When I was a kid (which is obviously a million years ago) squash was either a game yuppies played or a acidic orange liquid you diluted with water and gave to small children to make them hyperactive. No one in the UK or Ireland had seen a butternut squash or a pumpkin in the flesh to eat. The closest we got to them was a Hollywood movie featuring Halloween lanterns.
In fact the concept of eating either was so modern and middle class in those days I’m sure the first recipe I saw for a squash was in the Independent on Sunday which was so foodie it made an Ottolenghi column look like adding chilli powder to beans on toast. Those days are so dim and distant, the vegetarian dish du jour was ratatouille rather than butternut squash risotto because even roasting such a thing marked you out as the fancy type.
Both the butternut and the pumpkin are so ubitiquous now, it feels like there’s nothing new to discover about them these days. I only bought a proper carving pumpkin this year because I’ve been stuck in the house and the nice Mr Sainsbury’s has been bringing me my groceries to save carrying something so heavy. I had no intention of eating it until I saw these recipes for pumpkin by Rachel Roddy in the Guardian.
I had never thought to put mint with pumpkin before and I was immediately mentally fodmapping the zucca alla scapece dish by the time I’d even finished the article and filing the combination away for future reference. So when I found myself on Friday night with a pile of pumpkin pieces, some leftover lamb mince and a few tomatoes, I had inspiration to tweak it into a quick autumnal stew.
Lamb and Pumpkin Stew with Mint (serves 2)
- 250g pumpkin or butternut squash, cubed
- 1 heaped dessertspoon duck fat
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
- 1 heaped teaspoon dried mint
- 300g lamb mince
- 150g cherry tomatoes
- salt and pepper
Since 2016 has been so unrelentingly aggressive I wanted a soothing pumpkin this year and carved mine polka dot style using a apple corer to give a cheery exterior. This left me with a collection of pumpkin bullets that I simply cut the skin off, but if you can just cube yours into 3cm pieces instead.
Steam them in the microwave for 90 seconds and then tip in the hot melted duck fat in a saucepan. I prefer the caramelisation that solid animal fat gives here rather than vegetable oil but use what you have or like best. Fry the pumpkin until golden round the edges and then add the sugar and vinegar.
Cook for about a minute and then tip the pumpkin and all the juices out into a bowl and add the dried mint. Allow to sit and marinate while you you return the pan to the heat and fry the lamb mince until it starts to break up nicely.
I’ve recently discovered that my beloved vermouth for cooking isn’t fodmap friendly (like all fortified wines it turns out which makes me want to cry. Garlic I can give you. Vermouth I can’t. No one ever made a decent cocktail with bloody garlic after all) so I used a splash or two of water since I’m between chicken stock batches.
Add the halved cherry tomatoes and cook them until collapsing into the meat. Season it all well and when it cooked tip the pumpkin back in and combine all the flavours. If you are also fructose malabsorbing do not skip the sugar here as it counters the fructose in the tomatoes and makes them safer to digest without discomfort.
Serve with some crusty bread to mop up the juices (or rice) and scattered with a bit of fresh mint if you are the modern day version of fancy. It’s the perfect 15 minute stew that’s tasty and warming enough for autumn but with a little hint of freshness that isn’t too wintery just yet.
FYI: I used battery powered tealights in my pumpkin so didn’t need to carve a chimney in the lid.