sugar is dissolved. Simmer for 10 minutes.

Add beetroot. Simmer for 45 minutes or until mixture is syrupy. Carefully spoon into hot, sterilised jars and seal.

 

I am always looking for healthy, alternatively-sweetened muffin recipes, and if they include vegetables that is even better. This cupcake recipe is incredibly easy, and goes great with a cream cheese topping.

Beetroot Red Velvet Cupcakes

2 large beetroot, washed and grated, raw

2 eggs

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 tsp cinnamon

1 1/4 cups self raising flour

4 tbsp cocoa powder

3 tablespoons olive oil

1/4 cup maple syrup

Method

Preheat oven to 170C and line a cupcake tray with 12 paper cases.

Blend all ingredients together, in blender or with stick mixer, until batter is smooth. Spoon into cupcake cases.

Bake for 40 minutes or until skewer inserted comes out clean.

Beetroot cupcakes.

Beetroot cupcakes.

 

Beetroot is the another new favourite that I might never have learned about if I had not grown it. The beauty of it is that it also grows in the cooler months, so I might get some into jars for sandwich topping after all. Or maybe Callum can try some of the relish on his lunch.