Out of the Frying Pan And Into the Antipodes--
Recipes & reminiscences from 70-plus years of New Zealand & Australian food; with some of the loves, some of the lovers, and some of the culinary & social history.
(A few names & places have been changed to protect the guilty)

Thursday, 20 August 2020

Offal? Awful! Pigs' Trotters

Offal? Awful!
Pigs’ Trotters

It’s a freezing cold winter’s day in Paris, 1973. Gégé’s decided to do a special hot, warming dish tonight! He eyes me warily: is this gonna shock me because I’m an “Anglo-Saxonne?” He half hopes it will, that’s only too horribly evident. “Pieds de porc aux lentilles, Catherine!”
    Aw, gee, I’m not shocked.
    The result, after long, slow cooking which certainly helps warm up the flat, is totally delicious: melting trotters, soft, earthy, incredibly flavoursome lentils. Ooh, yum!

The recipe takes a long time to cook, but it’s very easy. It’s a hearty dish, very suitable for a cold winter’s day, as we had it in Paris all those years ago. We had it without vegetables, but followed by a green salad. Salade de frisée is ideal.
    Warning: if you manage to source trotters in Australia or New Zealand, make sure you clean them very carefully, snipping off any discoloured pieces or bits that look as if they’ve got some sort of dye on them. There may well be rust marks from the hooks used, too. Wash and dry them before using.

Gérard’s Pieds de porc aux lentilles
    4 pig’s trotters;  2 cups large brown lentils;
    1 onion;  4 garlic cloves;
    small bunch dried thyme or 1 teaspoon thyme leaves;
    3 tablespoons oil;  salt and pepper
1. The lentils should be the large brown sort, of good quality (not the small greenish sort often sold in Australia as brown and which are very, very hard). Either soak them overnight in cold water or put them in a well-sized pot with a lid, cover with plenty of water, bring to the boil, turn off the heat and leave to soak for an hour with the lid on. Then drain well.
2. Wash and clean the trotters thoroughly.
3. Heat the oil in a deep saucepan and sauter the trotters, the onion, roughly chopped, and the garlic, chopped, until lightly coloured all over. Add the thyme and the drained lentils, pepper to taste, but NOT salt.
4. Cover with fresh water to about 2 cm above the level of the mixture, bring to the boil and simmer gently till the meat is almost falling off the bones and the lentils are soft. This takes at least 2 hours but may well take longer. Check the pot periodically and top up the water if needed. Lastly add salt to taste.
Serve as a main course, one trotter per person.
    It could also be done in the slow cooker (crock-pot), in which case set it to LOW and cook it for at least 8 hours. If you leave it on for 10, it won’t suffer.
–Serves 4.

Back in the Antipodes I hardly saw trotters for the next forty-plus years. They’d gone off the menu of the English-speaking world. Even Jane Grigson in her English Food (Harmondsworth, England, Penguin, 1977; first published London, Macmillan, 1974) ignores them.
    This is part of the odd twentieth-century Anglo-Saxon aversion to offal of all kinds (see also Offal? Awful: Lily-Livered). But before that all parts of the pig were eaten: people didn’t have hygienic supermarkets, and unless they were very rich they couldn’t afford to be choosy. And in Britain, certainly since the Norman conquest, the pig was a popular meat animal:

“Before 1066, beef, lamb, mutton and goat were among the meats most likely to be served in England, but a study of human and animal bones—as well as fat residue found on fragments of cooking pots—found that pork and possibly chicken became much more popular following the arrival of William the Conqueror.
    “Experts believe the Normans passed on their love of pork to local people, and pigs and chickens began to be farmed much more intensively.”
(Steven Morris. “The 1066 diet: Normans passed on their love of pork, study suggests.” The Guardian, Mon. 6 Jul 2020)

