A couple of weeks ago I went out to an Italian restaurant. For most people this would be a fairly ordinary statement, but it’s generally not the favoured cuisine for coeliacs, it has to be said. However, a friend was in town and we needed a quick bite, and this place offered canteen-style food at reasonable prices. Canteen food à l’Italian consists mainly of amazing looking pizzas cut into large slices. Maybe 20 different types, round, square, thick crust, thin crust, meaty, veggie, all smelling divine. All off the menu for me. Fortunately for my stomach and my sanity there was also a large selection of salads to choose from. I plumped for a pumpkin salad, expecting it to be bland but fairly filling. To my surprise though, it wowed me. To the extent that I almost forgot, momentarily, about the amazing pizzas surrounding me. The pumpkin was coated in cinnamon and the taste combination was truly awesome. But the salad wasn’t sweet. Far from it, it was drizzled generously in olive oil and balsamic vinegar, with peppery rocket to balance the sweetness of the pumpkin, and creamy ricotta chunks to add protein. The result was so delicious I vowed to make it myself at home.
Such an opportunity presented itself last week in the form of a Halloween party and eight large pumpkins; cue plenty of pumpkin-heavy meals. But unlike some pumpkin recipes that seem to be generally heavy, or too spicy or sweet, this is a perfectly balanced salad. It was all cold in the restaurant but I decided to add a little warmth by throwing the pumpkin in with the other ingredients fresh from the oven. As a result the cheese started to melt ever so slightly and the greens wilted, but it somehow seemed more filling warm than cold. In terms of ease of throwing together this scores a 1 on whatever scale you’re using, and a big batch can be turned into a cold lunch the day after. What’s not to love?
Pumpkin and feta salad
I ditched the vinegar here as the feta is sour enough on its own. If you use ricotta or another soft cheese instead, maybe mozzarella, then add some balsamic vinegar to the dressing to pep it up a little.
400g raw pumpkin, peeled and chopped into 1-2″ cubes
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons sliced almonds
200g feta, cubed
100g spinach, or other leafy green
1. Preheat the oven to 200 C.
2. On a baking tray toss the pumpkin with 1 tablespoon of olive oil and the cinnamon. Bake in the oven for half an hour or until the pumpkin is soft and slightly crispy round the edges.
3. Toast the almonds for a couple of minutes in a frying pan over a medium heat until starting to brown. Tip into a large bowl with the feta and green leaves. Season with salt and pepper and toss well.
4. Remove the pumpkin from the oven and leave to cool for 5 minutes. Add to the bowl with another tablespoon of olive oil and toss again and serve.
Serves 2. If you want to serve the salad cold leave the pumpkin to cool entirely before mixing with the cold ingredients.