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Kürbiskernaufstrich (Pumpkin Oil Spead)

Now that is a tongue twister! But more than that, it is something very simple and very delicious from Austria.

We all know Vienna is famous for its cakes and pastries served in the grand cafés, but the region of Steiermark (Styria), in the south of Austria, is known for producing excellent white wines, wonderful fruit and…pumpkin oil. If you’re there during the summer months, you’ll see fields and fields of pumpkins. I got to know this stuff when I was staying with my friend Sigrid in her village near Graz, and she introduced a group of us to Kürbiskernöl (pumpkin oil). It is made form the pumpkin seeds, and has a rich, deep green colour with an intensely nutty aroma and flavour. It’s different to nut oils, having more of a velvety texture.

We were in Syria for a holiday, and spent a lot of time visiting local vineyards to try their wines, and lots of places had a little terrace that served eighth-glasses of their wines as well as a little selection of local specialties. One-eighth glasses might seem small, but they’re perfect if you want to try lots of different types of wine.

Obviously pumpkin oil featured in many of these dishes – drizzled on salads, as a dressing on vegetables, in as a sauce for a local bean dish, and in Kürbiskernaufstrich – pumpkin seed spread. Siggi assured us this was the traditional way to eat the stuff, but that they did things differently in Vienna.

This is probably one of the easiest things that I’ve posted for a while – I’ve tweaked this recipe according to what you can buy easily, but just take a little cream cheese, a spoonful of sour cream, pumpkin oil, salt and pepper to taste and little garlic. Mix together until smooth, and you get a thick spread with a fresh, bright green colour and delicious flavour. You can omit the garlic of you want to taste the “pure” oil, but I find the garlic gives it a welcome little kick. It’s great eaten simply on bread or toast, with a sprinkling of pumpkin seeds and, if you’re really keen, an extra drizzle of the oil.

Once we left the rural idyll of Styria and arrived back in Vienna, as promised, pumpkin oil was indeed to be found in all the fancy shops, and at a very handsome mark-up. We were rather happy to have about a litre of the stuff direct from the farm of one of Siggi’s neighbours. In one terribly chic café, they were suggesting vanilla ice cream with a drizzle of pumpkin oil on top. I had loved it on bread and salads, but I wasn’t too sure. I chickened out and went for a piece of Sachertorte instead, but I later told Siggi about this. Ah, that’s Vienna. They are different there.

I do love pumpkin oil, and if you see it, I urge you to buy it. It’s quite different from other oils, and very versatile. It makes a simple green salad into something delicious, adds colour and depth to dressings and dips, and can even be used in risotto. Sadly, I’ve been without any of the stuff for quite a while, so was delighted that I found a new source at Austrian café Kipferl, a mere hop, skip and a jump from where I live. I think I’ll be nipping in there a little more often now.

Finally, one thing did bother me during my trip to Siggi’s place. What happened to all those pumpkins? Is Austria also famous for pumpkin pie? I remembered seeing a pumpkin strudel and I asked Siggi. She just shrugged her shoulders. Why would we eat them? I guess you could, but we really only grow them for the pumpkin seeds. So now I know!

To make Kürbiskernaufstrich:

• 250g cream cheese
• 1 tablespoon sour cream
• 3 tablespoons pumpkin oil
• 1 handful pumpkin seeds, lightly toasted in the oven
• 1 very small clove garlic, minced
• salt and pepper, to taste

Put the cheese, sour cream, pumpkin oil and garlic into a bowl. Mix well – it will turn thick, smooth and the colour of avocado. Add salt and pepper to taste.

To serve, either chop the pumpkin seeds and mix into the spread, or put it into a bowl and sprinkle them whole on top.

Worht making? This is a delicious spread to have with lunch, or as a dip with vegetables. Definitely worth having a go at if you can get hold of pumpkin oil.

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Filed under Recipe, Savoury