Friday, November 30, 2007

When I got my first garden five years ago, I knew what I wanted to grow in it – and that vegetables should have just as big a part as flowers. Baby corn turned the patio into a jungle, spinach grew into unwatched trees beside the paths, and carrots twisted grumpily in their miniature, growth-preventing tubs. Space was always my trouble: too little for my dreams. I knew I should, but I could not resist the curly tendrils of runner beans, the glamour of dressed corn sheaves, the ruby-red strawberry. In they went. Meanwhile roses, sunflowers, tulips and sweet peas proliferated in the gaps – so that my home could smell delicious and look fabulous, all the time.

It’s this susceptibility to pretty things that leads me towards certain vegetables. Every autumn I’ll buy armfuls of winter squashes, their mud-dusted emerald and amber hues brightening the kitchen (and this year, the living room too). This has meant that the squash has come under my culinary scrutiny more often than it might like. When I’d stretched the limits of pumpkin soup (although we can never get enough of the coconut-chilli version) I thought up new ways to get the squashes off the shelf and into the pan. Risotto, curries and tortillas followed… but oh, when you discover roasting, you don’t look back.

Visitors to our house know that they'll get cooked some unusual things. But when I told our guests one night we would be eating pumpkin pasta, they wondered whether to nip home for a snack. Unlike the butternut, pumpkin isn’t trendy, it isn’t gourmet, and most people prefer to bin it than eat it, but this recipe became a firm favourite in my kitchen and theirs. I make it every autumn, and I think that you should, too.

Serves 2
Pumpkin – roasted to the pinnacle of tender, crusty-edged beauty, then turned in fine Parmesan for extra crunch – is the star of this show. The main thing to remember is to move the pieces politely and gently from the tin - don’t throw them straight into the pasta pan and bash them into smithereens. Once you’ve roasted the pumpkin, you’re bound to find new ways with it: perhaps roast it in a slick of chilli oil and serve on a pile of salad leaves. Or roast it in two halves, filling the seed cavity with some sautéed leek and fresh goat’s cheese in the last five minutes. We are just picking the very last of the rocket from the garden - it's bitter as it gets old (hee hee), so pesto is the best thing for it.

800g pumpkin, skinned and chopped
1tbsp olive oil
Black pepper
2tbsp parmesan, finely grated
50g fresh rocket
1tbsp pumpkin seeds
2tbsp olive oil
¼ tsp white wine vinegar
1tbsp grated parmesan
Dried tagliatelle pasta
100g soft, mild goat’s cheese

Spread the pumpkin on a large roasting tray, and sprinkle with olive oil and pepper. Roast at 180°C for around 40 minutes. Remove it from the oven and very carefully toss the pieces in the grated Parmesan, before returning to the oven for another 15 minutes (slide in the dinner plates after 10).

To finish: put the seeds, rocket, vinegar and olive oil in a blender, adding more oil to achieve a drizzlable puree; then stir in the parmesan. Cook the tagliatelle, drain, and toss it with a little pesto in the warm pan. Dish up: top the green pasta with crumbled goat’s cheese, the pumpkin, and a drizzle of rocket puree.