Taste test - Halloween vegetables
Maybe it’s the colour or maybe it’s the size but pumpkins are becoming demonised as the embodiment of America’s crass commercialisation of Halloween. It’s not even that they’re imported: most of those in the shops are British grown. Makes for an impressive (if heavy) lantern but the flesh tends to be too stringy and wet to cook really well. Even pumpkin pie aficionados use tinned puree.
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Not to be confused with a swede, which is a turnip eaten in winter. Your best bet is to go for the smaller ones, which can be cooked and served whole, though plenty of butter is recommended. As a baby vegetable, they’re sweet to slice thinly like a radish and tossed into a salad or served as a crudité. Doesn’t really perform on the lantern front though, unless dolly has to come guising too
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OK, a neep in Scotland. The symbol of our cultural heritage around Halloween, when it represents all that’s noble and true about the autumnal celebration, such as diabolic superstition and scaring the wits out of little children. Rich, silky but earthy turnip purée is becoming a favourite in smart restaurants, and of course it’ll get boiled to smithereens when Burns’ night comes around. Try it roasted instead.
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Once the butternut seemed exotic, but now October ushers in a wonderfully colourful collection of oddly shaped winter squashes. This one, a larger version of courgette-like flying saucers called patty pans, gets it name from its similarity to a custard pie. The flesh, particularly in the larger sizes, is a bit bland, so it’s probably best stuffed with meat, cheese or spiced rice. Has potential as a weird lantern.
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The terminology is confusing. Pumpkins, squash and marrows all belong to the gourd family. Turnips are related to cabbages. And this one’s called an onion squash only because it’s shaped like one. Deeper in colour and richer in flavour than an ‘American’ pumpkin, some of these are so sweet they can be roasted, topped with a bit of brown sugar and honey, then served as a dessert.
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Much of the time when you have ‘pumpkin’ it’ll be this, the gourd-shaped, pale-skinned but richly orange-fleshed butternut. Highly regarded for its buttery, nutty flavour and keeping quality, it’s very versatile: roast it in chunks, puree it down, stick it in a curry, and stir it into pasta or a risotto. You can even roast the seeds for a crunchy garnish. But don’t bother with the lantern.
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