Pumpkin rice

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This dish is based on the recipe for Jewelled pumpkin rice from the Moro East cookbook. It is the version I cooked for a big group of friends on holiday in Catalunya, where a few of the ingredients from the original (cardamoms and dried barberries, for example) were not available – hence the absence of ‘jewels’ (if you have barberries, or currants, then add 15g of them with the pistachios). I used paella rice, rather than basmati, which gives a slightly different – though I think equally nice – texture. I also reduced the quantity of rice and halved the quantity of butter to make the dish a bit lighter. In Catalunya the saffron came in a little folded paper packet, just the right size for a dish like this. The buttery saffron finish makes a big difference to the golden look and fragrant taste of the dish, so don’t be tempted to omit it. This was the perfect dish to show off the beautiful home-grown pumpkin that our friends Sue and Steve had brought with them.

We served it with fillets of halibut that Steve had rolled (securing the rolls with toothpicks) and baked (at 190 C from memory, for 15 minutes) with just a little lemon rind, seasoning and olive oil on them: a useful way of cooking a lot of fillets in one baking tray, attractive and easy to serve. It was followed by a big green salad with some local cheese – queso curado, semi-curado and cabra – and a Tarte aux Reine Claudes. The quantities here serve 6.

500g peeled and seeded pumpkin or squash (from 750g pumpkin)
1 tsp fine sea salt
2 tbsp olive oil
a big pinch of saffron
50g unsalted butter
6cm cinnamon stick
4 allspice berries (if you have them)
2 medium onions
50g shelled pistachios
½ tsp ground cardamom (if you have it)
200g paella rice (such as Bomba)
300ml vegetable stock

Preheat the oven to 210ºC Fan/230ºC/Gas 8. Put the rice to soak in tepid salted water. The original quantity of rice for this amount of pumpkin was 300g – if you want to to make a more substantial dish use the larger quantity of rice and up the amount of stock accordingly (to 450 ml).

Cut the pumpkin into 2cm cubes (original recipe suggests 1 cm dice, but I prefer the pumpkin in larger pieces), toss with the olive oil, sprinkle over half the salt and spread in a baking sheet. Roast for 25 minutes or until tender.IMG_2107

Mix the saffron with 3 tbsps boiling water, add 20g of the butter, which should melt, and put aside. Thinly slice the onions.

Heat the remaining 30g of butter in a broad pan with a good lid (a le Creuset casserole or sauté pan is ideal) with the cinnamon stick and allspice until it foams. Add the onions and the rest of the salt and cook gently for 10 minutes or so until the onions are soft and beginning to colour. Now put in the pistachios and cardamom and cook for a further 10 minutes until the onions are golden.

IMG_2108Drain the rice and add it to the pan, stirring it into the onions before adding the hot stock. By now the pumpkin should be done. Scatter it over the top of the rice, cover the pan with a sheet of greaseproof paper and the clamp on the lid. Cook for a fairly high heat for 5 minutes, then turn down to a gentle simmer for a further 5 minutes. Remove the lid and the paper and drizzle over the buttery saffron liquid. Replace the lid and leave to rest, off the heat, for a further 5-10 minutes.

IMG_2110The stock will all have been absorbed by the rice, the pumpkin tender and the whole dish looking golden – a perfect dish to celebrate the autumn harvest.

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