pumpkin & cheddar frittata

It's sunshine in cake form.
It’s sunshine in cake form.

Frittatas are gloriously summery. Sweet and eggy, deliciously filling and incredibly versatile, frittatas are this lovely golden yellow that always makes me think that they’ve found a way to catch Italian sunshine and smuggle it back for the rest of us. Somehow, despite being basically a collection of eggs and odds and ends, they’re unfailingly cheerful. I challenge you to stare at a frittata and not feel uplifted by its simple goodness.

It’s pretty difficult to stray too far off the path with a frittata, even if you’re not following a recipe. They’re the kind of thing you vaguely know how to make almost instinctively, and they’re fairly forgiving, so they’re the ultimate in stress-free cookery. What’s not to love?

I love making frittatas with sweeter vegetables like pumpkin and zucchini to bring out the natural sweetness of eggs. You can serve frittatas hot or cold and they’re great accompanied by a fresh salad, beans or some quinoa.

Serve with salad and quinoa.
Serve with salad and quinoa.

Pumpkin and cheddar frittata
1 x medium butternut squash
200g cheddar cheese, half grated, half cubed
9 eggs
Small bunch of chives
Salt and pepper

Cut the butternut squash into small chunks and roast in a 200C oven for around 20 minutes, or until soft.

Take it out and remove the skin – I find it easier and faster to do after it’s been cooked, but you do lose a little more pumpkin flesh.

Chop into cubes and place into a cake tin (one that doesn’t leak is helpful!) with the cubes of cheddar.

In a bowl, beat the eggs until light and fluffy, then snip the chives in and add a good strong pinch of salt and white pepper. Stir in the grated cheese and pour the lot into the cake tin.

Bake in a 200C oven for 40 minutes.

party parcels

It's the party season, and we mean to do it well.
It’s the party season, and we mean to do it well.

‘Tis the season to be jolly, which means one thing: indulgence.

I love the way London does Christmas. It’s cool and crisp outside, cosy and warm inside, and people wander around town wrapped in scarves and beanies, noses pink from the cold and eyes sparkling with the twinkling lights of Oxford Circus and Regent Street.

The Grinchiest Grinch couldn’t fail to be caught up in the magic of this festive time of year.

The sadness at being away from those I love at home and abroad is somewhat tempered by the whirlwind of parties and irresponsible merriment. At any other time, drinking every day would basically render you a functioning alcoholic, but December is the exception: parties are simply the order of the month.

These party parcels are quick and easy to make and impressive to look at. Warm, filling and delightful, they’re perfect for a relaxed gathering – just add mulled wine, good friends and plenty of laughter.

Trio of Party Parcels: ‘Plant, Parma and Pumpkin
Eggplant parcel:
1 square of puff pastry, roughly 12.5-15cm in length
1 slice eggplant, about 7.5mm thick
Half a teaspoon of harissa paste
1 slice mozzarella cheese, about 5mm thick

If it isn’t already done, cut the puff pastry into a square. I used reduced fat ready-rolled puff pastry, but go with what you like.

Cut a square of pastry.
Cut a square of pastry.

Place the eggplant in the centre and top with the harissa paste.

Eggplant and harissa is an amazing combination.
Eggplant and harissa is an amazing combination.

Add the mozzarella.

Eggplant, harissa and mozzarella. It just works.
Eggplant, harissa and mozzarella. It just works.

To form the parcel, take two corners of the parcel and pinch together.

Wrapping the parcel.
Wrapping the parcel.

Crimp hard along the seam, folding over slightly to get a better seal.

Pinch along the seam.
Pinch along the seam.

Fold the other corners up in the same way, crimping as you go.

One party parcel.
One party parcel.

Truthfully, mine sort of popped open in the oven, so if you don’t want this to happen you can prick the pastry with a fork.

Parma parcel:
1 square of puff pastry, roughly 12.5-15cm in length
1 slice Parma ham
1 slice mozzarella cheese, about 5mm thick
1 slice pear, about 5mm thick
4 yellow pickled jalapeño slices

Take the square of pastry, and lay the Parma ham so the bulk sits in the middle and hangs off the side of the pastry square.

Isn't Parma ham delicious?
Isn’t Parma ham delicious?