    For hundreds of years, all parts of the animal were consumed, as they still are in many parts of Europe to this day. There are plenty of modern French recipes online for pigs’ tails and pigs’ ears, as well as trotters. And the blood—you can see that the two women in the foreground of the picture above are bleeding a pig—is still used for boudin, black pudding.
    Why did things change so radically in the British culinary tradition? I don’t know: I only know that they did. Perhaps it was the growth of the middle classes after the War, as many families gradually became more affluent and, looking back, the primness, prudishness and mealy-mouthedness of our working-class parents who were now aspiring to gentility trickled over into what we ate. Odd bits of the animal, which were traditionally cheap, were what poor people ate. If you were desperately genteel, like Mum, whose father was a carpenter and sawmiller on the West Coast of New Zealand’s South Island but whose mother was a prim little schoolmarm, at most you might very occasionally buy half a well-cleaned pig’s head to make a brawn. I can clearly remember her making it once, when we lived in Bayswater, Auckland: so in the 1950s.
    But we never had trotters. Feet were beyond the Antipodean pale.
    And they still are. In fact, in Australia apparently they no longer exist! And here’s the poster that proves it:

    There are lots of recipes in French online, but very few from the British tradition. The BBC Food website notes: “The pig’s gelatinous feet are considered a treat by many. Slow cooking (simmering or roasting) them will result in tender, gelatinous morsels of meat. They're also the magic ingredient that, when cooked slowly in a stock, will guarantee a beautiful jelly for setting pies and terrines. Cheap as chips, many butchers will be only too happy to sell you this often underrated cut. Although they have enjoyed a slow revival in Britain, they’re still not as much of a mainstream cut as they are in some other cultures.” How true. They don’t give any recipes for trotters as such, only as secondary ingredients.

In the 19th century British cooks weren’t afraid of offal of all kinds. Here’s Mrs Beeton’s recipe for trotters (No. 832), which I can’t resist reproducing here because of its charming name. You may well find it revolting, true. Just think of the ingredients as meat.

INGREDIENTS.—A thin slice of bacon, 1 onion, 1 blade of mace, 6 peppercorns, 3 or 4 sprigs of thyme, 1 pint [600 ml] of gravy, pepper and salt to taste, thickening of butter and flour. [PLUS pig’s liver, heart, and trotters]
    Mode.—Put the liver, heart, and pettitoes into a stewpan with the bacon, mace, peppercorns, thyme, onion, and gravy, and simmer these gently for 1/4 hour; then take out the heart and liver, and mince them very fine. Keep stewing the feet until quite tender, which will be in from 20 minutes to 1/2 hour, reckoning from the time that they boiled up first; then put back the minced liver, thicken the gravy with a little butter and  flour, season with pepper and salt, and simmer over a gentle fire for 5 minutes, occasionally stirring the contents. Dish the mince, split the feet, and arrange them round alternately with sippets of toasted bread, and pour the gravy in the middle.
    Time.—Altogether 40 minutes. Sufficient for 3 or 4 persons. Seasonable from September to March.
(Isabella Beeton. The Book of Household Management. [London], S.O. Beeton, 1861.)

    When we’re thinking about typical foods that have gone out of style since the 19th century we do need to remember that Mrs Beeton, though she was writing for the genteel classes, most certainly didn’t produce her book of household management for the upper strata of society. She includes a lot of practical recipes, that she must have got off her own cook, that would be served up for everyday family meals, for the children, or even for the relatively small staff that a publisher’s home would have had. Many ingredients later shunned by the “nice” English-speaking world appear in her book.
    For a look at food considered suited to the working classes, we can take a glance at A Plain Cookery Book For The Working Classes (New ed., London, Routledge, Warne and Routledge, 1852) by Charles Elmé Francatelli (1805-1876). Francatelli was a posh chef himself, his title page telling us that he’d been “chief cook to Her Majesty the Queen”, but nevertheless his recipes for working people are pretty down to earth and cheap. Thus he has both “Stewed Sheep’s Trotters” and “Pig’s Feet”, the latter very short, just: “These are to be well salted for about four days, and then boiled in plenty of water for about three hours; they may be eaten either hot or cold.” The other recipe puts trotters firmly in their sociological context: “Sheep's trotters are sold ready cleaned and very cheap at all tripe shops.”
    I thought I might find more recipes in Escoffier, as pigs’ trotters have always been a favourite in France, but I was wrong, he only had two, both for grilling. I should have remembered that when Gégé served us his marvellous dish it struck me forcibly that what ordinary people eat in France is not yer cordon blue or anything like it!
    Should you wish to serve trotters in your posh restaurant, it’s quite acceptable to grill them. You may have them without truffles, or with. (Cof.)

