Pumpkins and squash are great in tarts, and it’s the mixture of sweet and salty in savoury pumpkin tarts that really gets me,” says food writer Diana Henry.
Pumpkin tarts with spinach and gorgonzola
For the pastry:
225g plain flour, plus more to dust
175g butter, chilled and chopped
Sea salt flakes
For the filling:
450g pumpkin or squash
450g spinach, coarse stalks removed
2 large eggs, plus 1 egg yolk
275ml double cream
50g parmesan cheese, finely grated
Freshly grated nutmeg
200g gorgonzola cheese
Freshly ground black pepper
1. For the pastry, put the flour, butter and a good pinch of salt into a food processor and pulse-blend the mixture until it resembles breadcrumbs. Add just enough very cold water to make the pastry come together. Wrap it in foil or clingfilm and refrigerate for about half an hour.
2. Preheat the oven to 180C fan (375F), Gas 5.
3. Cut the pumpkin or squash from top to bottom into broad slices, remove the inner stringy bits and seeds, then peel. Brush lightly with olive oil and bake for 30-35 minutes, or until just tender. Turn off the oven. Put the spinach into a large saucepan, cover and wilt in the water left clinging to it (about four minutes over a medium heat). Drain well and leave to cool.
4. Make the custard by mixing together the eggs, egg yolk, cream and parmesan. Season well. Roll out the rested pastry on a lightly floured surface and use it to line six individual tart tins. Chill for another 30 minutes (or just stick them in the freezer for about 15 minutes).
5. Preheat the oven again to 180C fan, Gas 5. Prick the bottom of the tarts with a fork, line them with baking parchment and put baking beans or ordinary dried beans on top. Blind bake for 10 minutes. Remove the paper and beans and cook the pastry cases for another five minutes.
6. Cut the pumpkin into small slices, about 10 centimetres long and one centimetre thick. Squeeze every last bit of water from the spinach and chop it up. Season both of these and add some freshly grated nutmeg to the spinach. Spread the spinach over the bottom of the tart cases, then add the slices of pumpkin and dot with nuggets of gorgonzola.
7. Pour the custard mix over the tarts and bake for 25-30 minutes, or until the pastry is golden and the custard feels only just set when you put your forefinger in the centre of a tart. Leave for 10 minutes to let the custard finish cooking and set a little once you have taken it out of the oven.
Beef pie with wild mushrooms and red wine
With wild mushrooms and red wine, this beef pie is perfect as the days get shorter and colder.
1kg braising beef, cut into large chunks
30g dried wild mushrooms
350g baby onions, or small round shallots, peeled but left whole
1 celery stick, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
30g plain flour
300ml red wine
Leaves from 3 thyme sprigs
3 bay leaves
300g fresh mushrooms, sliced
3 tbsp finely chopped flat leaf parsley leaves
320g puff pastry for 1 big pie, 600g for 6 small pies
1 egg, lightly beaten
Sea salt flakes and freshly ground black pepper
1. Dry the meat well with kitchen paper (if it’s wet it won’t brown properly). Put the dried mushrooms in a heatproof bowl and pour enough boiling water over to just cover. Leave to soak for 30 minutes.
2. Heat two tablespoons of oil in a heavy-based casserole and brown the beef in batches: it is very important to cook it in batches otherwise the meat will not colour well. Remove each batch as it’s done. Add the baby onions or shallots to the pan and lightly brown them, adding a little more oil if you need it. Reduce the heat, add 20 grams of the butter and all the celery and garlic, and sweat for 10 minutes. Return the meat, with any juices, to the casserole. Season well and, over a low heat, add the flour. Stir everything round until it is well coated. Cut up the mushrooms and add to the pot with their soaking liquid (strain the liquid through muslin, as it can be gritty). Add the red wine, thyme and bay leaves and bring to the boil. Immediately reduce the heat, cover and cook over a very gentle heat for one-and-a-half hours, stirring every so often. Take the lid off for the last 15-20 minutes to reduce the liquid. You need thick juices for a pie, so, if they’re too thin, remove the meat and mushrooms and boil to reduce the sauce.
3. Melt half a tablespoon of oil and the remaining butter in a saute pan and cook the fresh mushrooms briskly over a high heat so that they get well coloured. Season and let the mushrooms cook until they exude their liquid and it evaporates. Stir the parsley and the cooked fresh mushrooms into the meat and check the seasoning. Leave to cool completely.
4. Put the meat in one large or six small pie dishes and roll out the pastry to fit the dish(es). Cut a strip or strips large enough to go around the edge or edges. Brush the edge(s) with water and press the strip on. Dampen this with water and cover the pie or pies with their lids, pressing the pastry down. Trim off the excess, knock up the edges and crimp them, if you like, or just press with a fork. Use the remaining pastry to decorate, making little holes in the top for steam to escape. Brush with the beaten egg and chill for half an hour. Preheat the oven to 190C fan, Gas 6.
5. Bake in the oven for 40-45 minutes for one large pie, or 25-30 minutes for smaller pies. Serve immediately.
Pecan and pear upside-down cake
“The cranberries look beautifully jewel-like on this cake, which can be eaten warm as a pudding as well as with tea or coffee,” says Henry.
“The fruit combination also works well in a Tarte Tatin. The ginger here is optional, but it mutes the sweetness a little.”
For the fruit and nuts:
75g unsalted butter
115g caster sugar
350g firm pears (about 2)
For the cake:
120g unsalted butter, softened
200g caster sugar
2 large eggs, separated
Drop of vanilla extract
210g self-raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground ginger (optional)
175ml full-fat milk
1. Preheat the oven to 180C fan (375F), Gas 5.
2. Melt the butter and sugar for the fruit and nuts in a heavy-based ovenproof saute pan, 25cms in diameter, over a low heat. Peel and core the pears and cut them into slices, about 1cm thick, then place them on top of the butter and sugar. Cook these over a gentle heat until just tender, then whack the heat up and cook them until lightly caramelised. Scatter the cranberries and pecans on top and gently mix all the fruit around. Turn the heat off, but don’t let the pan get cold.
3. For the cake, cream the butter and sugar and add the egg yolks and vanilla. Mix in half the flour along with all the baking powder and ginger, if using. Add the milk and then the other half of the flour. Mix until smooth.
4. Whisk the egg whites until they form medium peaks. Add one tablespoon of the beaten whites to the batter to loosen it, then, working quickly, fold in the rest with a large spoon.
5. Spread the batter over the fruit and nuts in the pan and bake in the preheated oven for 35-40 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the sponge comes out clean.
6. Leave the cake to cool for 10 minutes before turning it out, but no longer, or the caramelised fruit will stick to the pan. If this does happen, carefully lever the pears off the pan and lay them on to the cake with their dark, caramelised sides facing upwards.
‘Roast Figs, Sugar Snow’ by Diana Henry (Aster, £22).