Cleve West has four allotments in a delightful corner of Bushy Park in South West London.Â He has been a keen allotmenteer for over a decade during which time he has grown pretty much every type of vegetable while still leaving time to build four sheds and win a bucketful of Royal Horticultural Society Gold medals. He has won Best in Show at the Chelsea Flower Show for the past two years.
Squashes and Pumpkins are undervalued vegetables. The only reason why many people buy pumpkins is to turn them into carved Halloween lanterns. This is all very well but usually the insides are chucked in the bin rather than being used for soups, stews or (as I have shown in the film) risottos.
The whole process starts, as do all things, with a seed:
Pumpkins and squash are very fast growing and thus very hungry so need heaps of compost or manure. Before planting dig a big hole at least a spade deep and two spades wide. Mix in lots of manure and a bit of general fertiliser (bonemeal would do well.)
Either sow a couple of seeds in the place where you want them to grow in May or June (remember that squashes take up quite a lot of space) then cover with cloches for about two weeks after germination.
Or sow in pots inside in April – seeds germinate best if planted on their sides. Weird but true.
Put in a marker
Often it is difficult to find the actual planting hole which gets covered by the big leaves. The trick is to stick a bamboo cane in so youâ€™ll know where to direct the water.
Water, Water, Water (and feed)
The soil should never dry out. And remember to feed the beggars every couple of weeks with high potash liquid feed.
Big or small?
Cut back side shoots if you want big pumpkins. Leave them intact if you want lots of smaller ones (which are easier to cook without too many leftovers).
If you want to grow pumpkins the size of bubble cars then that is an entirely different matter.
And that is about it….
These are my top six:
Butternut – a no nonsense squash that delivers more ‘meat’ Â than seed and is delicious with it. Â Love the way they resemble our allotment snowmen when stacked on the table
Blue Hubbard – Again great flesh on this squash. Very attractive blue skin and good taste.
Uchiki Kuri – One of our favourites for leaving the skin on when cooking as the colour is both stunning and tender.
Queensland Blue- Another blue. Very handsome, reliable and one of the best for storing. This can still be feeding you in February if you store it right. Originally bred in Australia.
Marina di Chioggia – a good long-keeper with a tough, knobbly skin that gives it great character. Good flesh and tasty too.
Rouge Vif dâ€™Etampes – the one upon which the Disney version of Cinderellaâ€™s coach was modelled. Bright orange and capable of reaching about 18kg. Feeds a multitude.
This is our version of Nadine Abensurâ€™s pumpkin and parsleyÂ risotto from The Cranks Bible.
- 1 medium to large butternut squash
- 1 bunch of oregano chopped
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1/2 litre vegetable stock
- 50g butter
- 1 red onion finely chopped
- 6 cloves garlic whole
- 2 cloves garlic finely chopped
- 1 glass of wine
- 150g arborio rice
- 50g Parmesan cheese finely grated
Pre-heat oven to 200ÂşC/400ÂşF/gas mark 6
Cut the squash into quarters and remove the seeds. Chop into 5cm chunks and put in a roasting pan with whole cloves of garlic. (You can peel the squash if youâ€™re in the mood, but I donâ€™t bother.)
Season with pepper, salt and oregano then drizzle withÂ olive oil.
Roast for 30 mins or until the flesh is soft, squeeze out the garlic and leave to cool.
Bring the stock to the boil and simmer.
Melt 25 g of the butter in a large frying pan over a medium heat and fry the onion and chopped garlic until soft. Add the rice and fry and stir for a couple of minutes until the grains are coated then slowly add ladles of stock (one or two at a time) while continuously stirring.
The rice shouldnâ€™t be so dry as to stick to the pan; neitherÂ should it be swimming in liquid. Keep adding theÂ stock until the rice has absorbed nearly all the liquidÂ and then add the chunks of cooked squash and garlic.
Finally add the wine, remaining butter and ParmesanÂ and stir briefly. Serve garnished with parsley.