Place the pear and jalapeños on top, followed by the mozzarella.

Parma, pear, pickles and cheese.
Parma, pear, pickles and cheese.

Wrap the other end of the Parma ham back over the top so it forms a neat package in the middle of your pastry.

Fold as per the eggplant parcel.

Parma party parcel
Parma party parcel

Pumpkin parcel:
1 square of puff pastry, roughly 12.5-15cm in length
1 slice pumpkin, about 5mm thick (I used butternut squash because that’s what I had lying around)
1 tablespoon chilli jam
1 square cheddar cheese (you can use mozzarella again here, but I think cheddar is nicer for the flavour)

Microwave your pumpkin slice for around 30 seconds and allow to cool.

Take the square of pastry, and lay the pumpkin in the middle and top with chilli jam.

Pumpkin and chilli jam.
Pumpkin and chilli jam.

Add the cheese and fold as per the eggplant parcel.

To cook, take a foil-lined tray and brush with a little oil. Place the parcels on top and brush with a beaten egg.

Brush with a beaten egg for a golden coating.
Brush with a beaten egg for a golden coating.

Bake at 180 degrees for 15 minutes, until the cheese turns molten and the pastry is golden.

party parcels - fresh from the oven
Serve hot and fresh.

They explode into a shower of buttery pastry crumbs when you bite into them, so hand out the plates first. Merry Christmas, everyone!

pumpkin soup

Hello, my pretties

More soup?

I grew up with Asian soups, which are mostly broth-style concoctions with various things floating in them – from the standard pork and prawn dumplings or chicken to the weird and wonderful unnameable items that are considered to be the ultimate panacea for everything from stomach aches to back pain.

There is pretty much only one Western-style soup my mother makes, and that is pumpkin soup. It’s a hearty, filling winter wonder that I think is fitting for my American buddies who’ll be tucking into all sorts of Thanksgiving goodies very soon.

In my wholly unbiased and humble opinion it is the finest pumpkin soup you will ever taste, anywhere, and it ridiculously healthy because unlike most pumpkin soups it has no cream and no sugar, instead relying on the smooth texture and natural sweetness of the pumpkin. Go forth and try it! Wrap yourself in the warm blanket of virtue and congratulate yourself on how healthy you’re being.

Pumpkin soup
For the vegetable stock:
2 carrots
Two-thirds of a leek
Half an onion
2 sticks of celery
4 bay leaves
6 black peppercorns

For the pumpkin soup:
Half a kilo butternut pumpkin
Half a kilo paquito pumpkin
One-third of a leek, sliced
Half an onion, chopped
2 carrots, chopped

Make the vegetable stock by placing all the stock ingredients in a pot, covering with cold water and bringing to a boil, then turning to a simmer for 20 minutes. Heston advises that you should slice the vegetables as thinly as possible to provide as much surface area as you can, but if you can’t be bothered it will turn out just fine.

Meanwhile, prepare the pumpkin. The butternut pumpkin in my photo is just over a kilo, and the paquito pumpkin is just under a kilo, and I used half of each. You could simply use one whole pumpkin, but I like the different tastes each pumpkin gives – the butternut has a nutty, robust undertone, and the paquito pumpkin is just a little sweeter and negates the need for you to add sugar.

There is nothing for it but to chop the pumpkins into small pieces, removing the skin as you go. This is a fairly painful process but sadly I see no way around it. Wear your pumpkin blisters with pride.

Pumpkin blisters. I hope you can avoid these, but if not, wear them with pride.

In a pan over a medium heat, place the onions and leek and cook until they start to soften but don’t brown them.

Add the pumpkin pieces and cook for 7-8 minutes.

A glorious orange frenzy

Meanwhile, drain the vegetable stock, reserving the liquid. Put the liquid back into the pot and add the chopped carrots, and when the pumpkin and onion is ready, add it to the pot. Cook for 20minutes or until the pumpkin is very soft.

Remove from heat and ladle out a bowlful of the liquid, keeping to one side. You want to hang onto this just in case the soup is thicker than you would like.

A stick blender would be ideal at this point, but I don’t have one, so I just used a hand masher instead – hence the rather pureed look of my soup. It still tasted wonderful. Proof positive that some recipes are extremely forgiving!

Bowlful of goodness