I never used to “get” pumpkin pie. But then, I didn’t used to “get” pumpkins either. Like most British cooks, I regarded the pumpkin as a watery, stringy gourd that was useful for the carving of Jack-o’-Lanterns and little more. I have since changed my views.Things started to change when squashes hove into view. I expect there is a difference between a pumpkin and a squash, but I am afraid I do not know what it is. There are watery, dull pumpkins and dry boring squashes. There are gorgeous, richly fleshed pumpkins such as the Ironbark and sensational squashes such as the Blue Hubbard and the little onion squashes that the late Rose Gray introduced me to. It was about this time that I began to wake up and smell the pumpkin.
The pie took a little longer. Pumpkin pie used to be rather tart watery pulp that was then over-sweetened and positively murdered with spices so that it tasted like a rather unpleasant children’s toothpaste. Recently, an organic pumpkin- and squash-growing farmer friend brought me in a pumpkin pie that another, nameless chef had baked. It was deep, dark and beautifully rich in flavour. The spicing was subtle. If your pumpkin pie screams “CINNAMON!” or “CLOVES!”, I can tell you that you are on the wrong track.
Clearly, the sourcing of a good pumpkin or, er, squash was essential. My friend Gregg, the aforesaid farmer, drops off his wares at various markets around London. However, there is another tip that Gregg gave me: having found your pumpkin, do not peel it. The skin harbours that earthy flavour that will lift your Thanksgiving pie out of the common run.
A pumpkin pie has the same ambivalence as a proper mince pie or a pastilla, being both savoury and sweet. Those with a sweet tooth have been known to add a little maple syrup to the mix. Happy Thanksgiving.
Rowley Leigh is the chef at Le Café Anglais, London
The amount of sugar in the mix depends on both taste and the sweetness of the pumpkin: adjust accordingly, with sugar or a little maple syrup.
250g unsalted butter
The finely grated zest of two lemons
1 whole egg + 1 egg yolk
500g plain flour
1 pumpkin weighing 2.5kg
2 tbs sunflower oil
1 cinnamon stick
300ml double cream
100g soft brown sugar
3 egg yolks
2 whole eggs
Dice the butter and beat with the sugar in a food mixer until light and creamy in texture. Add the lemon zest and then beat in the egg and egg yolk to form a homogenous paste. Add the sieved flour and gently knead together. Collect on a sheet of greaseproof paper and form into a ball. Then wrap in film and refrigerate for half an hour.
Cut the pumpkin in half and remove the seeds and the stalk before cutting into segments. Place the segments on an oiled baking tray and brush with the remaining oil. Grate the nutmeg over the pumpkin and then sprinkle with the cloves and place the cinnamon stick among them. Roast the spiced pumpkin for 40 minutes in a medium hot oven (180˚C) or until well roasted and perfectly tender.
Place the pumpkin – skin and all, but withholding all but a small piece of the cinnamon stick – in a blender or food processor and blend to a purée. Pass this pulp through a sieve and then add the sugar, cream and eggs and whisk until smooth.
Remove the pastry from the fridge and roll into a circle big enough to line a 26cm-diameter tart ring. Leave a slight overhang over the rim of the ring and line the base with foil and some dried beans. Bake this tart ring “blind” for 20 minutes in the same 180˚C oven as the pumpkin until the base is dry and cooked through.
Remove the foil and beans from the tart shell and pour in the mixture, which will be thick enough to need levelling off with a spatula before placing in the oven, set lower at 150˚C. Bake until just set (test by gently shaking the tray and touching the centre of the tart) which should be after 40 minutes. Remove from oven and carefully cut off the excess overhanging pastry with a serrated knife.
Leave the tart to cool for at least half an hour before dusting with icing sugar and then serving with cream or ice cream.