In a mellow mood: Skye Gyngell cooks with pumpkin and beetroot

Autumn's vegetable harvest has a gentle flavour, highlighted by the earthy sweetness of pumpkin and beetroot, says Skye Gyngell

Saturday 22 October 2011 22:57

I love the early autumn, when the abundant harvest of mellower fruits and vegetables begins to appear. Strong, punchy flavours have all but disappeared, leaving produce that is gentler and more elegant – much of which, such as pumpkin and beetroot, tastes earthy and subtly sweet.

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

Roasted squash, beetroot, mozzarella and basil oil

Surprisingly, the clean, clear flavour of mozzarella works as well with the sweet, mellow flavours of autumn as the strong vibrant flavours of summer such as ripe tomatoes. Gentler olive oils are called for.

Serves 4

8 small beetroots
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
5 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 onion squash (if you can't get hold of this, Crown Prince or butternut squash is fine)
1 dried red chilli
1 small bunch of marjoram
4 balls of buffalo mozzarella
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar

For the basil oil

1 large bunch of basil
60ml/2fl oz extra-virgin olive oil
A good pinch of sea salt

Heat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas4. Wash and pat dry the beetroots, place in a roasting tray, season and drizzle with olive oil. Toss to coat the beetroots. Cover with foil and place in the oven. Roast for 45 minutes or until the beetroot is tender when pierced with a fork. Remove, allow to cool slightly, then slice in half lengthways. Drizzle with a little more olive oil and a little balsamic vinegar. Set aside.

Slice the onion squash in half lengthwise, scrape out the seeds and cut each half into quarters. Lay in a baking tray. Crumble over the chilli and marjoram, add some salt and olive oil and roast for 30 minutes, until tender. Remove to cool.

For the basil oil, remove the stalks from the basil and place the leaves with the oil and salt in a blender. Blitz until you have a lovely, sludgy, verdant purée.

To assemble, arrange the pumpkin and beetroot on a plate and lay the roughly torn-open balls of mozzarella on top. Spoon over the basil oil and drizzle over the balsamic. Serve immediately.

Slow-cooked shoulder of lamb with pumpkin and sprouting broccoli

When I was a child we often ate lamb accompanied by roasted pumpkin. It is a lovely combination, both warm and sweet. The lamb is slow cooked here until it's almost falling apart – it is the nicest way I know to eat it.

Serves 4-6

1 shoulder of British lamb
6 cloves garlic
1 small bunch marjoram
8 anchovies
3 tbsp good-quality red-wine vinegar (such as Volpaia)
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 ripe pumpkin
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 dried red chilli
1tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
500g/1lb sprouting broccoli
1 litre/13/4 pints water

Heat the oven to 160C/325F/Gas3. Lay the lamb shoulder on a baking tray. Place the garlic, marjoram and anchovies in a pestle and pound with a mortar until you have a rough paste. Add the vinegar and stir to combine.

Rub the wet paste into the lamb, massaging with your fingers. Season with a little salt and plenty of black pepper. Cover with foil and place in the oven to cook for three to four hours, basting occasionally. Uncover for the last half hour.

Next, peel and chop the pumpkin into wedges and place in a bowl. Season with salt, crumble over the chilli and pour over the olive oil. Toss until the pumpkin is coated. Place on a baking tray and roast in the oven for the last 45 minutes of the lamb's cooking time.

Trim the broccoli of any damaged outer leaves (you want to keep as many as possible, though, as they are delicious) and trim the woody ends. Pour the water into a pan and let it come to a rolling boil, drop in the broccoli and cook for two to three minutes. Drain and season.

To serve, the lamb will literally come away with a spoon – it will also have produced a delicious, vinegary, slightly hot, salty sauce. Serve all together, as I have done, or in separate dishes if you prefer.

While in Sri Lanka earlier in the year I ate this warm (rather than hot) curry. I often cook it now alongside grilled fish, but it tastes balanced and perfect without any other accompaniment.

Pumpkin and white-bean curry

Serves 4

1 fresh coconut (or 1 tin coconut milk)
1 onion squash (again, Crown Prince or butternut squash is fine)
1 tbsp ghee or clarified butter
1 tsp black mustard seeds
1 inch thumb of ginger, peeled and finely chopped
1 inch fresh turmeric, peeled and grated
4-5 sweet little tomatoes
1 dried chilli
10 fresh curry leaves
150g/5oz dried white beans, soaked overnight and cooked according to packet instructions
A little sea salt

I prefer to use fresh coconut; it is a little extra work, but its flavour is far more delicate. If you do it this way, look for small, sweet, young coconuts, not the more typical older, harder ones. Remove the outside husk by holding in your hand, rotating it slowly and tapping it gently on the top with a rolling pin until the outer flesh splits and you can gently remove the flesh with your hands. Cut in half down the middle with a sharp knife, catching the water in a bowl as it escapes. Roughly chop the flesh into chunks and place in a blender with a cup or two of warm water. Blend until smooth and strain it into the bowl in which you have poured the coconut milk.

Next, peel and chop the pumpkin into one-inch wedges. Heat a tablespoon of ghee in a medium-sized pan. When hot, add the mustard seeds and let them pop for a bit. Turn the heat down slightly and add the ginger, turmeric, tomatoes and dried chilli. Add the pumpkin and stir a couple of times to coat. Sprinkle over the curry leaves and pour in the coconut milk. Keeping the heat at medium to low, place a lid on the saucepan and cook gently until the pumpkin is tender. Season with salt. Add the cooked white beans and cook gently for a further 5-10 minutes.

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