Unlikely partners, the pumpkin and the quince, despite sharing rather strange names and unlikely shapes. But they stand firmly behind my old rule of cooking: if they grow together, they go together.
The pumpkin is a marvellous vegetable to grow, if you’ve got a football ground as your backyard. Those vines spread and spread, covering all before them, occasionally pausing to set fruit, and then marching forward inexorably. The quince was once part of every front and backyard. Too many quince trees have been pulled out, no doubt to be replaced by something useful like a carport or basketball hoop. Each force moving on, sadly, with the same unstoppable purpose as the pumpkin vine.
In some cultures they feed the pumpkin to the pigs; at the mere mention of the word quince, I’ve seen people screw their faces awry, momentarily taking on the perspective of the pig. I love them both. It was a natural for me to toss them together, bound by a rich vegetable stock, to make for the most delicious of autumn soups.
Pumpkin has a high sugar content; the quince is high in acid, yet has an underlying sweetness. Each has a butter-like texture when cooked through, yet the quince holds some of its sandpaper-like texture when pureed. The colour of the pumpkin draws suppers to the pot like birds to the grapevine; the aroma of the quince is the sort they should put into bottles to pat on the whiskers after a close shave. Get the drift? Get cooking.
1 butternut pumpkin
1 large quince, peeled, seeded and cut into chunky cubes
1 clove garlic
2 onions, chopped roughly
2 sticks celery
1 chilli, chopped roughly
1 L vegetable stock
zest of 1 lime
300 mL cream
2 spring onions, chopped finely
handful of chopped parsley or chervil
1 teaspoon salt
Cook the pumpkin, whole, in the microwave until tender (10-12 minutes on HIGH). Allow to cool, peel, remove seeds and ’stringy bits’, and chop roughly.
Douse the quince in lime juice and cook it with the garlic, onion, celery and chilli (covered) in the microwave until the quince is tender – about 10 minutes on HIGH. The quince should retain its pale colour. It’s done when it takes to a knife, tenderly.
Purée the pumpkin and the quince and mix with the vegetable stock. Add the lime zest towards the end of the pureeing process.
Add the cream, spring onion and parsley, check for salt, and heat gently, stirring to mix. Do not boil. Taste and check the seasoning. Turn the pepper mill, and serve, sprinkled with extra parsley or chervil, and perhaps with a swirl of yoghurt or cream.
WINE: Again try a sherry here. Amontillado will have a bitter sweet complexity, which comes from extended wood maturation, to balance the strong flavours of pumpkin and quince.