    Here is M. Escoffier’s recipe for plain grilled trotters in an English translation from the first decade of the 20th century:

Sprinkle the pig’s trotters copiously with melted butter, and put them on the grill, which should be very hot.
Grill them very gently, turning them with care; and serve them plain, or with a tomato purée separately.
(Auguste Escoffier (1846-1935). A Guide to Modern Cookery. London, W. Heinemann, 1907)

    This is still a popular method in France and there are lots of modern French recipes for it online. Here’s what your grilled trotter should look like:

    The photo, taken in 2019, is from Brasserie Georges in Lyon (by Sebleouf - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0).
    I was a bit doubtful about the grilling idea, because I’d only had trotters boiled slowly, and I thought they might not cook through that way, but my brother, who’s seen them done both ways in Europe, and has a scientific bent, assures me that the presence of the bones helps the cooking process, because bones absorb heat. (Trotters are full of little bones, the same as our own “pettitoes” are.)
    Okay, if you’re starting to feel queasy stop now! For those who can face them, here are a couple of modern recipes for serving trotters as a main dish.

    Many of the modern recipes in English are Chinese-inspired. The Chinese, like the French, are much more sensible than the British about different parts of the animal, and all parts of the pig are normal in their cuisine.
    If you’ve heard of the River Cottage take on trotters, which is typical of the English-language offerings with a Chinese flavour, it’s available on the NightChild site: “River Cottage’s Chinese Style trotters”.
    This New Zealand recipe belongs in the same category. It’s the only recipe I found mid-2020 on the Eat Well website for doing trotters as a hot meat dish. There were only 2 others for trotters, both versions of brawn. And as you can see, this one kind of ameliorates the “feet” idea by using hocks as well: they’re very meaty, whereas trotters are distinguished by their gelatinous quality.
    Star anise will dominate a dish, so be a bit wary of the quantity used here:

Slow Cooked Pork Hock, Star Anise, Ginger and Green Chilli Sauce
For the pork hock:
    2 pork hocks, fresh, large;  2 pig trotters;
    3 cinnamon sticks;  6 star anise;
    3 red chillies, whole, fresh, chopped in half’
    5 cm fresh ginger, roughly sliced;
    2/3 cup soy sauce;  1/4 cup soft brown sugar;
    1/2 cup white vinegar;  1 Ltr water
For the green chilli sauce:
    5 cm fresh ginger, peeled and roughly chopped;
    1/4 cup white vinegar;  4 garlic cloves, peeled;
    5 green chillies, cut in half, seeds removed;
    1-1/2 tsp caster sugar
1. Heat oven to 200C.
2. Place the hocks and trotters into a deep roasting tray with sides. Scatter spices, chilli, ginger and garlic over the pork.
3. Add the remaining ingredients and cover dish with baking paper and then foil carefully sealing the sides.
4. Place into oven and roast for 45 minutes before reducing the temperature to 160C and continue to cook for another 1 ½ -2 hours or until the pork easily falls away from the bone.
5. Remove from oven, discard foil and paper. Allow to cool for 10 minutes before serving with the cooking liquor, steamed Asian greens, jasmine rice and green chilli sauce on the side.
6. To make the green chilli sauce, place ginger, garlic and chillies in a food processor and pulse until nearly smooth. Add vinegar and sugar and pulse briefly to combine. Refrigerate until ready to use. Best eaten on the day.
–Serves 4.
(By Bevan Smith, Bite, in Eat Well)

    This last one is my translation of a very easy French recipe that I thought was a bit different from most of them. It also relies on long, slow cooking: about 4-1/2 hours in the oven. The author’s aim was to make the trotters melt-in-the-mouth. She used a heavy cast-iron casserole.

