These tiny golden seeds were once an important food crop in Russia, where millet was never displaced by maize, as happened in other parts of the world. Even today, millet porridge is considered one of the healthiest foods for children, and it’s a mainstay of Russian kindergarten lunches. Millet deserves a place in our kitchens, too. It pairs beautifully with pumpkin, which enhances its sweetness. Just be sure to use baking pumpkins, not jack-o’-lanterns, whose flesh is watery and flavorless. I especially like millet with kabocha squash, otherwise known as Japanese pumpkin. This recipe uses about half of an average-size pumpkin or squash. You can grate the rest for Pumpkin Pancakes. This millet porridge radiates gold, and when drizzled with sunflower oil, it actually shimmers, making it especially appealing on a gray winter’s day. Serve it with salad for a casual supper or as an accompaniment to roasted meat or stew.
Place the millet in a medium saucepan and toast over medium heat until the seeds turn golden brown and give off a nutty smell, about 4 minutes. They will start to sizzle and dance like popcorn. Stir in the water, salt, and butter. Cover the pan and simmer over low heat until the millet has absorbed all the water, about 20 minutes.
While the millet is cooking, place the pumpkin cubes in another medium saucepan and add the milk. Bring to a boil and cook over low heat, uncovered, until the cubes are soft, stirring occasionally, about 15 minutes. The milk will look curdled and a little skin will have formed. (This step can be done up to an hour ahead of time.)
When the millet is done and the pumpkin is soft, pour the pumpkin mixture into the millet and stir gently, being careful not to break up the pumpkin. Turn out into a serving bowl. Drizzle the porridge with oil and grind pepper liberally over the top. Serve hot.