Pumpkins are a great asset in the winter kitchen. I love transforming pumpkins into soups, salads and much more. They keep well in a cool dry place, and if you don’t grow your own, they’re not expensive. And they’re beautiful, both inside and out.  

Pumpkin seems to be “under the radar” as an ingredient in my house. When I buy pumpkin it often sits in the fridge or on the shelf until it’s my turn to cook. Oh well, that means I can plan my cooking ahead of time!

Growing pumpkins

Pumpkins are pretty easy to grow – fertile soil, plenty of sunlight, room to spread, etc. They take between 85 and 125 days to mature, and they do best when seeds are planted directly into the ground. However, the best crops I’ve had have been unintentional, when the pumpkin vines just grew out of the compost heap. Different kinds of pumpkin can and do cross-pollinate, so your saved seed may end up as an interesting new variety.  


Above: mature crown pumpkins and buttercup squashes. This photo by Dani Edwards.

Different kinds of pumpkin

Pumpkins and squashes have a lot of overlap. The main botanical names are cucurbita maxima, cucurbita moschata, and cucurbita pepo.

The main kinds commonly grown in the Waikato are crown pumpkin – big, grey-skinned, with bright orange flesh; buttercup squash – smaller, with ridged green or orange skin and generally orange flesh; and butternut squash – bulb shaped, with smooth, pale tan skin and pale orange flesh.  There are many colourful varieties listed in the King’s Seeds catalogue, and Koanga has eight different New Zealand heritage pumpkins. From a cook’s point of view they will all have slightly different textures and flavours, but they’re interchangeable in recipes.

I’ve also grown kamokamo, traditional Maori pumpkin/ squashes, which come out in interesting shapes and sizes, but are best eaten when young (i.e. more like courgettes). I’m planning to write a post on what to do with baby pumpkins and squashes and their greens in the spring. 

Pumpkin nutrition

According to an article on the Huffington Post, “8 Impressive Health Benefits Of Pumpkin”, cooked pumpkin has a bunch of good nutrients: vitamin A, vitamin C, beta carotene, potassium, etc. I think you should only eat it if you enjoy it though.

You can also consume pumpkin raw (in smoothies etc) if you have a powerful juicer, but I don’t have personal experience of this.

Pumpkin quartet

Here are four great pumpkin recipes, all in one place for the very first time.

The first three are gluten free and vegan, too (apart from optional feta in the first recipe)  

A note on chopping pumpkin

A whole pumpkin is not straightforward to cut up. I’ve lost some perfectly good kitchen knives, large and small, to pumpkins. I’ve seen Richard Cato at Hamilton Farmers’ Market using a sharp cleaver for his big crown pumpkins. I’m planning to get one of those.

The alternative to chopping a pumpkin is to bake it in a medium oven until soft (maybe 45 minutes or an hour, depending on the pumpkin). Let it cool, then scoop out the seeds and separate the peel from the flesh. This works for recipes where the pumpkin is mashed, but not if you want it to stay in chunks.  


A pumpkin is best chopped with a cleaver, or your knives will suffer. This photo, and the one at the top of the page, by Elizabeth Newton-Jackson.

1. Roast pumpkin and chickpea salad

This is a great winter salad, with a Mediterranean feel. It’s an adaptation of a recipe by Julie LeClerc in Simple Café Food. Pumpkin goes wonderfully well with chickpeas (a.k.a. garbanzo beans). This recipe is vegan-friendly if you leave out the feta, which is not absolutely essential (but nice).

½ pumpkin, cut into small (approx 2cm) cubes. Toss in olive oil and roast at 190 degC for 40 minutes or just until tender (al dente) but not squishy

1 cup dry chickpeas, soaked overnight and boiled until tender. Or use 2 cans precooked chickpeas, with the brine rinsed off. But freshly cooked chickpeas have better texture. 


Combine the following ingredients in a blender until still a bit chunky:

½ cup sundried tomatoes, chopped (In summer, use 2 cups very ripe tomatoes, chopped small, but don’t put them through the blender.)

¼ cup red wine vinegar

3 cloves garlic, chopped very fine

1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar

½ cup extra virgin olive oil

1 tsp sugar

salt and pepper

Place pumpkin and chickpeas in a large salad bowl. Pour the dressing over and combine gently. 