Pied de porc
“Recette de pied de porc à l’ancienne”
    2 pigs’ trotters;  3 onions;  3 carrots;
    6 small potatoes;  150 ml white wine;
    1 teaspoon curry powder;  salt and pepper
1. Peel the onions and cut them into eighths.
2. Peel and slice the carrots.
3. Scrub and rinse the potatoes (preferably firm-textured red ones).
4. Clean the trotters, washing in clean water.
5. Put the onions and carrots in the bottom of a heavy cast-iron casserole.
6. Lay the trotters on top of the vegetables.
7. Sprinkle with curry powder, salt & pepper.
8. Place the potatoes around and between the trotters.
9. Add the white wine. And put the lid on.
10. Bake in the oven at 150°C for 4 and a half hours.
11. Check that the trotters are cooked, and adjust salt and pepper to taste.
–Serves 2.
Recommended wines: Cabernet franc and Cabernet Sauvignon.
(Cuisine Maison),

    It’s a lovely recipe, so why not give it a go if you’re lucky enough to locate some trotters? Forget the “feet” thing. Try them!

Saturday, 11 July 2020

A Gourd's Story

A Gourd’s Story
Pumpkin, Zucchini & Friends

Once upon a time there was a gourd vine who grew and grew…

Good Things Take Time
The Gourd is proud to have reached the same height as the 100-year-old Palm within only a few summer days. The plant thanks Nature for allowing him to grow so quickly. But the Palm hears the Gourd’s boast and replies that what grows quickly will also wither quickly. The Palm gives the example of the quick-growing fish ‘Effimer’ (Ephemeral) that only lives for one day, and the slow-growing elephant that lives for 300 years.
(Clarck Drieshen. “Fabulous Mr Fox and Other Wise Tales.” British Library Medieval Manuscripts Blog, 18 May 2020)

    This is a story from a Mediaeval version of the collection of fables called Speculum sapientiae. Originally written in Latin, the fables in the gorgeous illustrated MS version held by the British Library are a German translation known as Das Buch der natürlichen Weisheit (The Book of Natural Wisdom) by Ulrich von Pottenstein (fl. 1398-1416). The whole article is well worth reading: the animal illustrations in particular are entrancing.
    When I read this delightful offering from the British Library I was immediately inspired to find some recipes for the gourd-like butternut pumpkin for you. I read up my notes on gourds (Cucurbita) and decided that I couldn’t leave out pumpkin’s close cousins, zucchini.

    “Cucurbita (Latin for gourd) is a genus of herbaceous vines in the gourd family, Cucurbitaceae, also known as cucurbits, native to the Andes and Mesoamerica. Five species are grown worldwide for their edible fruit, variously known as squash, pumpkin, or gourd depending on species, variety, and local parlance, and for their seeds. Other kinds of gourd, also called bottle-gourds, are native to Africa and belong to the genus Lagenaria, which is in the same family and subfamily as Cucurbita but in a different tribe. These other gourds are used as utensils or vessels, and their young fruits are eaten much like those of Cucurbita species.”
(“Cucurbita”, Wikipedia)

    So here they are. Mostly old favourites, with a few I chose for interest.

Gourd in the Soup
A word of warning: if you’re stirring a pumpkin soup, use a long spoon and wrap your hand and wrist in a towel. Pumpkin soup is a notorious spitter and splatterer.
   I’m sure everybody’s got their own favourite. I chose this one because it’s a bit different.

Pumpkin and Coriander Soup
    1 kg butternut pumpkin;  1 bunch of coriander;
    3 brown onions;  1 litre water or vegetable stock;
    1 tablespoon cracked black pepper;
    50 g butter or 1 tablespoon oil;
    Optional: 300 ml cream
1. Dice pumpkin and onions, then brown with cracked pepper on high heat until onions are soft.
2. Add water and bring to the boil. Simmer for 15 minutes.
3. Remove from heat, add coriander and blend.
4. Garnish with coriander leaves and serve.
5. Optional: add 300 ml of cream, blend, then garnish with coriander and serve.
(Robert Manning. In Stop Hunger, Start Cooking! Recipes Fresh From the Garden. Carlton, Vic., Oxfam Australia, [2012])

