This week I had what I considered to be a bit of a brainwave. Although I’m sure it has probably occurred to other people before, it hadn’t occurred to me so I was pretty excited about trying it out. And I’m pleased to report it was a roaring success, but I’m getting a bit ahead of myself. The idea came about when I was looking at one of my vegetable baskets, which was full of four squashes, 2 acorn and 2 butternut. I realised something had to be done about it and fast. Obviously, pumpkin soup was on the menu, however even I don’t want to eat that every day, so clearly other ideas were needed. My number one go to idea whenever I’m faced with a glut like this is usually to make schnapps, as regular readers will have already picked up on. Pumpkin schnapps is a particularly good one as you don’t need to leave it for weeks on end, tempting you in the cupboard. Make it now and you’ll have something really special ready for thanksgiving, or at any point really in the run up to Christmas. I found a recipe online for a kahlua/ pumpkin schnapps cocktail (ages ago, so am afraid can’t post the link)and whilst I’ve tweaked it a bit to reflect my taste I am happy to confirm that it really is the perfect autumn pre dinner warmer. It works equally well after dinner for the record, with a small amount of double cream floated on top for a fancy after dinner coffee.
Pumpkin Schnapps Recipe
750 ml vodka
2 cinnamon sticks
1 vanilla pod
1 tbsp brown sugar
Enough squash to fill a 1 litre kilner jar once the other ingredients are added. (please note for the photo I didn’t have the right jar, I wouldn’t recommend using one of these- it is very hard to get the pumpkin in)
Mix all the ingredients in the kilner jar and shake thoroughly. Refrigerate and shake every so often. After two weeks, strain and store in a dark place. To make your pumpkin/ coffee cocktail, mix equal quantities of pumpkin schnapps and kahlua over ice. If you’re feeling fancy, use a teaspoon and float some double cream on the surface.
This still left me with a couple of squashes leftover, however. One was obviously destined to be consigned to my autumn favourite, balsamic roasted seasonal vegetables.
Toss whatever chopped seasonal vegetables you have (think carrots, parsnip, sweet potato, celariac) in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil with at least the same amount of good quality balsamic vinegar. Season, add a tablespoon or so of chopped fresh thyme, a couple of cloves of garlic (still in their papery skins) and roast for around twenty five minutes. I particularly like this recipe because it works fantastically well with preparation in advance, so is perfect for those large feasts that you often find yourself planning at this time of year. Simply prepare it and cook right up until the last ten minutes, up to a day ahead. When your meat is resting, or whatever, bung the veg back in the oven for the final ten minutes. When it’s finished, squash the garlic out of their skins and mash into the gorgeous juices.
So, to get back to my original point, with my final butternut squash I decided to try a blend of two classic desserts, one English; treacle tart, and one American; pumpkin pie.
Treacle tart, if you’ve never tried it, is a very simple dessert and a good way to use up stale bread. It is a simple short crust pastry base, blind baked then filled with a mixture of golden syrup, bread crumbs and lemon juice. A classic that really doesn’t need improving upon, but we wouldn’t get anywhere if we didn’t give stuff a go. I thought I’d keep it simple by roasting a butternut squash in the oven for 35 minutes or so, then mashing up the flesh to make a smooth purée and adding this into the traditional mix. Add to that some extra cinnamon, and change the lemon juice to orange and you pretty much have it. A perfect autumn dessert and one I will definitely be serving at my thanksgiving lunch in the spirit of English/American harmony.
Pumpkin Treacle Tart
175g plain flour
1 tsp cinnamon
Rub the butter into the flour and cinnamon until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs, or, if you can be bothered with the extra washing up, blitz it in a food processor. Add a couple of tablespoons or so of cold water until you have a cohesive dough, then wrap in cling film and chuck in the fridge for half an hour or so.
When you’re ready, roll it out and bake blind (ten minutes covered in baking paper and filled with baking beans, then five minutes uncovered). Make sure you keep some pastry back for your artistic lattice.
400g golden syrup (I think agave might work just as well. Let me know if you try it)
Juice and zest of one orange
A tsp cinnamon
Puréed flesh of one oven roasted pumpkin (although I suppose you could use a tin although that isn’t really the point)
Mix together all of the above ingredients then fill your pastry shell. Using the leftover pastry cut out long thin strips to drape however you see fit over the top. I personally like a lattice, obviously not really woven (life is too short) but the world is your oyster so do as you see fit.
Bake at 180 degrees C for around 25 minutes, or until you have a lovely golden brown colour.
Serve with vanilla ice cream, or (even better) homemade vanilla custard. Enjoy!