“BUT what do you do with it?” asked the lady in the country market, peering across at the pumpkin her neighbour was holding.
It’s a good question, but if you asked it the other way around – “What can’t you do with it?” – then we would be closer to the spirit of the pumpkin, a versatile vegetable which deserves a better fate than to be turned into a Halloween head.”
I love this retro Irish Times article intro from a ‘J McK’, who I presume is John McKenna. It dates from 1996, but it could be from today, and it introduces my all-time favourite vegetable side dish – Richard Olney’s ‘Provencal Pumpkin Gratin’, a recipe which is, as McKenna asserts, ‘one of the most spectacular dinner dishes I know’.
While it’s certainly no beauty – the herbs and pumpkin cook down together for an hour in the oven, melding both tastes and colours – it’s packed with flavour, and has the most compellingly beautiful texture: soft and yielding underneath; crisp and almost breadcrumb-like on top. As McKenna says, the recipe takes ‘no technique, little effort, and produces smashing grub’ – it’s pure comfort food, and it’s one of my family’s favourites for that very reason.
Although it’s actually quite healthy, it tastes decadent and delicious, and it packs a strong garlicky punch. It would be wonderful with a honey and clove baked ham, roast potatoes and greens, or just a simple plate of spaghetti and a glass of wine. Try it before the pumpkins disappear from the shops and I promise you’ll love it too – this is more-than-the-sum-of-its-parts cooking at its finest.
PROVENCAL PUMPKIN GRATIN
Serves 6; reheats well
1/2 a pumpkin
3 cloves of garlic
3 tablespoons of plain flour
3 tablespoons of olive oil
Generous pinch of salt
6 tablespoons of chopped herbs
(parsley, coriander, chives…)
Preheat oven to 170ºc. Cut the skin off the pumpkin, pull out the strings and seeds and then dice it finely. Dice the garlic and the herbs and put it all into a bowl, seasoning as you go. Stir in the flour and keep on stirring until the pumpkin pieces are completely, evenly covered. Oil a baking dish and tip the pumpkin-herb mix in. Drizzle the oil over the top. Bake for about an hour, or until the pumpkin is soft and the bits on the top are becoming nice and crispy. Serve with more chopped herbs, a twist of black pepper and maybe a drizzle more olive oil if it needs it. Lovely.