Pumpkin, ricotta and sage gratin
The interest in heirloom vegetables in recent years has produced more interesting pumpkins. It’s no longer just about Queensland blues, butternut and Kent – which are beautiful to eat but can lack variety.
At the restaurants we 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 cut them – 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 type.
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 knobbly 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 restaurants 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.
Pumpkin, ricotta and sage gratin
Time: 10 minutes preparation + 30 minutes cooking
- 200g peeled pumpkin, cut into 1.5cm dice
- 2 tbsp melted butter
- 100g fresh ricotta
- 5-6 sage leaves
- 150ml cream
- pinch black pepper
- 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 and 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.
Roast pumpkin, pine nuts and yoghurt
Time: 5 minutes preparation + 25 minutes cooking
- 500g Kabocha/Kent pumpkin, seeded but unpeeled
- 6 tbsp butter
- pinch ground allspice
- 2 tbsp pine nuts
- 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 one tablespoon of butter and fry the pine nuts, stirring continuously until they are golden. Drain and reserve the pine nuts.
- Wipe out the saucepan and melt the remaining 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 chilli.
These recipes are from The Saturday Paper archive. Andrew McConnell is on leave.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on May 27, 2023 as "Squash champions".
For almost a decade, The Saturday Paper has published Australia’s leading writers and thinkers. We have pursued stories that are ignored elsewhere, covering them with sensitivity and depth. We have done this on refugee policy, on government integrity, on robo-debt, on aged care, on climate change, on the pandemic.
All our journalism is fiercely independent. It relies on the support of readers. By subscribing to The Saturday Paper, you are ensuring that we can continue to produce essential, issue-defining coverage, to dig out stories that take time, to doggedly hold to account politicians and the political class.
There are very few titles that have the freedom and the space to produce journalism like this. In a country with a concentration of media ownership unlike anything else in the world, it is vitally important. Your subscription helps make it possible.
Select your digital subscription