08 décembre 2010

Squash #1: Pumpkin Fondue

The seasonality of fruits and vegetables used to be lost on me. Sure, there was 'cherry season' or 'mango season' or 'longan season', but I regarded them merely as wonderful windows of time where delicious foreign fruit was imported into my barren concrete jungle. Only after living in France have I learnt to associate each produce and its season. And with this came the realisation that my vocabulary was too weak to deal with food in France. Take something as simple as pears: a general 'pear' used to sufficient for me, but now it's all about abate, bosc, conference, comice, d'anjou, guyot, louise bonne, rochas and williams, which can be found at different times of the year.

And while the colourful fruits of summer bring back memories of sea and sand under a toasty sun, this year my heart belongs with autumn. Maybe it's the impending departure from France looming in my subconscience, but aren't the fall colours particularly beautiful this year? The crackling of leaves, the peace and quiet after a summer of cicadas, the blanket of yellow, orange and red warms me as the mercury starts to fall. With this comes chestnuts, hazelnuts, almonds, sunchokes, rutabagas and pumpkins and squashes of all shapes and sizes.

One cloudy autumn's day, we headed out to a small town called Rognes for their Fete de la Courge. Once I would have been content with just 'pumpkins', which is kind of a misnomer because pumpkin is commonly used to describe several cultivars in the squash family.

Look at the pear-shaped Butternut squash, the petite thick-skinned Red Kuri squash, the quirky decorative Colocynth (this one looks like a duck eh?), the long necked Tromboncino di Albenga, the weirdly bulbous Turban squash and the dusty-looking Muscat de Provence among many others. I ooh-ed and aah-ed over every single one of them.

Notable absentees -cos these wily French people love their squashes and snapped them all up by the time we arrived!- were the white Pattypan flying saucers and the deceptively awesome spaghetti squash (looks yellowish and normal on the outside, ribbony dangly filaments and sweet on the inside).

Squashes were everywhere! Even the village fountain was not spared the attack of the Curcubita!

We settled on a Butternut (right), a Red Kuri squash (top left) and a Rouge Vif d'Etampes pumpkin (bottom left), plus a generous slice off a large Muscat de Provence. The latter did not live to see the day: It was quickly chopped up, roasted with olive oil and rosemary, and ended up in a Mushroom and squash risotto that very night. To commemorate their fallen comrade, the 3 remaining squashes will sacrifice themselves in dishes worthy of their heroic deliciousness. It won't be just soups and puree for these fellas.

First up: the Rouge Vif d'Etampes pumpkin. Having not encountered this variety of squash before, the farmer helpfully suggested a unique way to cook it: as a pumpkin fondue in the pumpkin itself.

1 pumpkin ~1.5kg
200ml white wine
400g Gruyere, coarsely grated
400g Emmental, coarsely grated
pinch of grated nutmeg
Olive oil

1/ Heat the oven to 200 C.

2/ Remove the top of the pumpkin, cutting a circle around the stem and leaving at least a 3-cm border. (The pumpkin will soften upon cooking and the borders will prevent the melted cheese from flowing over)

3/ Remove the seeds and loose filaments by scraping with a small spoon. (Seeds can be kept for roasting)

4/ Season the inside of the pumpkin with some salt and olive oil. Brush some olive oil on the outside as well.

5/ Put both cheeses and the white wine in the pumpkin, stirring to mix. Do not fill more than 3/4 of the pumpkin.

6/ Cover the pumpkin and put in an oven-proof pan. Bake 30 min to 1 hour until pumpkin is tender and the cheese has melted, stirring occasionally during the cooking process. Cooking time will depend on the size of the pumpkin used.

7/ Serve with toasted chunks of baguette.

This is a unique pumpkin dish that warms the stomach and the heart. Careful not to lose your piece of bread in the fondue though! (Go read Asterix in Switzerland!)

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