Michael van Straten
Michael van Straten

Grow it, Cook it, Eat it - The Pleasures Of Pumpkin

Autumn is my favourite time of the year. Like all gardeners who grow fruit and vegetables it’s when food is stored for winter use. Onions hang in bunches, ropes of garlic and nets of shallots adorn the potting shed. Squashes and pumpkins hang from the rafters.

It’s a terrible waste that most pumpkins end up as lanterns on Halloween and even the flesh you scoop out is thrown away. These giants have a sweet and delicate flavour and are so rich in nutrients that they were a staple winter food for American Indians. Even the seeds are rich in the mineral zinc and vitamin E, so they are especially valuable for male fertility and sexual function.

They’re so rich in amazing plant chemicals that pumpkins have an incredible range of health-giving gifts from prevention to cure. The orange coloured carotenoids may seriously reduce the risk of lung cancer and a huge study in China was the first real evidence. After following many thousands of adults for 8 years those eating most of these foods reduced their risk by 27% - 37% for smokers. The vitamin A in pumpkins even protects you from second hand smoke and can prevent the smoker’s disease emphysema.

Most older men will develop an enlarged prostate gland. It gets them up in the night and can interfere with an active sex life. Eating pumpkins and the seeds is an effective natural treatment and there are many studies that show how much our men need this plant.

Because they’re harvested late and keep so long, they’re high up my list of Superfoods as a major source of the protective nutrients. The special food chemicals in the orange flesh have more unique effects, protecting against heart disease, relieving asthma, arthritis and gout. Their ibre solves constipation, lowers cholesterol and prevents IBS.

Pumpkin is a good source of folic acid so enjoy it regularly to stop birth defects and reduce levels of stroke-causing homocysteine. All the squashes came to Europe with Christopher Columbus and the best of modern varieties will store well for up to six months. Some vitamin C will be lost but other nutrients remain intact and available when you prepare, cook and eat this healthy delicious veg.

It’s versatile and can be cooked in lots of ways. Wash the outside, cut in half, remove seeds and pith then follow your favourite recipe.

Eat peeled, cooked, and pureed with maple syrup and cinnamon. Cube, steam, cool, add olive oil, nutmeg, toasted pumpkin seeds.

Pumpkin makes this fabulous spicy risotto:-

Pumpkin, butternut and crown prince are all winter squash. Their flesh is firm, the skin is hard and they keep very well. They are all ideal for roasting or mashing to use as a pie-filling or eating with pasta. Summer squash (acorn, spaghetti and gem) have a more watery flesh with a softer skin, do not keep so well and are best for boiling or for soups. All squash are a good source of vitamin A. For a tasty snack, the seeds of a pumpkin can be washed, dried and mixed with oil before roasting in a hot oven for 15 minutes.


1 large onion, peeled and chopped
2 tbsp olive oil
1 red birds eye chilli, finely chopped
half tsp ground cinnamon
300g risotto rice
1 small pumpkin (approx 1kg), peeled and diced into 2cm pieces
100ml white wine
1 ltr hot vegetable stock
4 tbsp grated Parmesan, plus extra for serving
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1: Fry the onion in a wide pan for 4-5 minutes or until softened. Stir in the chilli and cinnamon and cook for 1 minute.

2: Add the rice and turn in the oil until all the grains are coated.

3: Stir in the pumpkin, add the wine and bring to the boil. Add the hot stock, 2 ladles at a time and allow to be absorbed by the rice before adding more. Stir frequently over a medium heat for 15-20 minutes until the rice is tender and all the stock is absorbed. The rice should still have a slight ‘bite’.

4: Spoon into large bowls and serve immediately with extra grated Parmesan.

Serves 4

Traditionally made with Snapper, which you can sometimes find on UK fish counters, it works just as well with our British cod. The unusual flavours are a delight, plus you will get an enormous boost of essential nutrients. This is a low fat dish with an excellent balance between the omega 3 and 6 fatty acids so important for heart health, no artery clogging saturated fats and no cholesterol.

You will get perfect protein, lots of beta-carotene and the other important carotenoids from the pumpkin or squash, fibre and the circulatory stimulation from the ginger.

3 tablespoons rapeseed (canola) oil
1 medium onion, finely sliced
2.5cm fresh ginger, finely grated
Half a pumpkin or one acorn squash, peeled, deseeded and cubed
25g pumpkin seeds
1 tablespoon Tabasco sauce
1 tablespoon runny honey
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
500g cod fillet, cut into 6cm wide diagonal strips
1 handful coriander leaves, roughly torn

Pour the oil into a wok or large frying pan and sauté the onion and ginger until soft.
Add the pumpkin or squash, plus pumpkin seeds, Tabasco, honey and vinegar with just enough water to cover.
Mix thoroughly but gently.
Place the fish on top, bring to a boil, then cover and simmer for 20 minutes.
When done, carefully remove fish and set aside. On a warm plate, put a mound of the pumpkin, lay strips of fish on top and serve scattered with the coriander leaves.

But best of all;


First, cut the top off the pumpkin, save to use as a lid, remove seeds then scoop out all the flesh, but do not make holes in the skin!

2 large white onions, peeled and finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely chopped
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
25g unsalted butter
3 tsp curry powder or paste
1 litre vegetable stock
1 kg pumpkin flesh
4 tbsp crème fraiche
A pinch of sea salt and a generous grinding of black pepper

Sweat the onions and garlic gently in the oil and butter. Add the curry powder or paste and cook for 2 minutes, stirring continuously. Pour in the vegetable stock and bring to a boil. Add the pumpkin to the stock. Simmer until the veg are just tender. Liquidise in a food processor or blender. Stir in the crème fraiche and mix thoroughly.



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