A is for April and the Witch is back in Business!
Casting around for a some different way to use my Crown Princes (see ‘Z is for Zucca Ivernale’), I found this risotto recipe from north Italy. You can use any kind of pumpkin, or butternut squash (which is more readily available in UK supermarkets). It will make you a dish to sustain body and soul.
Some say that Antonio Vivaldi was fond of this dish, so it would only be fair prepare it to the accompaniment of his Four Seasons: Winter.
- Pumpkin, or butternut squash 600g (or a bit more if you like)
- Onion, 1 medium
- Garlic, 1 large clove
- Oil (not olive), 1TB
- Butter, 1 thickish slice
- Risotto rice (sold as arborio or canarole rice in the UK), 200g
- Dried sage*, 2 generous pinches
- Marigold stock, 500ml
- Salt and pepper for seasoning
- Grated parmesan to serve
* I like sage, but if you don’t, use rosemary or thyme instead
- Prepare the pumpkin, or butternut squash. Remove the seeds, peel and chop into small chunks, a bit larger than poker dice. Steam until just tender – about 10 minutes. Drain.
- While this is happening, peel and chop the onion, and crush the garlic.
- Heat the oil and butter together in a saute pan. (The butter gives flavour, the oil stops the butter from burning – neat, eh?)**
- Gently fry the onion till soft, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and fry for a few more minutes.
- Then add the rice and stir till the grains are shiny.
- Add 1 ladle full of stock and stir well to ensure that nothing is sticking on the bottom of the pan. Turn the heat down, and continue to cook gently with the lid off, stirring from time to time.
- After about 3 minutes, most of the stock will have been absorbed. Add another ladle full of stock, as well as the steamed pumpkin and the sage. Continue to simmer and stir as before.
- Carry on adding the stock and cooking. You may not need all the stock, or you may possibly need more. Taste for doneness: you are aiming at a soupy consistency, but the individual grains of rice should have a bit of bite – al dente.
- You will notice that the pumpkin sort of disintegrates, giving the risotto a beautiful overall golden colour.
- Season to taste and serve in bowls with grated parmesan.
- Buon appetito!
**Thank you Mum for this excellent tip!
OK, OK! I admit that I have been blagging my way in Italian.
So for this recipe, please see next post,’P is for Pumpkin Risotto’.
I find myself at the dusty, neglected end of the alphabet among the letters less frequently used.
There is nothing dusty about zucca invernale, though. I recently visited an old friend who lives in San Remo, in Italy. She took me to the local Saturday market, where we were accosted by a cheery (and very handsome) young stall holder, with a fag clamped in the corner of his mouth: the new season Scillian oranges had just arrived and would we like to try some? They were delicious, and my friend bought some. I looked at the other produce while they exchanged easy banter in Italian – the small narrow artichokes with the long stems, the Abbots pears – when my eye was caught by what looked like a street entertainer’s balloon, blown when the street entertainer was rather pissed. It was sturdy and very, very long, with smooth golden skin. I think I know my veg, but this was new to me. “What’s that?” I asked pointing. “Ah, zucca invernale”, came the reply and he obligingly chopped off the end with his enormous knife so I could see the inside. It was bright orange with large seeds, and I knew at once it was of the tribe of Pumpkin. This one was about as long as a trombone, and he asked how much we wanted. My friend told him, and he cut her a section. She paid, and we went off to finish our market business
When we got home, she prepared it and said that it made a nice pumpkin risotto. We spent the rest of the day in her kitchen, catching up with each other’s lives, and cooking. By dinner time, we had consumed rather a lot of wine and completely forgot to make the risotto di zucca; but it mattered not. She saved me the seeds, which I dried on a bit of kitchen roll, and I will plant them this summer.
When I got home, I looked up invernale and found that it means ‘of the winter’. And now that I think about it, zuccini is what the Italians call courgettes, meaning ‘little zucca’. It all starts to make sense! I think ‘long winter pumpkin’ would be a fair translation.
As an allotmenteer, I love the different sizes and shapes of pumpkins. This year I grew Crown Prince. (See below: they are ripening in my sun porch, so handsome. I am puffed up with pride.)
So why won’t I be gowing the Princes, or their gnarlier cousins, again this summer? I could be seduced by their names alone: Turks Cap, Lakota, Black Futsu, Rouge Vif d’Etampes, Kabocha – and their flavours are said to have both depth and sweetness. The answer is: because they are bloody difficult to cut. As a cook, I value my fingers. The combination of round, ribbed shape, cumbersome weight and thick, tough carapace can be lethal when trying to cut into manageable pieces.
Which is why I’m going to try the zucca invernale: you just cut off a section: easy. And, it will remind me of my friend in Italy.
I will let you know how I get on, when the Wheel of the Year has tilted.
Pumpkin/squash recipes to follow.
Yacon is one of the ‘lost crop of the Incas’. How intriguing is that?
