Hidden jewels: Skye Gyngell's pomegranate recipes will brighten even the darkest days

Crack open the tough shell of a pomegranate and inside is a sweet yet sharp ruby-red treasure that's well worth excavating

Although autumn and winter can seem a barren time for fruit, what little nature gives us is often extraordinarily beautiful. Pomegranates are deeply coloured ruby-red jewels that somehow warm even the darkest of days.

Not too sweet and slightly sharp, they grow under the wide-blue skies of the Middle East, and can be used in both sweet and savoury dishes – working well with salty counterparts such as feta. Use them in desserts or in subtle sweet-and-sour sauces for grilled meat.

The only part of the pomegranate that is palatable is its seeds. To get to them, gently tap the outside of the fruit with a rolling pin, cut in half and prise the seeds out using your fingers.

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

Salad of Parma ham, walnuts, pomegranate and ricotta

This is very much an autumn salad – walnuts and pomegranates are perfect right now. Simple in its execution and not too heavy, it is a lovely way to begin a meal.

Serves 4

A handful of mixed autumn leaves
1 tbsp olive oil
A few drops of lemon juice
Sea salt and black pepper
16 young wet walnuts
1 pomegranate, seeds only
8 slices of Parma ham
200g/7oz ricotta cheese
2 tbsp walnut oil

Dress the salad leaves with the oil and lemon, then season with a little salt and pepper and set aside while you shell the walnuts and take the seeds from the pomegranates.

Arrange the ham on the dressed salad leaves on a plate, then simply layer up alternatively the ham, small chunks of ricotta, walnuts and pomegranate seeds. Finish with a drizzle of walnut oil and serve.

Grilled leg of lamb with pomegranate and roasted spices

The salty, sweet taste of the lamb works well with the sharp, clean pomegranate. Ask your butcher to bone the leg for you and slice into 200g/7oz pieces, following the lamb's natural muscle groups.

Serves 4

1/2 tsp toasted fennel seeds
1/2 tsp toasted coriander seeds
1/3 tsp toasted cumin seeds
1 tbsp olive oil
1 red onion, finely chopped
1/2 tbsp red-wine vinegar
1/3 fresh red chilli, deseeded, finely chopped
1 pomegranate, seeds only
1 small bunch of mint leaves, finely chopped
800g/28oz prepared lamb
1 tbsp olive oil
Sea salt and black pepper

Grind the spices with a pestle and mortar until broken up. Place a small frying pan over a medium heat with the oil and, when warm, add the spices and onion. Turn down the heat slightly and sauté the onions for 15 minutes; they should be soft and translucent. Add a pinch of salt, the chilli and vinegar and turn the heat up slightly to burn off the vinegar a little. Add the pomegranate seeds (see introduction) and cook for a minute or so more, add the mint, stir once or twice then remove from the heat. Taste and adjust the salt if necessary.

Rub each piece of lamb with oil, then season generously with salt and pepper. Heat your grill pan and lay the lamb on top, well spaced apart. Cook without turning for six minutes then turn and cook on the other side for five minutes more. This will give you lamb that is pink inside. Remove from the heat and lay to rest for 10 minutes in a warm place. Slice each piece of lamb in half, place on warm plates and spoon over the pomegranate sauce.

Steamed pudding with prunes and pomegranate

Serves 4

For the sponge

100g/31/2oz unsalted butter, plus a little extra to grease the pudding moulds
100g/31/2oz caster sugar
2 eggs
100g/31/2oz self-raising flour
The zest of 2 lemons, finely grated
2 knobs of stem ginger, finely chopped
A little pinch of salt
3 tbsp Pedro Ximénez sherry or marsala wine
12 plump, soft prunes
2 tbsp caster sugar
1 pomegranate, seeds only

Pour the sherry into a small saucepan and gently warm through. Remove the stones from the prunes and chop roughly. Sprinkle over the sugar and pour over the warm alcohol. Set aside to macerate. Heat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas4 and butter four pudding basins. Cream the butter and sugar until pale and smooth. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well. Sift the flour and fold in gently. Finally, add the lemon zest, ginger and salt. Remove the pomegranate seeds from its skin, stir into the prunes and spoon the mixture into each pudding mould, dividing evenly between them. Now pour the sponge mixture on top. Cover each pudding basin loosely with a little buttered foil and stand each pudding on a baking tray. Bake for 30 minutes until well risen and cooked through. To test, insert a skewer through the centre; it should come out clean. Run a small knife around each pudding and turn out on to a warm plate. Serve with thick cream.

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