Excuse me, Madam, but there’s a pumpkin in my soup.

Kumara.  Feijoa.  Silverbeet.  Courgette.  Capsicum.  Pumpkin.

Moving to New Zealand meant learning a new food vocabulary.  Some of the vegetables were the same, but I encountered many that I’d never heard of. Worse, there were some that simply went by different names. It took an embarrassingly long period of time for me to figure out that coriander was cilantro and the courgettes are zucchinis.

 

Red kumara

But there are entirely new things that I’ve encountered as well.  Kumara, for instance, is sort of like a sweet potato, but not.  It’s far more fibrous and starchy than a sweet potato and it has a very distinctive “kumara” taste.  The same for feijoas, an incredibly aromatic fruit that defies description.  Honestly, I just can’t explain what a feijoa tastes like, except to say that it tastes like a feijoa.

 

Feljoa

The most interesting vegetable I’ve worked with though, is the simple, unassuming pumpkin.  At home, the only time I ever ate pumpkin was in a pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving.  Even then, the pumpkin came in a little convenient can, ready for the nutmeg and brown sugar.  Generally speaking, though, pumpkin is not used for dessert in New Zealand.  When I made pumpkin trifle as the dessert for my Thanksgiving dinner last year, the conversation with T went something like this:

T:  “What is that?”

Me: “Pumpkin trifle, for the dessert.”

T (Looking slightly green): “Uh, dessert?  Pumpkin?  Won’t that taste …”

Me: “Taste, like what?”

T:  “Uh, gross? It’s pumpkin.  It would be like having broccoli trifle. Oh, God, I think I’m going to be sick.”

(He loved the trifle in the end, by the way.  He said something like, “Sweetened pumpkin.  Who knew?”)

Poor T.  He is constantly subjected to my “experimenting.”  He’d like to forget the beetroot crisps of November 2010, and he’s not seeking a return of the chicken and prunes (my unfortunate foray into Turkish cuisine) anytime soon, either.

But once I got my head around the idea of pumpkin as both a savory vegetable (though it’s still inherently sweet) and as a main dish, my experimenting turned the corner.  The best result has been my pumpkin pesto pasta.  My good friend LA really likes pumpkin as well, so I figured I’d share this recipe with her and anyone else who might like to try pumpkin in something other than a delicious pie.

Jenn’s Pumpkin Pesto Pasta (serves 2)

 Ingredients:

One medium onion, coarsely chopped

5 cloves of garlic, coarsely chopped

3 cups diced crown (whangaparoa) pumpkin (acorn or butternut squash will also work if you can’t find a “sugar” pumpkin in the States)

1 tablespoon of olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

your choice of pasta (I used shells)

4-6 tablespoons of commercially prepared pesto sauce

Feta cheese to taste, reserving a small amount for garnish

Torn basil leaves for garnish

A word about pumpkin.  For my friends at home, the crown pumpkin looks like this:

 

crown pumpkin

It has a nice grey/green skin and is about the size of a two large cantaloupes. Again, if you can’t find this, the summer squashes will work as well.  You may need to adjust your roasting times, however.

In terms of working with  uncooked pumpkin, I have found that the best thing you can do is to cut the skin away first and then dice.  Otherwise, I find it too hard to cut.

 

Preparation:

Preheat oven to 180 degrees (C)/375 degrees (F).

 

Toss the pumpkin, onion, and garlic in the olive oil. Spread evenly on baking paper (parchment paper) on a large baking sheet.  Sprinkle salt and pepper over the mixture.  Bake until the pumpkin is nicely roasted and the onions are turning slightly caramel in color (about 20 minutes).

 

While the pumpkin is roasting, boil water and cook your pasta.  Drain and put back into pot.

 

Once the pumpkin is out, add it to the cooked pasta.  Then add the feta cheese and pesto sauce.  Toss lightly to combine.

 

Serve immediately with the reserved feta and torn basil leaves on top.

 

It looks a little something like this:

 

Jenn's Pumpkin Pesto Pasta

It really does taste better than it looks.  I promise.  And it’s very simple.  The tang of the feta is a perfect match for the sweetness of the pumpkin and the pesto brings it all together.

Yummy as.  (As they say in Aotearoa.)