I’m still a little seasonally-confused. I thought that by now I’d have settled into the whole winter-in-June/July/August thing, but I guess not. I think part of the problem is that for a fairly large proportion of the winter so far, we’ve actually had better weather and similar temperatures (at least during the day) to the summers that I’ve spent in Scotland. A bit depressing for anybody in Scotland, but also not very helpful for my poor little brain. My flat is on a street lined with deciduous trees, so seeing their bare branches helps to remind me that it’s winter, but there are also plenty of evergreen trees around, NZ species that aren’t fir trees. I’m not familiar with them and their greenness sometimes throws me. At least it’s pretty difficult not to notice the fairly short winter days with night falling at around 17:30, since it means that I walk home in the dark every day. That’s my failsafe reminder that it’s winter. That and the fact that our lab is significantly colder than it was during the tail-end of summer when I arrived, and I’m starting to seriously consider having a “lab blanket.”
Another great way of telling the season is by what fruit and vegetables are available. Thank goodness for the Farmers’ Market because at first glance, supermarkets aren’t particularly helpful when it comes to seasonal food. I saw cherries the other day and got all excited that cherry season had started because I temporarily forgot I’m in the Southern hemisphere and it’s most definitely not cherry season. Then I saw that they were imported from the US. Oh yeah, it’s winter here. No cherries for me. For the most part, they’re very good here at labelling where fruit and veg are from (which is great!), so I’ve been working on the assumption that if it’s from NZ, it’s most probably in season. So if there’s an overabundance of NZ-grown apples, it must be autumn, even though it’s April. NZ apricots? It must be summer, even though it’s February. NZ pumpkins? It must be autumn or winter, even though it’s June. You get the idea. Obviously this only works for fruit and vegetables that I’m familiar with, but I think it works pretty well.
Since it’s winter, there are plenty of pumpkins and squashes around at the moment. I love pumpkin and I’ve got plenty of bookmarked pumpkin recipes, but I often get put off because I don’t like to waste the seeds but separating them out and cleaning them can be a really time drain. Plus pumpkins tend to be quite big, and as much as I love them, I try to vary my diet and not eat the same thing for a whole week. Luckily I discovered that you can buy half pumpkins that are already de-seeded, which solves both problems. Genius! So I dug out a recipe that I’ve had my eye on for a while: pumpkin, caramelised onion, olive & feta tart. It turned out to be quite a time-consuming recipe, but luckily I’d anticipated this and prepared the caramelised onions the evening before whilst I was cooking something else. It might be time-consuming, but it’s not a work-heavy recipe (as long as you don’t have to de-seed the pumpkin) since the caramelised onions more or less do their own thing, as does the pumpkin and then you mix it all together, pop it into the pastry case (ok, so you have to make the pastry, but it’s not particularly difficult) and it bakes away by itself. So you can get other things done whilst the oven/frying pan takes care of the rest. And the end result is definitely worth it. The sweetness of the roasted pumpkin and caramelised onions balances out the sharpness of the feta and the flavour of the olives. Actually, I don’t think that this recipe really helped my seasonal-confusion because the olives and feta make me think of the Mediterranean, which I associate with warmth and sunshine and summer. Despite that, since pumpkin is in season (and delicious), I’m submitting it to Simple and in Season, a blog event started by Ren at Fabulicious Food and guest hosted by Laura at How to Cook Good Food this month.
Pumpkin, caramelised onion, black olive & feta tart
Serves 6-8 as a starter, 3-4 as a main course
Adapted from Two Spoons
The caramelised onions take quite a while as it’s important to cook them over a low heat (resist the temptation to turn the heat up!), so if you’re a little tight on time, you can make them in advance (such as the night before) and store them in the fridge for a couple of days until required. You could substitute sweet potato instead of pumpkin. If you’d rather make a more quiche-like version of this, just add an extra egg and 3-4 extra tbsp of crème fraîche. This tart is delicious both warm and cold, served with a dressed green salad on the side.
For the caramelised onions:
3 medium onions
Drizzle tsp rapeseed oil (canola oil)
1½ tbsp light brown sugar
1½-2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
½ tsp chopped dried thyme
For the rest of the tart:
Quiche/tart pastry (click for recipe or use your favourite)
400g pumpkin (weight with seeds removed)
Drizzle of rapeseed oil (canola oil)
100g pitted black olives
150g feta cheese
3 heaped tbsp crème fraîche
½ tsp chopped dried thyme
1 tsp Dijon mustard (optional, but brings out the flavours)
For the caramelised onions:
1. Finely slice the onions. Add to a large lidded frying pan or saucepan, along with a drizzle of oil and the brown sugar and melt over a low heat, covered, stirring every 5 mins or so.
2. Once the onions are golden brown (don’t worry if they’re sticking a little to the pan), add the balsamic vinegar and thyme, stir and cover, once again stirring until every 5 mins or so. Once they are dark brown (but not burnt!), remove from the heat and let sit in their pan, uncovered. If making in advance, allow to cool, then store in the fridge in an airtight container until required.
To assemble the tart:
3. Butter a 24cm fluted tart tin and dust with flour. Pre-heat the oven to 200°C/fan oven 180°C.
4. Prepare your pastry, roll out to a 3 or 4 mm thickness and line the prepared tart tin. Trim the edges and prick with a fork. Refrigerate for 30 mins.
5. Meanwhile, prepare the pumpkin. Remove the skin, dice into about 1.5 cm cubes, and place in a roasting tin. Drizzle with oil and toss to coat. Bake for about 20 mins on the top rack of the oven, until softened and the edges are slightly browned. Remove from the oven and switch the rack to the centre of the oven.
6. Line the tart pastry with baking paper and cover with baking beans. Blind-bake for 15 mins, remove the baking paper and beans and return to the oven for a further 5 mins. Once removed, lower the oven’s heat to 190°C/170°C.
7. Meanwhile, prepare the filling. Halve the pitted olives and dice the feta into about 1cm cubes. In a large bowl, lightly beat the egg with a fork. Add the crème fraîche and mix together. Add the caramelised onions, roasted pumpkin, olives, feta thyme and season with some salt and freshly ground black pepper. Stir together.
8. Spread the mustard over the blind-baked tart pastry (optional, but it helps to enhance the flavours in the tart) then add the filling and evenly spread around the tart. Bake for about 30 mins until the tart is golden and the eggs and cream are cooked. Allow to cool on a wire rack for a couple of minutes before serving (or allow to cool fully) with a dressed green salad.