Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Italian Soirée: Pumpkin Souffle Tart

Italian food seems like the perfect choice for a dinner party as the nights are cooling down and the sun sets earlier every day.  Pasta is warming, fun to make and goes down a treat with a nice bottle of chianti so I raided my recipe collection for inspiration for last Friday's dinner with two good friends. I thought it would take about three hours to prepare the entire meal and luckily I gave myself the day as 7 hours later (7 hours and a minor panic about vacuuming) I was just finishing up as the first guest arrived.  How on earth the Masterchef contestants make pasta dishes in 1 hours 30 is beyond me.  To be fair they probably don't have access to Twitter or 6Music and don't take hourly coffee breaks just because they fancy it but in future I need a little more planning.

The menu was chosen to feel autumny and warming as the nights are drawing in, with chianti and pinot grigio ready to accompany the meal. The first course was a Sformato di Zucca (Pumpkin Mould) from the Silver Spoon - my favourite cookbook, to which I added sage which is perfect with pumpkin/squashes. The main course was a red pepper and ricotta tortollini devised entirely by me after an hour of googling failed to turn up a good recipe online. All followed by a dessert of white chocolate pannacotta and jelly adapted from a marvellous recipe in a summer issue of Delicious.  I must stress however that if anyone else plans this dessert try to remember in advance that vegetarians don't eat gelatine.  That way you look less of a moron.  The first of three blogs will look at the pumpkin dish: I'd never made it before and was slightly concerned that the tart wouldn't turn out of the tin very well, but it was perfect.  I'm a huge pumpkin fan anyway and the sage really brought out the sweet unctuousness of the squash flesh.

Pumpkin and sage souffle tart (I really cannot bring myself to use the term 'mould')
  • 25g butter
  • 1onion, sliced
  • 500g pumpkin, peeled, seeded and diced
  • 150ml water
  • 6 stems of sage
  • 1 quantity bechamel sauce
  • 50g parmesan
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 40g toasted pine nuts
  • salt and pepper

Bechamel Sauce
  • 25g butter
  • 25g plain flour
  • 500ml milk
  • pinch nutmeg
  • salt and pepper
  1. Melt butter for bechamel in a saucepan over a medium heat
  2. add sifted flour and stir until mixed with butter. NB you should have a paste consistency that appears to expand in the pan as the flour cooks through.  It is essential to cook the flour before adding the milk.
  3. Add milk incrementally whilst continuously stirring to prevent lumps.  My tip here is to use a whisk as it will help alleviate lumpiness
  4. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg and continue to stir until the sauce starts to boil
  5. Once bubbling turn the heat as low as it will go, cover the pan with a lid and leave to cook for 20 mins, stirring occasionally.
  6. The sauce should be thick in consistency and smooth
  7. Preheat oven to 160degrees
  8. Grease and line an 18cm tart tin
  9. Melt butter in saucepan on a medium heat and add onion, stirring occasionally on a low heat until softened
  10. Add pumpkin, 4 whole sage stems and 150ml water and cook, stirring and mashing until pumpkin is very soft. Be careful not to damage the sage as it can then be lifted out and discarded before adding remaining ingredients.
  11. Remove from the heat and stir in the bechamel sauce, parmesan, egg yolks and season with salt and pepper to taste.
  12. Pour into the prepared tart tin and cook in preheated oven for 1 hour.  If the top looks like it's starting to burn cover with a disc of baking parchment
  13. After the first hour, increase the oven temperature to 180degrees and cook for a further 10 mins
  14. Remove from oven and place tart tin on a cooling rack
  15. Once the tin has cooled a little (about 15-20 mins) turn out on a plate
  16. Fry 2 remaining sage stems and leaves in butter until crisp and drain on kitchen paper
  17. Garnish tart with sage leaves and a few extra pine nuts and serve.
Serve hot or cold, also perfect as the accompaniment to a spinach salad.

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