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Making the most of pumpkins

Today is a special day for the farming community in the beautiful village of Manikata and a celebration of pumpkin harvest.

I am told that nearly a thousand handmade pumpkin pies were baked earlier this week to prepare for today’s festivities. These pumpkin pies are not the sweet versions we see for American Thanksgiving and I am sharing here the recipe that is usually a guarded family secret, with each family having their own version.

With Halloween round the corner and much pumpkin sculpting, most of you will have surplus pumpkin to use up and I hope you will find today’s recipes useful.

If you find the time today do visit Manikata where you will be able to buy all kinds of pumpkins directly from the farmers.

Pumpkin, lentil and orange soup with sage flowers

1kg pumpkin, peeled and chopped
200g orange lentils
1 onion roughly chopped
2 garlic cloves
Add a vegetable stock cube if required
Grated rind of ¼ orange
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
fresh soft ġbejna (optional)
sage leaves or if they are not available, use parsley

This is a quick and easy all-in-one soup recipe using fresh pumpkin, orange lentils and a bit of grated orange with a velvety yet textured result. It is gluten free, egg free, has no added fat and if you leave the fresh ġbejna out, it can also be dairy free.

Immerse the onion, garlic, pumpkin and lentils in water and bring to a boil. Leave to simmer on a gentle boil on low heat for 40 minutes. Turn off the heat and allow to cool slightly. Add the grated rind of ¼ orange

I use a hand blender and whizz the soup until it has a consistent appearance. Season with sea salt and freshly ground pepper.

Reheat when ready for use. Drop individual goat’s cheeses just before serving. This is optional and the soup is still delicious without.

Garnish with sage flowers which are at the prime of their cycle at the moment. Although they are milder than sage leaves, use sparingly.

Pumpkin muffins with cheddar and bacon

80ml olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
250g pumpkin, cut into very small cubes
100g grated cheddar
150g white ġbejna (if you are not on the islands, use a semi-hard white goat’s cheese)
100g bacon
2 eggs
300ml semi-skimmed or skimmed milk
375g self-raising flour
Salt and pepper to season

This recipe was given to me by Veronica Farrugia who organises the Pumpkin Feast in Manikata. They are so delicious and very easy to make.

Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a large pan and sauté the chopped onion and crushed garlic. Stir and cook on moderate heat until they soften. Add the chopped bacon and cook for five minutes. Add the chopped pumpkin. Cook for another five minutes and remove from heat. Allow the mixture to cook.

Sift the flour and add the salt and pepper if you are using it. Add the grated cheeses, leaving aside three spoonfuls to garnish the top.

In a separate container stir the milk, eggs and olive oil. Add the cooled down bacon and pumpkin mix to the flour and mix gently to ensure that the pieces are covered with a light film of flour.

Add the cheese, gently mix and finally pour the liquids.

Spoon the mixture into paper cases in a muffin tin. Top each muffin with the grated cheese mix.

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes until they are golden brown at 190˚C.

This makes eight large muffins or 16 small ones.

Chicken and pumpkin mash

500g chicken pieces (I used breast, cut into cubes)
50g smoked bacon, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, ground until it is puréed
1 onion, finely chopped
300g pumpkin, chopped
Pinch of nutmeg
1 tsp good oil
Salt and pepper
½ tsp fresh sage, chopped up and a pinch of dried sage

For the mash
6 medium potatoes, peeled and roughly chopped
200g pumpkin, chopped
½ tsp nutmeg
15g butter (optional)
1 tbsp olive oil
Salt
Parsley to garnish
2 tbsps grated cheese for the topping

This is a quick and hearty family meal with as little added fat as possible. The fresh sage with the chicken and pumpkin is a delicious combination.

Sauté the onion and garlic in oil on medium heat. Add the bacon, stir and cook. Add the chicken and brown. Then add the chopped cooked pumpkin which retains a lot of water and the herbs. Cook until the pumpkin breaks down, around 20 minutes. Stir and do not let the mixture dry up; add some water if necessary. This depends on how soggy your pumpkin is. Season and turn off the heat.

Grease an ovenproof dish and spoon the mixture into the dish. Flatten the surface.

For the mash, boil the potatoes and pumpkin in salted water. When they have cooked through, turn off the heat and drain out all the liquid. Add the nutmeg, olive oil and butter if you are using it. Mash the vegetables or, as I have done this time, use a hand-held blender to cream them. I personally prefer the mashed topping with more texture but it is all about choosing what you prefer.

Spoon the creamed or mashed vegetables on top of the chicken and pumpkin layer.

Bake in a preheated oven at 18℃ for 30 minutes.

Remove from the oven and allow to rest for five minutes before serving.

Traditional Maltese pumpkin pie

For the sesame seed crust
800g plain flour
A pinch of salt
125g butter
125ml olive oil
2 eggs
25g sesame seed.
cold water to bind
1 egg for pastry egg wash

For the filling
1kg partially boiled pumpkin, cut into cubes
1 medium onion, chopped up
1 garlic clove, chopped up
12 olives, destined and chopped
25g raisins
25g anchovies
169g canned tuna
½ tsp curry powder
Rice
½ tbsp good oil
1 tbsp chopped parsley

This recipe comes from the northern part of the island, with Mosta and Manikata having their own traditional versions. However, my recipe is adapted from both with the addition of my own sesame seed crust.

For the crust, sift the flour and add the salt. Add the chopped up bits of butter and rub in. Mix and add the olive oil and rub in. Add the eggs, one at a time and if necessary add cold water, and spin each time to bind the dough. Knead in the sesame seeds. Wrap in cling film and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

For the filing, heat up the oil and sauté the onion and garlic. Add the pumpkin and cook on low heat. Add the rice, cook for two minutes and mix in the anchovies and olives. Cook for 20 minutes on low heat until the pumpkin softens up. Do not let the mixture dry up and add more water if necessary, a few spoonfuls at a time.

Take out the pastry from fridge. Roll it out on a clean floured surface.

Grease a deep pie dish. Roll the pastry round the rolling pin and drop into the pie dish. Press it in gently. Trim it. Scatter a spoon of raw rice on to the bottom of the pie dish so that the pastry remains crispy as the raw rice will absorb any liquid.

Spoon the filling into the dish and flatten. Cover with pastry. Beat an egg and brush on some egg wash on to the exposed pastry parts.

Bake at 160˚C for an hour, the first 30 minutes on the bottom shelf so that the bottom of the pie cooks to a crispy texture, otherwise it will end up soggy. Transfer to the middle shelf after half an hour.

You can find more of Lea hogg’s recipes on her blog www.goodfoodeveryday.wordpress.com and live every afternoon during Lifestyle & Co on TVM2.

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