Christmas dinner can be a little tricky if you are vegetarian. Sure, you’ve got all the veg, bread sauce, Yorkshire puds and vegetarian stuffing if you like it, but unless you are splashing out on a nut roast, there isn’t a lot to make up a ‘main meal’. As a vegetarian – not just a vegetarian, but a fussy vegetarian who needs a balanced meal with all the groups for health reasons – Christmas dinner can be a pain when it comes to protein. I don’t like bread sauce, Yorkshire puds, stuffing or nut roast, so I’m basically doomed. This year, as I was catering for two vegetarians, I thought it was time to try a new recipe. I still had three pumpkins from the veg patch and I thought it was perfect for xmas dinner – I know they are traditionally linked with Thanksgiving, but in the UK we didn’t have it a month earlier so we could afford to use the pumpkin again!
I needed something quick and simple, with some protein in. I opted for cheese. As pumpkin is, well, bland, I also decided to throw some garlic in there too.
It is really basic and can be made in advance of the big day so it doesn’t take up space in the kitchen. Of course, you could make this any time of the year too 😉
Pumpkin, Cheese and Garlic Bake
-1 large pumpkin -Olive oil, for drizzling -260g cheddar cheese -20g Swiss gruye -2 garlic cloves
Preheat the oven to 180C.
Cut the pumpkin and remove the seeds. Cut the pumpkin into large slices and place on baking trays. Drizzle with olive oil and roast in the oven for about 45 minutes, or until golden and cooked. Allow to cool completely.
Cut the pumpkin up into small cubes and place in an oven-proof dish.
Grate the cheese and dice the garlic up into small pieces. Mix together and then sprinkle it over the top of the pumpkin.
Preheat the grill to high and heat the bake until the cheese has melted at the top is golden – it should only take a minute or two so keep an eye on it. Or, preheat the oven to 200C and bake for approximately 10-20 minutes, or until the top is golden and the cheese has melted.
Christmas is one of the busiest times in the kitchen, but it doesn’t mean you can’t pop out to the garden too… especially to harvest things.
Christmas cooking can be like the climax of the harvested year. You can give your jams away as presents, eat redcurrant and cranberry jelly and sauce with your Christmas meal. Harvested chestnuts or other nuts can be used in desserts. Dried cranberries or raisins are great for puds. And of course, anything that is still green at this time of year can be added to your wreath or house for festive cheer.
But you don’t have to stop there… what about the main Christmas meal?
For future thinking, here are some traditional Christmas dinner things you could plan to grow for next Christmas:
Potatoes – we always plant so many we still have plenty in the ground come Christmas day. As long as they are well buried and not planted in too damp a place, potato tubers will be fine against the frosts.
Brussel Sprouts or Brukale (Brussel sprout crossed with kale).
Carrots – yes, you can still be harvesting carrots from the ground at Christmas, if you cover them with fleece.
Beetroot – why not add some to your roasted roots?
Celeriac – ditto, or a celeriac mash? Or just boiled?
Celery – homemade stuffing anyone? And in that case how about freezing some pears or storing some apple too?
Runner- beans or peas – store them in your freezers all year round from the first harvest onwards.
Pumpkin or squash – usually USA’s Thanksgiving, I know, but how about roasting some and creating a vegetarian/vegan replacement for the usual meat?
Christmas is a holiday, a time of celebration and of having fun with loved ones. To me, it is also a time to be creative and original, to do what I love by going back and cooking from scratch, a way of tying up my year of cooking and growing. This year we will be having our own cabbage, beans, pumpkin, celeriac, beetroot, carrots, potatoes and Brussel Sprouts, not to forget homegrown redcurrant jelly and homemade cranberry sauce… What a way to celebrate an end to 2018!
What do you grow/dream of growing for Christmas time? Let us know.
-1 small pumpkin -Olive oil, for roasting -25g butter – 1 onion, sliced – 325g rice – Salt and pepper, for seasoning -750ml vegetable stock –More cooked vegetables, to serve (optional)
Pre-heat the oven to 180C. Slice and clear the insides of a pumpkin. Cut into segments and place on a roasting tray, drizzled with olive oil. Roast for 45 minutes, or until golden brown.