Cool Gourd Salad
The foodie websites have inundated us over the last couple of years with recipes for roast pumpkin salads. These are usually large, substantial dishes, obviously intended as a major part of the meal, not as a salad course. If the weather’s hot enough to contemplate a salad as your main course, why on earth would you want to turn your oven on?
    Give it away. If you want a gourd salad, you can’t go past the delicately delicious taste of raw fresh zucchini:

Raw Courgette Salad
3 small zucchini or 2 medium-sized
1 clove garlic, crushed;  2 teaspoons red wine vinegar;
2 tablespoons olive oil;  1/8 teaspoon black pepper;
1/4 teaspoon salt
1. Put dressing ingredients in a bottle or jar with a tight-fitting lid about 1 hour before you need the dressing. Shake well.
2. Wash and dry the zucchini and cut off the stalk and the hard little tip at the flower end.
3. Cut them into julienne strips the thickness of wooden matchsticks and about 5 cm in length, or into very fine rings.
4. Shake the dressing well and pour over the zucchini, discarding garlic.
5. Toss and let marinate at room temperature for 45 minutes.
6. Chill for 15 minutes before serving.
–Serves 2.
(James Chatto. The Seducer’s Cookbook. Newton Abbot, David & Charles, [1981])

“Courgettes” and “zucchini” are the same thing. When this recipe was published (I’ve reformatted it, but it is James Chatto’s recipe) the English used the French term rather than the Italian. This dish can be served as a separate salad course or as a light and refreshing hors d’oeuvre. It also goes very well with a Middle Eastern or Moroccan meal. The fresher the zucchini are, the better the salad will taste.

Gourd Meets Pasta
Sage is delicious with pumpkin. Its tangy zest complements the vegetable’s sweetness. You could just substitute crumbled dried sage for the rather fanciful (if reputedly genuinely Italian-style) fried leaves in this dish:

Butternut Squash and Fried Sage Pasta
8 ounces [250g] whole-wheat penne;
1 medium butternut squash (about 2 pounds [1 kg]), peeled, seeded and cut into 1-inch cubes;
1 medium red onion, thinly sliced;  8 sage leaves;
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped;  1 tablespoon olive oil;
1/4 teaspoon black pepper; 1/2 teaspoon salt
Garnish: 1/4 cup grated Parmesan
Cook penne as directed on package.
Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Fry sage, turning once, until crisp on both sides, about 1 minute per side. Transfer to a paper towel.
Add onion and garlic to skillet. Cook, stirring frequently, until soft and golden, about 3 minutes.
Add squash, 3/4 cup water, salt and pepper. Cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, until squash softens, 5 to 7 minutes.
Drain pasta, reserving 1 cup cooking water. Return pasta to pot and add squash mixture; stir over low heat, adding some reserved cooking water if necessary, until pasta is coated, about 1 minute. Serve, garnished with cheese and sage.
Serves 4.
(Kerri Conan. SELF, February 2010, in Epicurious.com),

    This next, very simple dish is a classic from Elizabeth David:

Spaghetti con Salsa di Zucchine
(Spaghetti with Zucchini)
    10 oz (300 g) pasta (spaghetti or other pasta);
    1-1/2  lb. [about 700 g] zucchini;
    oil or butter;  salt & pepper
Cut a good quantity, about 1-1/2 lb. of zucchini into thin rounds.
Fry them gently in oil or butter, or a mixture of both, and when they are soft pour them over a dish of spaghetti or any other pasta. Add salt & pepper to taste.
A way of serving spaghetti from Positano.
–Serves 4.
(Elizabeth David. Italian Food. 2nd ed. (revised), London, Macdonald for the Cookery Book Club, 1966)

Curry That Gourd
Here are my own two recipes for gourd curries. They’re loosely based on Indian recipes I’ve read over the years. The more robust pumpkin one is quite tangy—you can vary the amount of heat to taste. The zucchini curry, however, is a delicate, lightly spiced dish.

