Pumpkin, almond and spring cabbage dolma in a feta custard, with coriander pesto

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Strictly speaking, spring cabbage and pumpkin wouldn’t see much of each other in the course of a year, the last of well-stored pumpkins just about meeting the first of the spring cabbages. But the thin, dark, supple leaves of spring cabbage are the best wrappers for this dish, so I’m giving you this version. I’ve used savoy (a bit too chunky), spinach and chard (fine, a bit delicate and hard to get enough leaves big enough) and even kale (emergencies only). I wasn’t too convinced about the feta custard the first time I used it, but now I really like the fact that the feta is outside the dolma and falling off them, making it a peripheral, background flavour, something feta rarely is, leaving the pumpkin to shine through. I would serve a couscous and vegetable pilaff with this, or simply buttered couscous and some chilli-spiced chickpeas or green beans.

Ingredients

  • 500 g pumpkin flesh
  • 1 onion
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 dstspn cumin seeds
  • 1 small chilli
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • ¼ tsp nutmeg
  • ¼ tsp cinnamon
  • fresh coriander
  • 80 g whole almonds, lightly roasted
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 12 leaves of spring cabbage
  • 120 g feta cheese
  • 1 egg
  • 320 mls plain yoghurt
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • pinch of cayenne pepper

Method

TO GET 500 g OF PUMPKIN FLESH, you will need to peel and deseed a pumpkin of 11.5 kg. Chop the flesh coarsely, steam it until just cooked, and mash it roughly - don’t use a food processor or blender. Finely chop the onion, garlic and chilli, and cook them in a little oil with the cumin seeds until the onions are soft. Stir this into the pumpkin and add the salt and the other herbs and spices. Coarsely chop the almonds, by hand or carefully in a food processor, and add these in too. Add the egg yolk when the mixture has cooled. Just before you fill the leaves, check the consistency of the filling - if it seems too wet and soft stir in some ground almonds, breadcrumbs or raw couscous, and wait another ten minutes.

Trim the cabbage leaves, shaving any thick stalks down to the thickness of the leaf, then drop the leaves into boiling water for about five minutes. Rinse in cold water and drain off the water.

To make the custard, simply blend the cheese, egg, yoghurt, garlic and cayenne in a food processor.

Place about a tablespoon of pumpkin mash at the base of each cabbage leaf, roll the leaf up half a turn, tuck in the sides, and continue to roll the leaf all the way up. Keep a little pressure on as you roll, to get a fairly tight parcel, and trim the top of the leaf to finish with a neat edge at the end. Arrange the parcels close together in an oiled oven dish, the neat edges on the bottom, and pour the custard over the top - it should seep down a little but sit on top too, to prevent the dolma burning. Bake in a moderate oven, 300-350°F (Gas Mark 2-4), for 30-40 minutes, until the custard is lightly browned and softly set, not dried up.

Serve three dolma per person, with some of the custard clinging to them, and the coriander-chilli pesto drizzled over.