A chard act to follow: Skye Gyngell's hearty and healthy vegetarian favourites

These dishes will turn even a diehard carnivore on to the delights of vegetarian dining, says Skye Gyngell
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Indy Lifestyle Online

Chefs are famously quite rude about vegetarians. I suppose they see them as inconvenient; they're probably just unprepared for them. At Petersham, we generally have two vegetarian starters and always one main. I grew up in a family that ate meat rarely and even now at home we eat it no more than twice a week.

Personally, I love vegetables: their colour, seasonality and complexity of flavour. You do not wait in anticipation for meat and fish to come into season in the same way you do for veg. Here are three dishes that can be eaten either on their own or as an accompaniment to something else.

Skye Gyngell is head chef at Petersham Nurseries, Church Lane, Richmond, Surrey, tel: 020 8605 3627, www.petershamnurseries.com

Ravioli with mascarpone, and sage butter

Serves 4

For the ravioli

3 large eggs
A pinch of salt
300g/10oz flour
1kg/2lb mascarpone
4 large eggs
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
A little nutmeg, freshly grated
3tbsp Parmesan, finely grated

For the sage butter

100g/31/2oz of unsalted butter
10 sage leaves
Parmesan cheese, to serve

Whisk three eggs in a bowl with the salt. Place the flour into a second bowl and make a well in the centre. Pour in the eggs and stir into the flour, then fold with your hands until the mixture forms a dough.

Flour a work surface and knead the dough, pushing it away and pulling it back. Do this for 10-15 minutes, until the dough is elastic. Leave to rest for 30 minutes.

Now roll the dough to 2.5mm thick, then cut into 25cm by 10cm strips. Cover with a damp tea-towel and set aside.

Place the mascarpone in another bowl and add three eggs. Season, add the nutmeg and mix. Whisk the remaining egg in a bowl for brushing the pasta dough.

Cut the pasta dough into squares. Lay a square on to the surface and place a spoon of the mascarpone in the centre. Brush around the edges with the whisked egg, then seal another square of pasta on top. Place on a floured tray, repeat and put in the fridge.

When ready to eat, put the butter into a pan with the sage. Heat until the butter has melted and set aside. Now boil a pan of salted water, add the ravioli and cook for around two minutes until al dente. Serve with a spoonful of sage butter on top and finish with a little Parmesan.

Patatas bravas

This is a dish that completely works on its own, but also nicely complements chorizo, rabbit or lamb.

Serves 4-6

1kg/2lb waxy potatoes, peeled and cubed
60ml/21/2fl oz Spanish extra-virgin olive oil
1 yellow onion, peeled and cut into eight
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely chopped
>2 strands of saffron
1 tsp sweet paprika
1 dried red chilli, crumbled
1 handful of flat-leaf parsley
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
A dozen little black olives

Start by placing the potatoes in a pan of salted cold water. Place over a medium heat and cook until the potatoes are just tender. Drain and set aside.

Place a large heavy-based frying pan over a medium heat. When the pan is hot, add half of the olive oil, followed by the onions and a pinch of salt and sweat for five minutes. Add the garlic, saffron, paprika and chilli and continue to cook over a low heat for a further 10 minutes. Add the rest of the olive oil and the potatoes and cook, turning every now and then until the potatoes are tender and golden-brown. Add the parsley and olives, check for seasoning, adding a little more if necessary, and serve. Finish with a sprinkling of black pepper.

Baked ricotta with roast pumpkin and chard

Serves 6

500g/1lb of ricotta
3 eggs
50g/2oz Parmesan, freshly grated
The zest of one unwaxed lemon
1 small bunch of lemon thyme, leaves only
20ml/3/4fl oz olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 baking tin (log-shaped, roughly 8in by 3in)
A handful of small black olives

For the roast pumpkin

1 small pumpkin
1 small bunch of thyme
1 dried chilli, crumbled
2tbsp olive oil
Sea salt and black pepper

For the Swiss chard

1 bunch of Swiss chard
2tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper

Heat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas4. Slice the pumpkin in half, scoop out the seeds and slice into eight. Place in a bowl and mix with the thyme, chilli, olive oil and a little salt and pepper. Place in a roasting tray and roast in the oven for half an hour or until soft. Remove from the oven and cover with foil. Set in a warm place.

Place the ricotta in a bowl, add the eggs and stir well. Add the Parmesan, zest and thyme and stir. Add the oil and seasoning, and stir and pour into the tin. Tap to ensure that the mixture is even and bake for 25 minutes or until the ricotta has set.

Now boil a pan of salted water. Wash the chard, separate the leaves from the stalks and plunge the stalks into the water for two minutes. Add the leaves, cook for two minutes, drain and dress with the oil while warm. Season to taste. To serve, toss the pumpkin with the chard, place a slice of ricotta on each plate and lay the veg alongside and scatter the olives over. Serve hot or at room temperature.

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