Pumpkin Curry
    1/2 kilo pumpkin (preferably butternut);  1 onion;
    1 packet tomato paste (about 2 tablespoons);
    1/2 to 1 cup water;  1 teaspoon coriander powder;
    1/2 teaspoon cumin powder;  1/2 teaspoon turmeric;
    1/2 teaspoon chilli powder or cayenne, or to taste;
    2 tablespoons oil
    Optional: 1/2 teaspoon salt
1. Peel the pumpkin and chop into 2-cm cubes. Slice the onion finely.
2. Heat the oil in an electric frypan or deep frying pan on medium heat and fry the onion to a pale gold with the coriander and cumin.
3. Add the turmeric and the pumpkin, stir well, fry for a few minutes.
4. Add the tomato paste, chilli powder and salt (if desired) with half cup of water; stir in gently until paste is amalgamated.
5. Lower heat and stir occasionally, cooking uncovered on medium-low heat, till done. If it gets too dry add more water. Very little liquid should be left at the end.
    May be garnished with chopped coriander and/or a spoonful of plain yoghurt if liked. Serve with plain rice and a green vegetable, or as part of an Indian meal.
–Serves 2 as the main dish in a vegetarian meal.

    Next is a simplified version of a much more elaborate recipe which included cream as well as yoghurt. It’s a bit fiddly to do but so long as the zucchini are fresh, it tastes very nice.

Zucchini Curry with Yoghurt (Stuffed Zucchini)
This can be finished in the oven or in a lidded frying pan or electric frypan that is big enough to take the zucchini halves.
1 kilo zucchini;  1 onion;  1/4 cup yoghurt;
1/2 teaspoon turmeric;  1 1/2 teaspoons coriander powder;
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper;
3 tablespoons oil;  1/4 teaspoon salt
1. Wash and dry the zucchini and split them lengthwise. Remove the interiors, leaving enough so that the shells will not be too thin. Chop the extracted vegetable.
2. Heat the oil in a frying pan on medium heat. Fry the onion, chopped finely, until pale gold. Add the chopped zucchini, the turmeric and a teaspoon of coriander. Stir gently for a minute. Then add the yoghurt and cook till the yoghurt is almost dry. Add salt, and stir well.
3. Lay the zucchini shells out in a baking dish or frypan that is just big enough to take them. Place the mixture in the shells. Sprinkle with remaining coriander and pepper.
4. Bake in a moderate oven or frypan with the lid on, sitting in a couple tablespoons water, until shells are done.
–Serves 4.

A Gourd in the Pan
Pumpkin chips? Incredibly good! I’ve got a facsimile reprint of this cookbook dating from the turn of the 19th century, and it was worth buying for this recipe alone.

Zucche fritte
(Strips of pumpkin fried in olive oil)
Peel, halve and seed 1 small pumpkin (smaller than a football).
Cut into strips the size of chips and leave them in a sieve, sprinkled with salt, for a couple of hours to get rid of excess moisture.
Heat oil (olive or frying oil) in deep pan. Dip the strips in seasoned flour and fry until cooked and light brown.
Drain well and serve at once, with a squeeze of lemon.
(Janet Ross (1842-1927). Leaves From Our Tuscan Kitchen, or How To Cook Vegetables. 2nd ed., London, J.M. Dent & Co., 1900)

Courgettes With Fresh Herbs
500 g courgettes or zucchini;
2 tablespoons chopped fresh herbs (parsley, chervil, chives);
1 teaspoon lemon juice;  2 tablespoons cooking oil;
1 tablespoon butter;  salt and pepper to taste
Cut courgettes into 5 mm slices.
Melt butter and oil in a frying pan.
Add courgettes and cook gently for 5-10 minutes until just tender. Turn the slices over once or twice during cooking.
Stir in the herbs, lemon juice and seasoning.
Serve immediately.
Serves 4-6. Delicious served with lamb or chicken.
(Mary Browne, Helen Leach & Nancy Tichborne. The Cook's Garden: For Cooks Who Garden and Gardeners Who Cook. Wellington, [N.Z.], A.H. & A.W. Reed, 1980)

