Monday, 27 October 2008

Pumpkin couscous with prune and onion confit

Pumpkin and squashes are among the very best things about autumn. I have to admit to going a little crazy whenever I see new varieties, but I think we can all guess why this little creature just had to fall in my shopping trolley in Sainsbury's last week.

I generally roast squashes or put them in soup (sometimes both) but I wanted to try something new, as gourds are the theme of Cook, Sister's Waiter there's something in my.... this month. I thought of a frittata, I remembered a cornbread, but in the end plumped for this pumpkin and prune couscous dish from The Crank's Bible. I borrowed this book from the library last week and have been relishing its recipes ever since. I think it was the photo of little moons of pumpkin that won me over, plus I was attracted by the prune confit. I was also intrigued as to whether I could get it past the generally averse to dried fruit in savoury dishes although not *always* Scientist. I ran it past him in advance - something I don't normally do as making decisions about what he's going to eat more than about an hour in advance of eating it is not really his thing, but he said he was prepared to give it a go.

Apologies for the naff photo - I'm still getting used to photographing in the dark evenings!

The squash was baked so we're not going too far from my normal comfort zone here. I just love the smoky sweetness it gets from baking. Mmmmmn. I did change the confit a little though as it contained slow-cooked caramelised shallots, which make me nervous. This is because I once had a completely sleepless night of heart-burn after eating a piece of caramelised onion tart, which ended with a visit from paramedics because as soon as you say 'chest pain' to NHS Direct - even in the context of 'my girlfriend has heart-burn and was sort of wondering if there's anything she can take to make it go away and get some sleep, they send out the crash carts. I was very traumatised by the whole embarrassing event, and have never risked slow-cooked onions since, just in case. The heart burn just went away on its own, too. So I just lightly fried the shallots and then added the prunes and liquid to them. They probably didn't take on the same depth of flavour but it was still very nice, and provided the desired for fruit sweetness to accompany the soft baked squash and the lovely nubbly texture of couscous. Another time I will leave more liquid in the confit as I would have liked a little more sauciness from it, but I enjoyed every mouthful, and so, I am happy to report, did The Scientist. The no dried fruit thing apparently only applies to places where dried fruit should not be - which still leaves me a little confused but happy that it worked out this time.

Moroccan pumpkin couscous with a prune and onion confit (adapted from The Cranks Bible)
Serves 6

For the confit
500g small round shallots, peeled
900g pumpkin from an orange-fleshed pumpkin, like Crown Prince or butternut squash
2 tbsp light olive oil of sunflower oil, plus extra for basting
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
A dash of Tabasco
A dash of soy sauce or tamari
1 tsp soft brown sugar
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
4 garlic cloves
400g soft prunes, stones left in [I used pitted ones]

For the couscous
500g couscous
Boiling water, to cover
A pinch of saffron
Bouillon powder
1 tbsp finely chopped parsley to garnish

Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas 6
Remove the seeds from the squash and cut into crescents about 1 inch thick. Spray with olive oil, together with a little salt, pepper, Tabasco, soy sauce, sugar and cinnamon. Roast in the oven for 25-30 mins or until brown and caramelised.

Heat oil in a pan and fry the sliced shallots until they are brown and golden. Season with a little salt and pepper and add the whole garlic cloves, then add the prunes and enough water to just cover. Simmer on quite a fierce heat until it is all absorbed, adding water a little at a time, until the shallots are golden and the prunes are soft and starting to dissolve (about 20-25 mins).

Reconstitute the couscous in a volume of boiling water roughly equivalent to its weight and seasoned with the saffron first as well as a good pinch of bouillon. When the water is absorbed, fluff up with a fork [optional: stir in a knob of butter]

Serve the couscous onto a platter or individual plate, top with the pumpkin, and top with the confit. Scatter a little parsley on top and serve.


Ricki said...

This sounds just smashing (as in "smashing pumpkins"?? No pun intended!). ;) I've never been a huge fan of pumpkin on its own, but with all these amazing recipes around this month, I see I'm going to have to give it another try.

Johanna said...

cute pumpkin name! I have seen this dish and wanted to make it but never managed - I do like caramelised onions but you have a good excuse for avoiding them - and prunes just seem so right in morroccan cooking

Anonymous said...

Mmmmm sounds delicious


Jeanne said...

A Munchkin pumpkin!! You're so famous, they're even naming vegetables after you now :)

Your caramelised onion "heart attack" sounds hilarious, if embarrassing - I can understand why you're wary of them now...

Love the dish - it sounds perfect for long Autumn nights, full of warming spices. Thanks so much for participating in WTSIM!

Amanda said...

Wow--it sounds, and looks, incredible! I love sweet-and-savory, and just love the idea of the confit on top.