Add 1 block of feta cheese (100g), broken into chunks, and 2 Tbsp finely chopped coriander or basil

Mix carefully – so it doesn’t turn into orange slush! 


2. Spiced baked pumpkin 

Vegan, gluten free and delicious. Pumpkin is a good “carb” substitute for potatoes on the “Gut and Psychology” diet. This recipe (which is adapted from Jamie Oliver’s Jamie’s Dinners), also works well with kumara.

1 butternut squash, halved, deseeded and roughly chopped; or half a pumpkin, depending on size

1 Tbsp coriander seeds, bashed with a pestle and mortar

1 dried red chilli, bashed

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

olive oil

Place squash or pumpkin in a baking dish and sprinkle with oil – approx 2 or 3 Tbsp. Toss until well covered. Sprinkle with coriander and chilli, salt and pepper.

Bake at 180 degC for 45 minutes or until cooked “al dente”.


3. Pumpkin soup with coconut cream

Vegan, gluten-free, and wonderful on a cold day.

1 small pumpkin, or a piece of a larger pumpkin

1 onion, chopped

1 or 2 cloves garlic, chopped

salt and pepper

1 can of coconut cream – I use either Trade Aid or Ceres coconut cream. They’re more expensive than the basic kind, but far superior in flavour, and don’t contain dodgy additives. 

Chop the pumpkin into chunks, cut the peel off and remove the seeds. Place in a large pan and add water until the pumpkin is just covered.

Fry the onion in coconut oil or butter or ghee for a few minutes, until it is translucent. Add to the pumpkin.

Add 1tsp salt (you might need to add some more later).

Bring to the boil, then turn heat down. Simmer until everything is very soft – maybe ½ hour or a bit longer.

Remove pan from heat. If you want a thicker soup, pour off half the water at this stage. Keep the extra in a pan in case you want to thin the soup later on.

Add the coconut cream. Let the soup cool a bit. Then whiz it in the blender in batches until it is smooth, or alternatively put it through a hand mouli.

Put it back in the saucepan and heat. Check the seasoning and add pepper and more salt if it needs it.

Sprinkle finely chopped parsley over the top.


(there are lots of possibilities):

Use chicken stock or vege stock instead of water.

Or add 1 tsp of stock powder to the water (and maybe less salt).

Add parsley to the pumpkin and onions etc at the beginning of cooking.

Add 1 tsp finely grated ginger root

Add a tiny pinch of freshly grated nutmeg


4. Pumpkin pie

A classic American festive dessert with an unusual (and beautiful) flavour.

Seriously easy crumbly pastry

This pastry recipe is from Elizabeth David’s French Provincial Cooking. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall puts it well: he says it is “well worth knowing about as it is very simple, requires no chilling or rolling out, and can be made at the last minute.” 

1 ½ cups flour (use half white and half wholemeal if you like more texture)

a pinch of salt

85g butter (measure from the markings on the wrapper)

approx ½ cup cold water (maybe a bit less)

Place flour and salt in a bowl. Grate the butter into the bowl. Rub butter into flour with your fingertips until no big lumps remain.

Make a well in the middle of the flour mixture. Add water and mix with a knife just until blended.

Grease or oil a tart pan or pie dish. Divide pastry into several lumps. Press pastry directly into pan with your fingers, working quickly so you don’t handle the pastry too much. Dip fingers into cold water if they get sticky. 

Pumpkin pie filling

This comes from The Joy of Cooking, by Irma S Rombauer and Marion Rombauer Becker.

Mix until blended:

2 cups cooked mashed pumpkin

1 ½ cups cream, or sour cream, or use half cream and half yoghurt

¼ cup brown sugar

½ cup white sugar

½ tsp salt

1 tsp cinnamon

½ tsp ginger

¼ tsp nutmeg or allspice

1/8 tsp cloves

2 lightly beaten eggs

Pour the mixture into the pie shell

Bake 15 minutes at 220 degC, then reduce heat to 175 degC and bake about 45 minutes longer, or until a knife inserted into the pie topping comes out clean.

Serve with whipped cream



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