Melt the butter in a large frying pan. Add the onion and fry gently over a medium heat for 2-3 minutes. Turn the heat down a little.
Add the rice and a grinding of salt and pepper. Stir to coat the rice with the butter.
Add the stock after frying the rice like a pilau for a couple of minutes, bring to the boil, stirring frequently.
Turn the heat down once the stock is bubbling and leave to simmer until almost all of the stock has been absorbed. Add the roasted pumpkin, cut up into squares, cover, and leave to simmer for 5-10 minutes.
I haven’t made a lot of soups in my time – carrot and coriander once years ago and a vegetable broth at River Cottage – but I have always wanted to make pumpkin soup with a homegrown pumpkin.
We did really well with the pumpkins this year and after my siblings had carved their spooky faces into two of them for Halloween, I turned one of them – forgotten which one, might have been Bob or Reg… – into soup. Cruel, but it was either that or feed him to the pigs.
Here is my super-duper easy pumpkin soup. You could add more seasoning to it of you would like more flavour. I have heard suggestions of chilli and peanut butter before…
Serves… a lot. At least ten people.
-1 medium sized pumpkin, 1.5kg, de-seeded -Olive oil, for roasting and frying -1 large onion, sliced -700ml boiling water -1 generous tsp Bouillon vegetable stock powder – A pinch of salt
Preheat the oven to 180C. Cut the pumpkin up into chunks and place on a non-stick baking tray. Drizzle generously with olive oil and place in the centre of the oven. Roast for about 45 minutes, or until the pumpkin wedges are cooked and perhaps browning a little. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.
In a deep-based pan, fry the onion in olive oil until golden brown.
Place the pumpkin and the onion in a food processor and blitz until mush.
Add the tsp veg stock powder to the boiling water and mix well. Slowly pour into the food processor and blitz the pumpkin again.
Scare the contents of the food processor into the pan and bring to the boil, stirring. Add the pinch of salt.
Serve hot in bowls. Store in the fridge for up to 3 days. Can be frozen too.
Curing pumpkins involves hardening the skins to protect the flesh inside from deterioration. Do it properly and you can expect fruits to stay in top form for at least 3 months, comfortably taking you to the first harvests of next spring.
The fruit is harvested when it is uniformly orange and the rind is hard. Harvest the fruit by cutting it off the vine with a sharp knife or a pair of looping shears, leaving 3-6 inches of the stem attached to the fruit. This makes the fruit less likely to be attacked by fruit rot pathogens at the point of stem attachment.
Remove the fruits to a greenhouse or as sunny a windowsill as you can find, after brushing off any dirt or washing in soap and warm water, drying first. Allow your fruits to sunbathe and develop a tan. This should take about two weeks for the top of the fruit then, once carefully flipped over, another two weeks for the bottom.
Pumpkins and winter squash prefer a well-ventilated, dry place. Keep the fruits raised up off hard surfaces on racks or wire mesh with a thick layer of newspaper or straw. Keeping them off the ground will allow air to circulate around the fruits while the extra padding will prevent the skin softening and becoming vulnerable to infection.
Once cured, store the pumpkins in cool, dry storage.
The pumpkins are turning orange – it must be autumn.
We had a pretty good growth of pumpkins this year – at least one per plant. We’ve got about six in total off the top of my head.
I planted ‘Racer’ seeds indoors in tall yoghurt pots in April, I think… could have been May…
Anyway, they were planted outdoors into a very sunny patch during the heatwave. With regular feeds of rotted manure and blood fish and bone, they have flourished.
We were really lucky that the heatwave kept back the powdery mildew this year (look at Powdery Mildew for more information and preventative treatment tips). This disease flourishes in warm but moist climates – so thank you drought. It meant that the mildew that could attack as early as May or June stayed off until the last few days of August. Powdery mildew looks like this:
To begin with, little spots of white mould form on the leaves. These quickly spread, covering the whole leaf and spreading to the stalks. The plant starts to turn brown. It shrivels and dies, sometimes taking the fruit with it. Very quickly you can end up with this:
A dead plant.
I cut off two pumpkins yesterday from their dead plants to prevent the disease from spreading to the fruits themselves. Thank goodness they had already turned orange…