Gourd on the Grill
To grill or not to grill? It’s very easy to ruin a delicate vegetable by slinging it on the barbie. If you want to grill zucchini, here’s my tried and true method:

My Grilled Zucchini
Per person:
1 - 2 medium zucchini.
1. Wash the zucchini, dry thoroughly, and remove the stalk end.
2. Slice the zucchini lengthwise into strips about 1/2 cm thick.
3. Heat a grill plate or non-stick frypan (preferably a heavy one) to medium-hot.
4. Lay the zucchini slices on it. Cook for a few moments, until the flesh is browned, then turn over and just brown the other side quickly. They will now be soft and cooked right through but not soggy.
5. Quickly transfer to plates and serve immediately.

This is my translation of a modern French recipe. Why the French should suddenly run mad over pumpkin in the second decade of the 21st century is beyond me, but apparently they did. There were weeks of pumpkin recipes! Most of them were nothing new to a reader from the Antipodes, but I thought this one looked different, and quite easy if you use bought pastry, as the original concedes you might. If you don’t like goat’s cheese, try mozzarella in it instead.

Rustic Pumpkin Pie with Goat’s Cheese & Hazels
Tarte rustique au potiron, fromage de chèvre et noisettes
This “rustic pie” is baked directly on the oven tray.
    Short pastry (about 300-400 g)
    250 g pumpkin, peeled;  80 g hazelnuts;
    1 small packet white goat’s cheese;
    fresh thyme;  3 tablespoons olive oil
    salt; freshly ground black peppercorns
1. Dice the pumpkin and cook in a frying-pan on medium heat with 2 tablespoons olive oil until tender but not mushy. Add salt and pepper to taste.
2. Cut up the goat’s cheese into 1/2 dozen or so slices. Roughly crush the hazelnuts.
3. Heat the oven to 180° C.
4. Roll out the pastry into a large round, about the size of large dinner plate or a little more, and about 3 mm. thick.
5. Spread out the cooked pumpkin mixture in the centre of pastry crust leaving an edging 3 cm wide. Add the sliced cheese.
6. Sprinkle the crushed nuts on top, scatter with fresh thyme leaves and then fold up the edges of the pie over the filling (as in the picture).
7. Spread the rest of the olive oil over the crust and the pie filling.
8. Bake for 30 minutes.
9. Allow to cool a little before serving.
(Nadia Paprikas. In 750g : de la vie dans la cuisine!)

A Gourd That’s a Bit Different: Bitter Melon
The popular Asian vegetable “bitter melon” or “bitter gourd” does not belong to the Cucurbita genus like the pumpkins, squashes, etc, but it does belong to the same plant family, the Cucurbitaceae. Its botanical name is Momordica charantia. I have tried it, in spite of warnings from a kind Chinese friend, and it is horribly, startlingly bitter! I like the European bitter vegetables like witloof (endives belges or chicory) and curly endive (la frisée), but bitter melon defeated me.

    Khalid Aziz writes in his cookbook, The Encyclopedia of Indian Cooking: “The bitter gourd is a strange-looking vegetable, … with a gnarled surface. It is … generally considered to be far too bitter to be used as it comes, so a special technique is used to prepare the gourd. When buying bitter gourds make sure that they are quite firm and have not begun to soften. If they are soft then you will find that the inside will have a rather woolly texture.
    “To prepare karela or bitter gourd:
    “Top the gourds, cutting about 3 cm/1 inch off the bottom end. Use this bottom end to rub against the cut surface of the karela in a circular motion and you will see that a kind of foam is created. This process serves to extract some of the bitterness from the bitter gourd.”

This is the simplified version of his recipe that I made. I’m including it for interest, but honestly, I couldn’t get through it!

