Where we live in southwest France, size is of the essence: in fact, the bigger, the better. One of our local villages, Parisot, held a competition on Sunday for the biggest, heaviest and oddest shaped.
I am of course talking about pumpkins, otherwise known as potirons or citrouilles in France (what is the difference: does anyone know? The dictionary gives the same definition for both).* They have been nestling under the leaves in the potagers for months, quietly growing into monstrous, misshapen globes.
* I now have the answer, kindly provided by my cousin’s husband, Paul, who did some digging around (not literally). Paul writes, “It seems the only real difference is that the potiron is bigger, but curiously, citrouille is the word used as an insult for a fat person.” I must remember that (the insult, I mean).
Their most common use seems to be for making Hallowe’en lanterns, but they are now at their best for eating (see recipes below).
To mark Hallowe’en, Parisot held a Concours de Citrouilles in the Salle des Fêtes. There were three competitions:
- Biggest, heaviest and/or most original pumpkin;
- Best pumpkin lantern; and
- Most original children’s Hallowe’en fancy dress.
Like at flower shows in England, competition is intense and suspicions of cheating rife. Wasn’t he seen at Villefranche market eyeing up the pumpkins? Hasn’t she been injecting hers with beer and is that allowed? Competitors suspiciously poke and prod their rivals’ potirons. But in the end everyone bows to the judges’ decision.
No French event worth its salt takes place without a meal to celebrate it. Triumphant winners and disappointed losers alike sat down to soupe au potiron (what else?), cassoulet and tarte aux pommes, all for 12€ a head. Rivalries were forgotten for another year as the wine flowed.
I have adapted both recipes below from Delia Smith.
Pumpkin soup (serves 6)
The flavour of the soup is greatly enhanced if you roast the pumpkin first. While this might seem a bit fiddly, it’s certainly worth it.
You don’t have to buy a whole pumpkin. At French markets, they will hack off a piece for you, or you can buy them in chunks at the supermarket.
1.2 kg pumpkin
1 large onion, finely chopped
800 ml chicken stock
400 ml semi-skimmed milk
Olive oil for roasting
Salt and black pepper to taste
Sprig of fresh thyme, finely chopped
Pre-heat oven to 220ºC. Cut the pumpkin into fairly large chunks, removing any seeds and leaving the skin on. Brush with oil and roast in a shallow roasting tin for 40 minutes till tender and slightly charred. Remove from oven and leave to cool. Fry onion gently in remaining oil in a large saucepan until soft. Add stock and milk to onions and bring slowly to simmering point. Remove skin from pumpkin and add flesh to saucepan. Add thyme, salt and pepper. Simmer gently for 20 minutes, then allow to cool slightly and liquidise.
I like to serve this with some crumbled crispy-fried bacon scattered on top.
Roasted vegetables (serves 6)
These vegetables are delicious with game or robust casseroles. I have also successfully served them with a goat’s cheese and red onion tart for a vegetarian friend. You can use any combination, or all, of the vegetables below.
1 kg pumpkin
2 red onions
2 sweet potatoes
1 large swede
1 medium sized celeriac
2 large carrots
2 large cloves garlic, crushed
Fresh thyme and rosemary, finely chopped
Salt and black pepper
4 tablespoons olive oil
You can prepare the vegetables several hours in advance, but you need to pre-heat the oven to 220ºC before cooking. Peel and cut the vegetables into 4 cm chunks and cut the onions into eighths (they will shrink when cooking). Mix them in a large bowl with the olive oil, salt and pepper, crushed garlic and chopped herbs. Don’t use more than a sprig of rosemary or its flavour will dominate. Cover the bowl and set aside until ready to cook. Put the vegetables into a large roasting tin (or two if you have space in the oven). Cook for about 40-45 minutes, turning occasionally, until tender and charred round the edges.
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