Healthy, light and zingy, just right for jaded New Year palates.
After all that festive fare and the heady excesses of Hogmanay, Stephen David, Chef-Patron of The Crown At Woodbridge delves for culinary solace in the spice rack and fridge dew bin, to start his vegetarian detoxing with colourful pumpkin and squash.
In truth, it might be a slight exaggeration to say I am either detoxing or going veggie but certainly after all that over-the-top food and wine as well as the odd wee fireside dram or two, I for one do feel the need to take it easy on the waistline in January. It is no coincidence that we eat so much ethnic food in late winter, it is after all on the chilly side and those warming spices do give the ‘Ready Brek’-style inner glow (do you remember the advert?); Asian dishes and those from other exotic cuisines have more vegetable content and are less meat-centred, giving a lightness and balance as well as obvious health benefits I must admit. So all-in-all, going ethnic is the way forward for me, giving my constitution a slimming break, well only until the first tempting signs of simnel cake and hot cross buns make their traditional Easter appearance on the horizon.
January and the latter winter months can also be bleak if you want to take things easy in the menu department, everything is a little stodgy, heavy and brown; however delicious the game, root vegetables, orchard fruits may be, you only have to think about hearty stews, crumbles, toad-in-the-hole, shepherds’ pie, not exactly diet food!
But there is one gem, or should I say, a myriad of gems in the farmers’ coldstore right up until the plentiful spring growing season takes off and they are pumpkins and squashes, the jewels in the winter vegetable bounty. Firstly they are just so colourful, their hues of orange flesh add such zing to a plate; their texture is beautiful, especially velvety when pureed; when roasted, they achieve a naturally-sweet caramelised perfection and they are just a perfect backdrop or partner with all manner of other flavours in different cuisines and recipes. Though pumpkin pie might be the exception to their gastronomic superlative - I have been playing with this transatlantic dessert staple to see if I can hike up the flavour content and reduce the sugary creamy heaviness, it seems much more appealing with lots of spices, maple syrup for interesting sweetness and pecans for bite so I may not consign it to permanent exile the other side of the pond just yet.
Smaller pumpkins and all sizes of squash are tasty and interchangeable. But the huge Halloween-style Jack o’Lanterns monstrosities are best left for decorating the front lawn or windowsill in October and then only good for feeding the compost heap, they can be rather dry and stringy.
Here’s a couple of simple tasty recipes to liven up your New Year and to start getting you back in trim. If you really are committed carnivores or fish eaters, you can scatter some simply-cooked chicken or shellfish into the soup and perhaps some spice-roasted lamb or game to complement the tagine.
SPICY COCONUT PUMPKIN SOUP
(serves 4 - 6)
You can temper the chilli heat by adding less chillies or milder ones, alternatively up the coconut/stock balance. The desired texture for me is like single cream but if you are serving it cup-a-soup style in mugs for lunch (or espresso-sized demi-tasses for a posh dinner party), then thin it out a little more. You can finish it as we have for the restaurant with some simple sunflower or pumpkin seeds, dry-roasted in a hot frying pan, along with a drizzle of cream, or alternatively, make the fragrant crunchy condiment suggested in the recipe.
SOUP BASE INGREDIENTS
Good chicken or vegetable stock (approx. 750 – 1250ml depending)
1 medium pumpkin (or large butternut squash)
Local rapeseed oil
Good thumb of root ginger, peeled and chopped
3 cloves raw garlic or flesh of a slow-roasted garlic bulb
5 trimmed spring onions, sliced (discard dark green parts)
1 or more red chillies, sliced up (deseed if preferred)
Stalks from 1 bunch coriander leaf, roughly chopped
Can of light coconut milk
Sea salt and black peppermill
Warm up the stock in a saucepan and leave on a simmer. Peel and deseed pumpkin (or squash). Cut into inch chunks and set aside. To a hot deep saucepan, add a few tablespoons of oil and fry off the ginger, raw garlic (if using slow-roasted, add in with pumpkin later), the spring onions, chilli and coriander stalks for a few minutes over a medium heat, stirring occasionally. Add in the pumpkin (or squash) and a little more oil if looking dry, continue to fry for another 5 – 10 minutes, reducing the heat if it starts to catch. Add enough hot stock to come up to the level of the pumpkin and simmer covered, until tender. With a handblender or liquidiser, very carefully purée the contents until smooth. Add in the coconut milk and enough extra stock to achieve the texture you desire. Simmer again and adjust seasoning.
