Nigel Slater’s pumpkin and butter beans and roast quince recipes (2024)

There has been a dish of quinces on the table for a few days now, all dimples and luscious curves as if they are sitting for Lucian Freud. Their scent, with its notes of honey and rose, tempts, yet they remain the most impenetrable of fruit. I admire them and leave them for another day.

Two days later and the fruits’ moment has come. I usually peel them, rubbing each cheek with the cut face of a lemon to stop them browning, but today I lower them into a light syrup of lemon and honey. There is a cinnamon stick in there, too, a cluster of cloves that smells of Elizabethan garden pinks, and a couple of anise stars. I could have sweetened the syrup with sugar or maple syrup, but I have a jar of honey to use.

The quinces are simmered in their spiced liquor then roasted, their flesh basted now and again until they turn a deep ruby, the colour of cough medicine or grenadine. As they roast, each fruit softens almost to the point of collapse, its cut edges sticky with the roasted syrup.

Our main course is another impenetrable favourite, a fat onion squash, small and heavy, that will hopefully be relieved to find its fate is to be dinner rather than a doorstop. It, too, has sat there for a while, wondering when it would get this cook’s attention. I could have put it in the oven with butter and rosemary, but chose instead to cook it without the addition of dairy, introducing instead some cold-weather proofing in the form of fat, floury butter beans and enough hot stock to ladle into bowls.

I will admit that it is the easily accessible ingredients that tend to get used first in this kitchen. Those without shells or tough skins or a tangle of roots. (I’m sure I’m not the only one who needs to be in the right mood to tackle a box of mud-encrusted salsify.)

Looking round the kitchen there are a few other things biding their time: a basket of chestnuts in their shells; a plate of medlars; a Crown Prince pumpkin the size of a footstool; and a pair of coconuts whose snow-white flesh may sadly never see the light of day.

Pumpkin, butter beans and thyme

Any gold-fleshed squash is suitable for cooking in stock. It is a good idea to brown the pieces first, so the caramelised notes lend a sweet depth to the broth. I use butter beans for their beefy texture, but haricot beans or cannellini are suitable here, too. Some bread, crisp crusted and open textured, would be appropriate for soaking up the thyme and onion-scented liquor. Serves 3-4

small pumpkin or onion squash 1 kg
groundnut or vegetable oil 50ml
onions 2, medium
thyme 8 sprigs
vegetable stock 750ml
butter beans 1 x 400g can

Slice the pumpkin or squash in half and scoop out the seeds and fibres. Cut each half into thick segments, as if you were slicing a melon. Warm the oil in a baking dish over a moderate heat, place the segments cut side down and fry until the underside is golden brown, a matter of 5 minutes, then turn and cook the other side.

While the pumpkin browns, peel and halve the onions then slice each half into six pieces. Lift the pumpkin from the dish and set aside. Put the onion into the hot oil and cook for 10 minutes or so, stirring regularly, until it is soft and pale gold. Add the thyme sprigs, a little salt and some ground black pepper. Set the oven at 200C/gas mark 6.

Return the pumpkin to the dish, then pour in the vegetable stock and bring to the boil. Lower the heat, cover with a lid, and leave to simmer for 20 minutes. Drain the beans then add them to the stock. Replace the lid and transfer to the oven, leaving it to bake for 45 minutes.

For the final 10 minutes of cooking, remove the lid. Serve in shallow bowls, ladling the thyme-scented stock over the slices of pumpkin and spoonfuls of beans.

Roast quince with honey

Nigel Slater’s pumpkin and butter beans and roast quince recipes (1)

The flesh of the quince discolours quickly once peeled, so if you are not using them immediately, toss the peeled fruit in lemon juice. Lemon will not only prevent them from browning but is good for bringing out their flavour, too. I usually include a lemon and its juice when baking or stewing the fruit. When you poach a quince in syrup, especially if you leave it to simmer over a low heat for a long time, the fruit will often turn deep gold-rose in colour. Serves 3

honey 4 tbsp
lemon 1
star anise 2
cloves 4
cinnamon ½ stick
quince 3
crème fraîche to serve

Put the honey in a deep pan into which the quinces comfortably fit, then pour in 800ml of water. Cut the lemon in half, squeeze the juice into the pan then put the lemon shells into the water and honey together with the star anise, cloves and cinnamon stick. Bring to the boil.

Peel the quinces then cut them in half. Lower the fruit into the syrup and let it simmer gently, the liquid bubbling slowly, for about 40-45 minutes until tender. The quince are ready when they are a translucent golden pink and the flesh is easily pierced with a metal skewer. Remove from the heat. Set the oven at 200C/gas mark 6.

Carefully transfer the quince to a baking dish using a large spoon, then pour over the syrup and tuck the spices in among the fruit. Bake for 35 minutes or until the surface of the fruit has just started to caramelise. Serve warm with crème fraîche, cold from the fridge.


Nigel Slater’s pumpkin and butter beans and roast quince recipes (2024)
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