One can get a bit lost in the long, indulgent, sweetness of an unadulterated roast pumpkin. The more intense and delicious the flavour, the closer I find, it can err towards a sort of sickliness (of which downing a jug of honeyed coconut cream might be the extreme). A companion of earthy and prickly qualities keeps ones taste buds in check. The rosemary and lemon juice share that companions role in the first course, and the endive, duck, and jasmine in the others.
Pumpkin, bread, brown butter and almond salad
Bake some skinned, whole almonds in a not-very-hot oven. Don’t let them brown. When they have cooled give them half a bash so that some get splintered, some remain whole.
Chop the pumpkin into thick wedges, toss in oil, salt and pepper and roast in a hot oven with some cinnamon bark and a sprig of rosemary.
Use a day or two old loaf. Take off the crust and cut into inch squared chunks. It’ll need baking too – toss it with a little olive oil, salt and pepper, and pop it in the same oven as the pumpkin (if goes in about ten minutes after the pumpkin they should be ready around the same time).
Meanwhile, cook some butter to a light brown with a just a little bit of crushed fennel seeds.
When the pumpkin has begun to take on a dark brown in places it is ready, the bread likewise. When the pumpkin is no longer hot but warm, toss it with the crispy bread and the almonds, and check for seasoning. Serve on warmed plates and spoon over the hot browned butter and a give each a good squeeze of lemon juice.
Scallops, pumpkin and curly endive
The corrals of the sea scallops aren’t used for this dish as the pumpkin would cancel them out some what. Try poaching them and then bashing them up with some lemon zest, garlic, black pepper, curly parsley, red wine vinegar, and butter.
Have it smeared over toast and grilled, or stirred through a fish soup for some last minute oomph.
Steam of boil the pumpkin. Then mash it (put it through a ricer if you have one) to as smooth a puree as possible and beat in butter, salt and pepper to taste.
Add oil to a hot – near smoking – heavy pan. Season the scallops with salt and drop into the pan. Don’t move them; let them cook until dark and golden brown on both sides.
Serve the scallops – perhaps three a person – on hot plates with a bowl of hot pumpkin and a bowl of curly endive (dressed with best oil, salt and cider vinegar) to share.
Poached mallard and pumpkin
There are more and more ducks being reared in Ireland. The variety in quality is extreme. Many never even get to see a pond or river – Dunnes stores are selling them for €4 a bird. Though duck can seem a bit of a treat, its best to give it a miss unless you’ve reason to be confident about the duckishness of your duck. Wild duck (of which mallard is the most common variety) can be a bit pyoony and lean for roasting but it has a good guarantee of flavour and works well with this preparation. When you’ve finished, add the carcass back to the remaining broth and simmer for another hour. You could serve it maybe with peeled crushed potatoes, kale, carrots, parsley and rapeseed oil.
Season your mallard with salt inside and out (and below the breast skin) for four hours or so before you cook it.
Pop your bird (breasts facing up) in a suitably sized pot and fill to cover with water. Add a couple of sliced onions and a couple of celery stalks, lots of thyme, a few peppercorns, blades of mace, coriander seeds, bay leaf, salt and a smashed head of garlic. You may have to weigh it down with a plate to keep it submerged. Bring the water to a simmer – simmer it for half an hour and then turn of the heat. Let the mallard cool and continue to slowly cook in its broth.
Heat some butter in a small pot, when it starts bubbling add some sherry vinegar and a some salt and pepper to taste – this will be your hot dressing for the pumpkin.
Slice some pumpkin thin. Toss in a little oil, salt and pepper. Roast for a few minutes in a hot oven, just until the flesh begins to noticeably dry, it should be still fairly firm.
When the mallards cooled to a point that you can handle it, remove it from the pot. Strain the broth and then pop it back into the pot. Carve the mallard. Cut each thigh, down the middle into two, same with each leg, and each breast (the skin of the breast will be too shewy to serve) into three or four.
Bring some of the broth to a boil in a separate pot.
Serve the duck in shallow bowls – a little leg/thigh and breast in each. Pour half a ladle full of the hot broth into over and add a little sea salt on top of the duck. Re heat the butter and sherry vinegar until it starts foaming again, toss the pumpkin with it and leaves from a celery heart. Serve a big spoonful in each bowl next to the duck, and some bread and a spoon for mopping and slurping.
Pumpkin tea (and Christmas cake)
For the pumpkin tea, one needs to make, in effect, a pumpkin stock and then infuse it with tea leaves when served.
Scrape into a pot the inside pulp and seeds of the pumpkin. Grate what flesh you have and add that to the pot. Fill the pot up with water, bring to the simmer and add a couple of cloves and some cinnamon bark. Hold it at the simmer for about thirty minutes, then take it off the heat and let it cool.
(If you’ve a juicer you can juice the pumpkin flesh and make a stock out of the seeds and the fibre that comes out the juicers rear, adding the juice to the stock, when ready.)
Strain the stock through muslin and when ready to serve bring it to the boil, stir in a spoonful of honey, infuse some jasmine tea leaves and ladle into mugs.
If you can get hold of them, it might be an idea to use the very little pumpkins – slicing of the top, hollowing them out and using as a drinking vessel, with the top as a lid.
And if you’re feeling especially crafty, you could make little tea bags for each pumpkin. Filling a little piece of muslin with some jasmine leaves and tying them up with string. You can serve the hot pumpkin stock in the pumpkins with the home made tea bags in and the string hanging about so that people can discard them when they fancy.
a note on Christmas cake…
Traditionally Christmas cake is made as early as the beginning of October, often being coated with whisky or brandy to help it preserve, so that its flavour may mature in time for Christmas. This can leave one with an overwhelmingly rich, dense, homogenous cake that is less than the quite dear sum of its parts. Baking any time in December will make for a more desirable slice. Use whole almonds, pear, candied orange and lemon zest, currants and raisons (soaked in brandy), mace and ground all spice berries.
Image by Fiona Hallinan