This time of year in England can be hard to love. It’s one of the biggest things I miss about living in the States, where autumn (fall) is treated like a three-month-long festival.
An American fall means trick-or-treating as competitive sport, scouring farmers’ markets for apple cider donuts as an essential weekend pastime; sporting a plaid flannel jacket to go leaf-peeping or apple-picking. And it certainly isn’t fall until every single thing you eat and drink has been pumpkined.
In comparison, autumn here is more damp squib than long-awaited event, and pumpkin feels both under- and over-exposed. It might be ubiquitous in spiced latte form (where, most of the time, actual pumpkin flesh isn’t present), but it still strikes me as an under-utilised ingredient, especially in savoury contexts. I love pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving Day as much as the next American, but I also love pumpkin in pasta, stews and curries for its velvet richness, its melting creaminess, its nutty sweetness.
This year, I found yet another savoury use for pumpkin: in a hearty tagine, starring alongside merguez sausage and chickpeas. This particular tagine, scented with floral ras el hanout and flavoured with rose harissa, is rich and fragrant, spicy and hearty. Alongside couscous studded with pine nuts, it’s the kind of dish to warm you up from the inside out.
Pinot Noir is for me, the quintessential autumnal wine, often described as having a “forest floor” character of mushrooms and damp leaves. While this gorgeous Pinot-led blend – Bergkloster Super Lecka – brings more bright and tart notes to the fore, thanks to the addition of Regent and Sankt Laurent grapes, it still beautifully reflects the dish’s floral notes, as well as its aromatic spices. The next time you’re tempted to bemoan pumpkin spice, then, forget about the lattes, and carve out the time to make a tagine instead.
Merguez Sausage and Pumpkin Tagine with Couscous
For the tagine:
1 1kg delica pumpkin or butternut squash
2 tablespoons olive oil
500g merguez sausages
2 large onions, diced
Fine sea salt, to taste
4-5 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 preserved lemon
2 tablespoons ras el hanout
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon cumin
½ teaspoon chilli powder
3 tablespoons tomato purée
3 tablespoons rose harissa
2 400g tins chopped tomatoes
1 litre chicken stock
1 400g tin chickpeas, drained and rinsed
Juice of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon rosewater (optional)
Large handful parsley, roughly chopped
For the couscous:
100g pine nuts
1.5 litres chicken stock
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon ras el hanout
500g couscous (I used wholewheat couscous)
1. First, prepare the delica pumpkin or butternut squash. Slice off the stem, then cut the squash in half; scoop out the pulp and seeds and discard. (If you’re using a delica, you do not need to peel it, though peeling is recommended for a butternut squash.) Slice the squash halves into wedges and then cut down into 1-inch pieces. Set aside.
2. Before cooking the sausages, gently puncture them two or three times with a paring knife, so they don’t burst as they cook. In a Dutch oven or other large, lidded pot, add the olive oil and place over medium heat. Once hot, add half the sausages. Cook for approximately 7 minutes, turning regularly, or until evenly browned. Transfer to a plate and repeat with the remaining batch of sausages.
3. Lower the heat to medium-low and add the onions; there should be enough oil and sausage drippings left in the pot, but add more oil if it looks a little dry. Season with salt to taste and cook, stirring frequently, for 5-7 minutes, or until the onions are softened and translucent.
4. Add the garlic and cook for 3-4 minutes, or until it has lost its raw smell. Next, remove and discard the flesh and any seeds from the preserved lemon and very finely dice the peel. Add to the pot and cook for 1-2 minutes more.
5. Next, add the ras el hanout, turmeric, cumin and chilli powder. Cook for 1 minute, or until very fragrant. Add the tomato purée and rose harissa, and cook for 2-3 minutes more, or until they’re well incorporated and have darkened in colour.
6. Add both tins of chopped tomatoes to the pot, as well as the chicken stock, mixing through to combine. Add the reserved pumpkin as well as the chickpeas. Slice the sausages into roughly 2-inch pieces and add to the pot. There should be enough liquid to cover the pumpkin pieces; add more stock if needed.
7. Raise the heat to high and bring to a boil; once boiling, turn down to a simmer. Cook for approximately 45 minutes, stirring every now and then so it doesn’t stick on the bottom, or until the tagine has reduced and thickened, and the pumpkins are softened and just starting to break down.
8. Shortly before the tagine is done cooking, prepare the couscous. Add the pine nuts to a smaller, lidded saucepan and place over medium-low heat. Toast, tossing frequently, for approximately 5 minutes, or until evenly golden brown. Next, add the chicken stock, olive oil and ras el hanout to the pan and raise heat to high; once boiling, turn down to a simmer.
9. Add the couscous and mix to combine before covering the pan with a lid. Check every few minutes, stirring so the couscous doesn’t stick to the bottom, or until most of the water has been absorbed. Turn the heat off and cover the pan; leave the couscous to steam for 10 minutes. When ready to serve, remove the lid from the pan and fluff the couscous with a fork. (Note that your couscous preparation instructions, including the quantity of liquid, may differ depending on the brand you purchase; defer to the packaging instructions for correct proportions.)
10. When the tagine has finished cooking, turn off the heat and add the lemon juice and rosewater, if using. Mix through and taste; adjust the seasoning if needed.
11. To serve, add a hearty scoop of couscous to each plate or bowl. Top with the tagine and garnish with the parsley.
Claire M Bullen is a professional food and travel writer, a beer hound and all-around lover of tasty things. You can follow her at @clairembullen. For more recipes like this, sign up to our Natural Wine Killers wine subscription - you'll receive Claire's recipe and food pairings plus expert tasting notes for three amazing wines like this one every month.