I recently met a young woman from Colombia on a flight to Italy. We had a surprisingly effective conversation, considering that she couldn’t speak English, and I can only bumble along in Spanish. She was from Medellin, where food is bland and fried, but enlivened by abundant tropical fruit. I told her about my grandmother, Clotilde Narvais who came from Trujillo in Peru. Warming to my subject, I showed her the photos of my yacon plants, grown on my allotment in Derby. She examined them politely: she had clearly never heard of the stuff. Sensing my disappointment, she kindly observed that there were many different root crops (“racinas”) of the Andes, unknown in the West.
Which brings me back to the ‘lost crop of the Incas’.
Yacon is a tuber, rather like a small sweet potato in shape, which you peel and chop. It is juicy, crunchy and tastes a bit like pears, so is perfect for winter salads. And if you store it for a couple of weeks, the natural sugars become more concentrated, and it tastes sweeter.
As it was an unknown vegetable to me, I ad-libbed this salad with yacon, chopped green onion, coriander leaves, chopped green chilli, pomegranate seeds and a handful of currants, dressed with lime juice and salt. The yacon was a calm, pure background to the other more fiesty flavours.
I originally picked up some yacon tubers at Pennard Plants , a plant nursery based in the west country, specialising in unusual edible plants and heritage seeds. You may like to check them out.
I planted the tubers, which grew into large plants with huge, soft, felty leaves. I let them grow on, pretty much ignoring them, until the first proper frost killed the leaves, and that’s the signal to dig up the tubers.
Once dug up, you carefully separate the tubers from the crowns. The tubers you wash and keep for food. They store well in a cool dark place, providing you with the basis for winter salads. Keep the crowns in dry compost, (rather like you might keep dahlia tubers) in a cool, frost free place to overwinter.
Then in the spring, bring them into the light and give them some water. Once they have sprouted, you can plant them up in a pot, but remember they are tender, so grow them on in a frost free place. When all danger of frost is past, plant them out in the sun and voila! you have new plants.
Yacon plant, a native of Peru
If you grow your own veg, I would recommend this plant. It’s easy to grow, requires no pampering and slugs are not interested.
And here’s a request. If you come from Peru, or have eaten yacon before, would you kindly tell me if there are other ways to prepare it?
All good things come to an end… or do they? Remember the Queen of the Pumpkins? She did us proud, and now lives on in this delicious chutney, the recipe for which I share with you.
PUMPKIN, PEACH & APPLE CHUTNEY
Makes about 4 x 340g jars of chutney.
- Pumpkin 450g
- Peaches 450g fresh, if you live in some blessed country where the fresh peach season coincides with pumpkin season. If not, use a large tin of peaches in their juice.
- Cooking apples 450g
- Onions 450g
- Black pepper corns 1 tsp
- Cinnamon stick 1
- Coriander seeds 1 tsp
- Powdered English mustard 1 TB
- Salt 1 tsp
- Lemons 4: grated rind and juice
- Brown sugar 450g
- Cider vinegar 275 ml
- Ensure you have the waxed discs for sealing the chutney down at the end! I always forget.
- Prep your jars by washing in hot soapy water and putting in a low oven to kill all germs.
- Tie the cinnamon stick, pepper corns and coriander seeds up in a small bundle of muslin.
- Prepare the pumpkin, apple and onion in the same way, by peeling and chopping into small pieces. Put them all in a preserving pan.
- Drain the peaches and chop into similar sized small pieces.
- Add the spice bundle and all the remaining ingredients.
- Bring to the boil, then simmer, stirring frequently for about 2 hours, or until the chutney is thick and pulpy. Be careful not to let it burn on the bottom, especially towards the end.
- Remove the spice bundle, pot and seal.
From Ruth Ward’s A Harvest of Apples
Here is another apple cake recipe, as promised. It is Canadian, hence the maple leaf. And it’s fab! You will love it.
SPICY APPLE CRUMBLE BARS
Ingredients for the crumble
- Butter 175g
- Brown sugar 175g
- Plain flour 175g
- Baking powder 1 tsp
- Salt 1/2 tsp
- Porridge oats 100g
Ingredients for the filling
- Apples 700g
- Sugar 50g*
- Corn flour, 2TB
- Raisins 225g
- Cinnamon 2 tsp
- Ground nutmeg 1/2 tsp
- Ground allspice 1/2 tsp
- Butter 25g
*This is what the recipe says. I find it too sweet, so I leave it out, especially if the apples are sweet.
- Heat oven to 350F, 180C, Gas Mark 4.
- Butter a baking tin, or swiss roll tin, 33cm x 23cm.
- Work the butter and sugar together until the mixture forms large crumbs, then work in the other crumble ingredients. Divide the mixture in half.
- Pat one half into the swiss roll tin, pressing it down evenly with the back of a spoon.
- Peel, core and grate the apples.
- Mix with the cornflour, sugar if you are using it, raisins and spices. Spread the apple mixture over the base and top evenly with the remaining crumble.
- Dot with flakes of butter, and bake for 45 minutes.
- Cool and cut into bars.
The recipe is from A harvest of apples by Ruth Ward