Halloween is trundling towards us at a fairly alarming speed. I for one can’t wait, it’s always been one of the highlights of my year. Ireland has plenty of Halloween traditions and even my own family has lots of it’s own. When we were growing up we had a French visitor who showed us the light and convinced us to save those yucky seeds from the centre of our pumpkin, which, when cleaned and toasted with a little butter and salt, make the perfect little autumn snack.
If you haven’t cooked with pumpkin before, this is a wonderful way to start. Choose small pumpkins as they’re easier to tackle in the kitchen. If you can’t find pumpkins, butternut squash is an ideal substitute. The addition of coconut milk adds a wonderfully creamy and exotic flavour, but if you don’t want to use it you could just make up the difference with vegetable stock.
1kg of pumpkin, peeled and chopped into rough chunks
1 tablespoon of melted butter
2 tablespoons of rapeseed oil
A few sprigs of thyme
2 red onions, roughly chopped
2 teaspoons of red chilli flakes
1 x 400g tin of coconut milk
1/2 litre of vegetable stock
Sea salt and ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 220˚C.
While you prepare the pumpkin, scrape out the seeds, clean them in a colander with cold water and then dry the in a tea towel. Pop the seeds in a roasting tray tossed with a little melted butter and roast in the oven until toasted. Remove and set aside.
Tumble the pumpkin into a roasting tin with the thyme and toss in a little oil. Season with sea salt and ground black pepper and pop in the oven to roast for 45 minutes or until the edges are slightly charred and tender when pierced with a fork. In a large pot, heat a drop of oil and fry the onions until they are soft. Stir through the chilli flakes and fry for a further minute. Discard the thyme and add the roast pumpkin to the pot, along with the coconut milk and vegetable stock. Bring to the boil and simmer for 5 minutes.
Using a hand blender, whizz the soup until you have a velvety smooth consistency. You may need to add more stock or boiling water to get the right consistency. Add sea salt and ground black pepper and check the seasoning. Serve the soup in warm bowls with a sprinkle of chilli flakes and toasted pumpkin seeds.
After a few weeks traveling up and down the country for cookery demonstration we finally have some time to spend at home and I could not be happier! It’s still not cold enough for jackets, hats and scarves but the dishes I’m cooking in the kitchen have definitely taken a turn towards warmth and comfort. Soups, stews and roasts are back on the weeknight menu in a big way and I’m beginning to think they are some of my favourite types of dishes to cook. I think secretly that many of us crave this sort of cooking throughout the year, especially with the sort of weather Ireland gets in the summer, but it’s only now when the days get darker that we can can wholeheartedly serve up steaming bowls of slow cooked deliciousness.
So I admit it, after all my complaining about the summer coming to and end, I have finally embraced the autumn! I’ve been out picking blackberries, baking up a storm with lots of autumnal ingredients and best of all, I’ve been making soup. One of the biggest lessons you learn when you cook a lot is to understand the seasonality of produce. As a home cook, learning to buy fruits and vegetables which are in season is not only ultimately satisfying but you also get the pick of the crop! At the moment there is so much in season to get excited about; wild mushrooms, blackberries, apples, elderberries are just some of the key ingredients you should try to make the best of over the next few weeks.
Colcannon is as traditional, as traditional Irish food gets, and for the week that's in it, when the whole world will be going green in our honour, what better thing to do, than serve up some of the finest! I told my granddad I was making this the other day and no sooner was it out of my mouth than he had burst into song. The dish of course, is the inspiration behind the traditional Irish song by the same name, "Oh weren't them the happy days when troubles we knew not and our mother made colcannon in the little skillet pot". This recipe is the one I grew up with, but if you want to experiment, you could also stir in a little bit of wholegrain mustard to add an extra bite to it!
I came across the recipe for Hasselback potatoes when I was younger and they are so visually appealing that I had to make them. The traditional recipe, originally from Stockholm, calls for breadcrumbs and cheese, but I have tried to make it as simple as possible for this recipe. The potatoes go nicely alongside most dishes. If your potato slices don’t separate while cooking, increase your heat and you should get better results.