As a single parent there are times I've felt challenged in the kitchen

Chef Carmel Somers: turn the clocks back and delight the kids with stuffed roast pumpkin

Stuffed and roasted whole pumpkin. Photograph: Emma Jervis

Stuffed and roasted whole pumpkin. Photograph: Emma Jervis

 

The October bank holiday weekend, when the clocks go back, is a time to celebrate. It was always my favourite bank holiday weekend of the year when my girls were at school. The school routine was well under way, the restaurant was closed for the winter and it was time to catch up as a family.

We’ve always celebrated with an outside picnic, heading to one of the many coves or forests on the West Cork coastline and setting up camp. There’s something very special about eating at dusk amongst the trees or with the waves rolling in. It was a time I could introduce a new ingredient or something that had previously evoked an “ew, Mom, you know I don’t like that”. Fresh air has an amazing way of creating great appetites and causing the disappearance of food fussiness.

Depending on what was in the fridge, it could be something as simple as a flask of vegetable soup with a few added spices to create extra warmth with baked potatoes, stuffed with cheese, wrapped in parchment and tea towels. Other times, I would get carried away and decide to roast a whole pumpkin and stuff it, in an attempt to cover my festive requirements for Halloween.

Over my years in the kitchen and as a single parent there are a few times when I have felt challenged, and cutting into a pumpkin is at the top of that list. Do I lack the upper body strength? Did I not pick the right knife? Should I have started from the other side? Now my knife is stuck and where do I go from here? (I’m always full of healthy envy for those beautifully patterned pumpkins in the neighbours’ windows.)

So, to overcome this challenge, one day I decided to roast the pumpkin whole and work from there. To my surprise, I had a lovely soft vegetable, my knife cut the top off with ease and I scooped out the seeds and proceeded to stuff it with bits and pieces I had in the fridge.

Here is a chance to tidy up your fridge and create your own family recipes to be used for many years to come.

If the weather permits it, do try and take this picnic outside, even if its only to the garden. The fun and excitement of eating outside is so powerful and entices a good night’s sleep and, in my experience, everyone gets to benefit from that extra hour in bed as the clocks fall back.

The chill in the air is the perfect justification for a comforting pudding and, in my opinion, there’s nothing better than a caramelised rice pudding (a family favourite) to finish off a fun-filled evening. If the weather is unsuitable, light the fire, spread out the picnic rug, sit on the floor and tuck in. A change from normal routine is good for the soul. I’m also including a raw salad using winter vegetables and a little spice, which works perfectly with the stuffed pumpkin.

May the moon shine bright.

Spiced Beetroot and Carrot Salad

Spiced beetroot and carrot salad with garlic and cardamom. Photograph: Emma Jervis
Spiced beetroot and carrot salad with garlic and cardamom. Photograph: Emma Jervis

Ingredients:

  • ½ tsp mustard seeds
  • ½ tsp Fennel seeds
  • ½ tsp Coriander seeds
  • 4 cardamom pods, husks removed
  • 2 fat cloves garlic, peeled
  • salt to taste
  • 6 tbsp olive oil
  • 4 tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tsp cider vinegar
  • 1kg raw carrots, sliced lengthways with a vegetable peeler
  • 500g raw beetroots, sliced very thinly on a mandolin
  • any green herbs, such as parsley and chives

Method: 

Grind the spices well together and crush the garlic. Stir in the olive oil, lemon juice and vinegar and mix well together. A liquidiser is great for this; otherwise, use a jam jar with a secure lid.

Take a big dish and lay the beetroots all over. In a mixing bowl add in the carrots and most of the dressing and mix well. Place in the centre of the beetroots.

Finish off by sprinkling the chopped herbs on top and dot the remaining dressing on the beetroots.

Transport: Ideal in a large plastic bowl covered with clingfilm

Stuffed and Roasted Whole Pumpkin/Squash

Halloween is an excellent occasion for those smashing pumpkins. Photograph: Emma Jervis

Here I have used a pumpkin variety called Kabocha and I find the flesh very flavoursome. Pumpkins do give us good value, as they look so pretty in our kitchen in the weeks leading into winter and then we get to eat them. Also, dry the seeds and plant them and this time next year you will be pleasantly surprised. Another gift to share with your children – and next year’s pumpkins will be extra special.

Method:

Firstly, Take your pumpkin and make sure that it fits comfortably in your oven. Turn your oven on to 180C/gas mark 4.

Place the pumpkin on a shallow oven tray, take a sharp knife and do four to five slits in the pumpkin. Place in the oven for about 30 to 60 minutes (depending on size) or until the pumpkin is soft through when tested with a knife.

Now the fun begins. While your pumpkin is roasting, tidy through your fridge and see what you have that needs to be used up and would be suitable to stuff your pumpkin. (The following will work a treat: cooked rice, bulgur, couscous, and quinoa; tomato sauce, the homemade variety; pesto; jar of artichoke puree; any cheese that will melt – the more cheese you have the better; ham or salami; any cooked vegetables, especially potatoes; raw vegetables sliced very thinly.)

Remove the pumpkin from the oven and let it cool until you can handle it. Cut the top off and scoop out the seeds with a spoon.

Season the inside of the pumpkin with salt and pepper.

Now layer the ingredients, starting with and finishing with the cheese, until stuffed to the brim.

Pop back in the oven and bake until heated through and the cheese is melting. Top on or off is up to you.

Serve by cutting into wedges, spooning the filling on as you go.

Vegan option: Replace the cheese with nutritional yeast flakes and a nice mixture of herbs or, if you are into making your own nut cheeses, add some in here. Scatter the finished dish with your favourite toasted nuts and seeds. Toasted pecans work well here.

Transport: Cover the dish and pumpkin well with tinfoil and lay a few heavy tea towels on the top. Remember to place a mat or newspaper in the boot first to take the heat.

Caramelised Rice Pudding

Caramelised rice pudding. Photograph: Emma Jervis
Caramelised rice pudding. Photograph: Emma Jervis

Ingredients:

  • 60g butter
  • 75g sugar
  • 100g pudding rice/risotto rice
  • 1 litre of the creamiest milk you can get
  • 150ml cream
  • 1 medium flameproof pot or dish (with lid for transport)

Method:

Pre-heat the oven to 140C/gas mark 1

Heat your saucepan and add in the butter. When it’s nearly melted add in the sugar. Stir and continue to cook until it looks like toffee and it darkens a little. Add in the rice and continue cooking for another minute, making sure that the mixture doesn’t get too dark.

Add in the milk and cream, let it come to the boil while stirring now and again until the caramel has dissolved.

Place in the oven and and leave to cook for 2 to 2½ hours or until just beginning to set. Let it cool for 20 minutes or so before eating.

Great cold for breakfast next day or it can be heated up in a saucepan on a low flame.

Vegan version: Replace the butter with your favourite oil and use coconut milk/cream instead of dairy.

Transport: This dish is ideal for transport as it retains its heat well. Place the lid on top and wrap the whole saucepan in a towel.

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