TO SERVE INGREDIENTS
2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely sliced
1 red chilli, finely sliced
1 small thumb root ginger, peeled and in fine matchsticks
3 spring onions, dark green removed, cut into thin circles
Leaves from 1 bunch of coriander, roughly shredded
Handful of roasted unsalted peanuts, roughly pulsed in processor
Whilst the soup is simmering, make the condiment by stir-frying the first four ingredients in a little hot oil until just starting to brown. Take off heat and fold in coriander leaves and peanuts. Serve the hot soup at table with the condiment on the side.
WARMING MOROCCAN SQUASH TAGINE
This eats well with traditional steamed cous cous, I like to add lemon zest, thyme leaves and butter to mine before serving. If you want it to be a more substantial meal or instead of the cous cous, a warm salad of root vegetables such as parsnip, beetroot, celeriac and carrot, works well – cut them into thin wedges and coat in rapeseed oil and crushed cumin seeds, before baking in a hot oven until just tender. Dress with thinly-sliced raw red onion, coriander leaves and a vinaigrette, flavoured with orange zest and local honey, whilst still hot from the oven, delicious! Alternatively just some really simple warm pitta bread works well as a lunchtime accompaniment
Preserved lemons, ras-el-hanout and harissa paste can be found in good delis or better supermarkets.
Local rapeseed oil
1 large onion or 2 medium red onions, peeled and diced
1 bulb garlic, slow-roasted
2 tsp ras-el-hanout
1 rounded tsp rose harissa paste
1 thumb of root ginger, peeled and grated
Leaves from 6 – 8 stalks of fresh thyme or 1 tsp dried
1 large butternut squash, peeled and in cm chunks
2 tins chopped tomatoes
Skins of 3 preserved lemons, diced or 2 tsp lemon zest
2 tsp honey
Hot vegetable stock, home-made preferably
1 tin chickpeas, rinsed
1 jar roasted red peppers, shredded
12 squidgy dried apricots, roughly shredded
Handful good dried fruit such as raisins and cranberries
2 tbsp flat-leaf parsley leaves and 1 tbsp mint leaves, both roughly shredded
To serve – light Greek yoghurt and pomegranate seeds
Take a deep sauté pan (with lid) and over a medium heat and in a few tablespoons of oil, fry onion covered until just softened and tinged on edges (reduce heat if catching too much). Turn up heat to medium-hot, uncover add in garlic, ras-el-hanout, harissa, ginger and thyme and cook for a few more minutes (with more oil if needed). Fold in the squash, tomatoes, lemon, honey and sufficient stock to come almost to the top, cover, bring to boil and cook on gentle simmer for 20 minutes. Add in chickpeas, peppers, apricots and dried fruit and simmer for 10 more minutes. Finally fold in the peppers and bring back to a simmer for 5 more minutes. Fold in parsley and mint. Serve warm rather than hot, with yoghurt and pomegranate seeds as garnish.
First Week | Food Week with The Crown At Woodbridge
From 1 - 7 January – it’s Pumpkin and Squash Week!
For the first week of every month at The Crown At Woodbridge, we celebrate a particular East Anglian ingredient and theme our specials menu around it, showcasing the seasonal joy of this fertile region’s bounteous produce and supporting our hard-working food producers and farmers. Come and join us for a celebration of great local pumpkin and squash with lots of tasty starters and main courses at The Crown At Woodbridge.