Gingered kale, walnut and pumpkin gratin with lemon-cumin sauce and aubergine-chilli rolls

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There is a sense of loss when summer fades away, not just for the sunshine but for its freshly picked, life-enhancing produce; but these two vegetables, kale and pumpkin, and a few others (leeks definitely, roots maybe) almost turn autumn and winter into something to look forward to. This dish has so many of my favourite vegetables and flavours in it I almost fall over with excitement making it for the first time each year. I love the way the combination of gingered kale, mashed pumpkin and lemon cream strays deep into comfort food territory, the texture of walnuts reins it in and the explosive chllll-heat of the aubergine rolls wakes your tastebuds, screaming. I was as surprised as anyone when this dish evolved into this Incarnation. I was originally trying to do something clever with mashed potatoes and cabbage or kale. Deconstructed colcannon or some such nonsense. You will need very good pumpkins, deep orange in colour, sweet and with dry, dense flesh. We have an abundant supply, from the heroic Organic Joe in West Cork, of a Japanese variety called Hokaido which usually weighs in at a very manageable size of one to two kilos. Then there are the grey-skinned Crowns from Hollyhill Farm, bigger but even denser and more Intensely flavoured. I know you only ever see jokey monstrous pumpkins in the shops for a few days each year, but the real things are out there too. If you can’t find them in specialist shops, grow your own, they are extraordinary plants. We use the long-leafed Italian black kale, which also comes from Hollyhill, though the more common curly kale is excellent too, a little lighter in flavour. At Paradiso, we cook Individual gratins in steel collars 11cm in diameter by 5cm high. They look stunning, surrounded on the plate by the lemon cream and the aubergine rolls. I have no doubt that this presentation contributes to the reaction the dish gets and the pleasure it gives. That puts the gratin firmly in the category of ‘restaurant food’ as distinct from home cooking, I suppose, and maybe it will put you off. However, Individual is the only way I see them so I’m putting down the recipe that way. If you don’t have any steel collars to hand, or you think that kind of thing too fiddly and poncy, put the layers in an oven dish, cook the gratin a little longer and serve it up in portions as neatly scooped out as you can manage. Leaving the cooked gratin to sit for five or ten minutes before slicing it will help.

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Ingredients

  • 1 kg pumpkin flesh
  • 25 g butter
  • 100 mls cream
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ¼ tsp nutmeg
  • large pinch of cayenne pepper
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 tblspn chopped fresh coriander
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 1 tblspn grated ginger
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • ½ tsp chopped dried chillies
  • 4 tomatoes, chopped
  • 50 mls red wine
  • splash of shoyu
  • 1 tsp tomato puree
  • 240 g kale
  • 24 walnut halves, lightly toasted

Lemon-Cumin Cream, for Four

  • 300 mls light stock
  • 1 small onion, quartered
  • 2 whole cloves of garlic
  • rind of 1 lemon
  • 1 tblspn lemon juice
  • 200 mls single cream
  • 2 tsps cumin seeds, toasted and ground
  • ½ tsp salt

12 Aubergine-Chilli Rolls

  • 2 aubergines
  • a little olive oil
  • 80 g ground almonds
  • 60 g sambal oelek

Method

YOU WILL NEED a pumpkin, or pumpkins, of at least 1.5 kg to get 1 kg of flesh. Peel the pumpkin, chop it in half and scoop out the seeds. Chop the pumpkin flesh into chunks and boil or steam it until just done, then drain it well. It is important that the cooked pumpkin is as dry as possible so, if you boiled it, put the cooked and drained pumpkin back in the pan over a low heat for a few minutes to evaporate any clinging water. Mash the pumpkin thoroughly or blend it in a food processor (I think this gives a better result). Melt the butter in a pan, add in the cream, salt, cayenne pepper and nutmeg. When this is warm, add the mashed pumpkin and stir it over a medium heat for about five minutes. This should give you a fluffier, richer mash but also a drier one, which is important if it is to sit on top of the gratin. Leave it to cool before adding the egg yolk and coriander.

Heat some cooking oil in a pan and cook the onion with the ginger, garlic and chilli for a few minutes until the onion is soft. Then add in the tomatoes, wine and shoyu. Use the tomato puree only if the tomatoes are not ripe and, well, tomato-flavoured. Bring this up to the boil and simmer it until the tomatoes have broken down to a rich, thick sauce. If you use tinned tomatoes leave out the juice. Cook the kale in boiling water until just done, drain it, chop it into bite-size pieces and add it to the tomato sauce.

Lightly oil the insides of the rings and place them on baking parchment on oven trays. Put a layer of the gingered kale into each one, slice the walnuts and scatter them over the kale, then put a layer of pumpkin mash on top. Bake for about 20 minutes at about 400°F (Gas Mark 6), until the pumpkin starts to brown. Lift a gratin to a (very close) plate with a slice, run the back of a knife between the gratin and the steel ring and lift the ring off. Pour some lemon-cumin cream around each one, then garnish with the aubergine rolls - three each is perfect but chilli fiends will gobble any spares.

HEAT THE STOCK in a pan with the onion and garlic cloves and simmer it for ten minutes or so, until it has reduced to 100 mls. Discard the vegetables and add in the lemon, cream, cumin and salt. Bring the sauce back to the boil and keep it at a lively simmer for a few minutes until it has the consistency of a slightly thickened pouring cream. You should still have about 200mls of sauce.

TRIM THE SIDES of the aubergines by taking a thin lengthways slice off opposite sides. Now cut fairly thin slices, lengthways again, about 5mm thick - you should get six slices from an average aubergine. Brush both sides of each slice with olive oil and roast them on oven trays until cooked through and very lightly coloured. Stir enough ground almonds into the sambal to make a thick spread. It is not possible to be completely accurate about these measurements - what you need is a spread with a consistency something like soft peanut butter. Use a butter knife to spread a thin layer on each cooked aubergine slice, then roll up the slices. The aubergine rolls need only to be warmed through, so put them in the oven for the last five minutes of the gratins’ cooking time, or put them in for the few minutes that you are allowing the gratins to cool before serving.