Comfort foods to satisfy winter appetites

Nigel Slater shares his delicious pumpkin soup and butternut pie recipes. 

Earlier in the week, with a damp mist coming up over the garden, I made a golden pie with layers of butternut squash and spiced yellow split peas. The filling, with its backbone of sweet onions and garlic, was seasoned with the smoky notes of ground paprika and cooked to the texture of a ragu — similar to the filling of a traditional shepherd’s pie. No lamb here though: just vegetables and a handful of dried peas from the cupboard.

I also fried loose patties of pumpkin, held together with a paste of ground pumpkin seeds, and lowered them into a bright soup made from a pumpkin that has been haunting me for a couple of weeks. "Eat me", it seemed to whisper, every time I passed. 

Pumpkin soup, pumpkin seed rosti

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images
Dried chilli flakes, with their smoky heat, are my go-to spice for pumpkin. Both are here in this soup, along with red onions. The accompanying cakes of grated pumpkin, that I have cheekily called rosti, need only 3 or 4 minutes frying on each side, preserving the texture of the coarsely grated squash.

Serves 3

1 red onion

3 Tbsp olive oil

1kg pumpkin

1 tsp coriander seeds

½ tsp dried chilli flakes

For the rosti

50g pumpkin seeds

1 egg

200g grated pumpkin

2 Tbsp whole pumpkin seeds

oil for frying

Method

Peel and chop the red onion, then cook in the oil in a shallow pan until soft. Peel the pumpkin, roughly chop, then add to the onion and continue cooking, stirring from time to time until the pumpkin is approaching tenderness. Roughly crush the coriander seeds and stir into the pumpkin. Stir in the dried chilli flakes, then pour in a litre of water and bring to the boil. Turn the heat down so the liquid simmers gently and leave for about 40 minutes, until the pumpkin is soft enough to crush with a spoon.

Process the soup in a blender until thick and creamy. Set aside.

For the rosti

Grate the pumpkin coarsely, as you would for a celeriac remoulade. I find this easiest using the coarsest grater attachment on the food processor. Blitz the 50g of pumpkin seeds in a food processor (or use a pestle and mortar) until you have a rough, crunchy paste. Add the paste to the grated pumpkin together with the whole pumpkin seeds and the lightly beaten egg. Season with salt.

Squash the mixture together to form nine small patties. Warm some oil in a non-stick frying pan, then add the patties, a few at a time, without crowding the pan. As each one browns lightly on the underside — about 3 minutes — turn the patties with a palette knife and brown the other side. Remove and drain briefly on kitchen paper, then serve with the soup.

Butternut and split pea pie

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images
To introduce a mixture of textures to this sweet and satisfying vegetable pie, I cooked some of the squash separately in small cubes in a frying pan, then folded them into the soft filling. It is crucial to brown the cubes thoroughly first, then cover with a lid and continuing to cook until truly tender. You should be able to squash them between finger and thumb.

Serves 6

250g yellow split peas

1kg butternut

2 onions

6 Tbsp olive oil

3 cloves garlic

2 bay leaves

10 cardamom pods

1 tsp sweet smoked paprika

½ tsp hot smoked paprika

1kg potatoes

50g butter

150ml cream

Method

Soak the split peas in cold water for 2 hours. Peel the butternut and slice in half from stem to end. Cut one half into small pieces, the other into larger 2cm cubes.

Peel the onions, roughly chop them, then soften in three tablespoons of the oil in a deep casserole (you will use it for the pie) over a moderate heat. Peel the garlic, finely slice it, then stir into the softening onions. When the onion is translucent, soft and golden, add the split peas together with 800ml of water and bring to the boil. Add the bay leaves and simmer for 30-40 minutes until the peas are quite soft.

In a separate pan, brown the large cubes of butternut in the remaining oil, add the crushed black seeds of the cardamom, then lower the heat, add the paprika, cover with a lid and leave to cook for a good 20 minutes until soft. Set aside.

Peel the potatoes, then cut into large pieces and cook for 25 minutes or so in boiling, salted water until tender. Drain the potatoes, then mash them with the butter. Pour in the cream and beat with a wooden spoon.

Heat the oven to 180degC.

Add the small cubes of squash to the peas, season with pepper and salt and continue cooking, partially covered with a lid, for 25 minutes until everything is tender. Watch carefully and if the liquid evaporates add a little more. If there is too much liquid, turn up the heat to reduce it. You want to end up with a consistency similarly to that of a risotto.

Stir the cubes of spiced butternut into the filling, check the seasoning, then pile the potato on top, leaving the surface rough and peaked. Dot with a little butter and bake for about 45 minutes until the surface is golden.

 — Guardian News and Media
 

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