Mixed Vegetable Curry with Bitter Gourds
120 g bitter gourd, sliced;  225 g frozen green beans;
120 g carrots, peeled and sliced;  1/2 capsicum, diced;
1 medium onion;  1 cloves garlic; 150 ml coconut milk;
1/4 teaspoon chilli powder;  1/2 teaspoon ginger powder;
1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds;  1 teaspoon black pepper;
1 1/2 teaspoons ground coriander; 1 teaspoon turmeric;
1 teaspoon garam masala;  50 ml cooking oil
1/4 teaspoon salt
Heat oil in a large, heavy saucepan (at least 1-litre capacity) on medium heat. Peel the onion and garlic and slice them very thinly. Fry them gently in the ghee until soft. Add the spices except for the garam masala and fry for another minute.
Add the vegetables, coating well with the spicy onion mixture. Then add the coconut milk, bring to the boil, cover the saucepan, turn the heat down and simmer for 10 minutes.
Add the garam masala and salt. Stir in well and simmer for a further 5 minutes.
There should be not too much liquid with this dish; if there is, increase the heat to rapidly boil off the excess moisture.
–Serves 4.
(Adapted from: Khalid Aziz. “Mixed Vegetable Curry: Aviyal.” The Encyclopedia of Indian Cooking. London, Michael Joseph, 1983)

Pumpkin for Pudding
Probably we all think of pumpkin pie if a dessert dish with pumpkin is suggested. But in Latin America, where these gourds originate, all sorts of other sweet dishes are made from them. Here’s a quick and easy version of pumpkin empanadas.
    Empanadas are just turnovers. They can be sweet or savoury and they may be baked or fried. They are traditionally made from a circle of dough, forming a semi-circle, and if you look them up online you’ll find some very attractive pictures, crimped edges an’ all. This is a much faster and easier method, using ready-made pastry, that I picked up from a recipe for “Banana-Black Bean Empanadas”. The filling, which is very like a pumpkin pie filling, is from a recipe where you make the pastry from scratch.

Easy Pumpkin Empanadas
    450 g cooked pumpkin;  1/2 cup sugar;
    1/2 teaspoon cinnamon;  1/4 teaspoon ginger;
    1/8 teaspoon cloves;  1/4 teaspoon salt
    2 sheets frozen puff pastry (approx. 450 g), thawed
    1 egg, beaten to blend (for glaze)
1. For filling: Mix ingredients together and set aside.
2. Preheat oven to 425° F [218 C]
3. Roll out each puff pastry sheet on floured surface to about 32-cm square. Cut each into 8 squares.
4. Place 1 heaping tablespoon filling in centre of squares.
5. Brush edges of squares with glaze.
6. Fold 1 corner over filling to opposite corner, forming triangle. Using fork, seal crust edges.
7. Arrange on rimmed baking sheet; brush with glaze.
8. Bake empanadas until golden brown, about 15 minutes.
Serve hot.
Makes: 16
(Filling: Esperanza's Cafe (Joe T. Garcia's Bakery), Fort Worth, Tx. “Pumpkin Empanadas”, GourmetSleuth.com)
(Pastry & baking: Diane Brown Savahge, Los Angeles, CA. “Banana-Black Bean Empanadas”, Bon Appétit Nov. 2004, Epicurious.com)

Another Gourd’s Story
Let’s end with another gourd’s story. Like the first, this is a cautionary tale, though it hasn’t, alas, got a happy ending:

Over the garden wall,
    Stony and grey and tall,
A lover Gourd was climbing
    To see his sweetheart small.
She lived on the other side,
    In riches, pomp and pride,
While he was poor, but honest,
    And his parents, all had died.
Alas, alas, alack!
    Why did he not turn back?
For now his little Sweetheart
    Will have to dress in black.
He climbed that cruel wall,
    So cold and grim and tall,
But his “stem” broke when he reached the top,
And goodness—what a fall!
It is a shame to smile, a perfect shame and sin,
But the “mess” that Humpty Dumpty made
    Was “nothing” next to “him!”
(Margaret G. Hays (1874-1925) and Grace G. (Grace Gebbie) Drayton. Vegetable Verselets for Humorous Vegetarians, by Margaret G. Hays; with illustrations by Grace G. Wiederseim. Philadelphia and London, J.B. Lippincott Company, 1911)