Absolutely smashing pumpkin recipes

The interest in heirloom vegetables has started to produce more interesting pumpkins. It’s no longer just about Queensland blues, butternut and Japanese – which are beautiful to eat but can lack variety.

At the restaurant we will often get a selection of different varieties brought in by the grower. What’s interesting about pumpkins is you don’t know anything about them until you get them open – the amount of flesh, the structure, the sweetness. All have their uses. For example, the gratin recipe here will require a firmer style pumpkin, while the roast pumpkin goes best with a sweeter and smaller pumpkin.

At the moment, we’re using a smaller sweet pumpkin called the golden nugget. Buttercup, which is a small green pumpkin with a woody stem, is also good for baking. Jarrahdale is good for both baking and gratin because it’s not too watery. Something like Marina di Chioggia, a nobly Italian variety, is great for soup.

I like pumpkins in the garden. There is something lovely about seeing the creepers reclaim the garden beds as the summer vegetables recess. There is something almost magical about the way forgotten seeds grow up out of the compost. 

In the restaurant we make a snack of pumpkin seeds baked with soy sauce and sugar. Take 250 grams of shelled pumpkin seeds (pepitas). In a bowl, whisk together a tablespoon of light soy sauce, a pinch of salt, a teaspoon of sugar and a teaspoon of water. Add the seeds and mix well so that all the seeds are coated in the soy mixture. 

Spread a thin layer on a tray lined with baking paper and bake at 170 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring regularly. They should be dry and caramelised and slightly aromatic. They can be stored in an airtight container, but are best eaten on the day they are baked alongside a glass of lager.

Gratin is a great winter dish to have up your sleeve. You can modify this recipe by replacing the pumpkin with celeriac, Jerusalem artichokes, potatoes or leeks. It’s a French technique for cooking vegetables, often with breadcrumbs. I quite like a generous amount of parmesan cheese.

As it cooks, the milk and cream reduce and congeal a bit. It’s important to cook the gratin long enough that this becomes curd-like and the fat in the cheese forms a crust.

Pumpkin makes for a quite sweet gratin, but celeriac can be perfectly substituted and works well with the sage and cheese.

The word gratin is derived from two French words, alternatively meaning to scrape or grate and to form a crust. The expression “cooking au gratin” is often used wherever something is baked until a crust is formed – be it meat or fish or pasta or vegetables.

Roast pumpkin, pine nuts and yoghurt

Serves 2

– 500g Kabocha/Japanese pumpkin, seeded but unpeeled (substitute Kent if necessary)

– 3 tbsp butter

– pinch ground allspice

– salt

– 2 tbsp pine nuts

– 3 tbsp butter

– 2 tbsp lemon juice

– 3 tbsp labne, or thick, natural yoghurt

– 1 spring onion, sliced into rings

– pinch sumac

– pinch dried chilli flakes

Cut pumpkin into crescents about 2.5 centimetres thick. In a large frying pan, melt two tablespoons of the butter and briefly fry the pumpkin to give it some colour but don’t cook it all the way through. Lay the slices on a baking tray, sprinkle with the allspice and a little salt and bake for 10-15 minutes in a hot oven until the pumpkin is tender.

In a small saucepan, melt the remaining one tablespoon of butter and fry the pine nuts, stirring all the time until they are golden. Drain and reserve the pine nuts.

Wipe out the saucepan and melt the other three tablespoons of butter, stirring occasionally until it becomes a toasty golden colour. Remove from the heat to stop it cooking further.

Roughly chop the pine nuts and mix them with the brown butter, lemon juice and salt to taste.

Stack the pumpkin crescents on a serving plate and dot with dollops of labne. Spoon over the pine nut dressing and sprinkle with the spring onion, sumac and dried chilli. 

Pumpkin, ricotta and sage gratin

Serves 2

– 200g peeled pumpkin, cut into 1.5cm dice

– 2 tbsp melted butter

– 100g fresh ricotta

– 5-6 sage leaves

– 150ml cream

– pinch black pepper

– salt

– pinch nutmeg

– 2-3 tbsp finely grated parmesan

Preheat your oven to 240ºC.

Take a ceramic or enamel baking dish that fits the pumpkin pieces tightly. Brush the dish with the melted butter.

Bake the cubes of pumpkin for about 10 minutes, until they are half cooked. 

Intersperse the pumpkin pieces with teaspoons of ricotta, and tuck the sage leaves between and around the pumpkin.

Pour the cream over the top, sprinkle with the pepper, salt and nutmeg and finally the parmesan cheese.

Bake for 15-20 minutes until the pumpkin is cooked, the cheese browned and the cream is thickened, bubbly and curd-like.

Wine pairing:

2013 Out of Step nebbiolo, Pyrenees, Victoria ($38) – Mark Williamson, sommelier, Cumulus Inc

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Jun 6, 2015 as "The gratin institute". Subscribe here.

Andrew McConnell
is the executive chef and co-owner of Cutler & Co and Cumulus Inc.