This is my fifth vegan Christmas meal offering, and each year I worry that it will be impossible. The fear kicks in: how to make something special and joyful enough to warrant a place on your Christmas table? Something that works across the generations, but also alongside other dishes (and doesn’t scare the bejesus out of the cook)? I don’t know if I’ve succeeded, but, personally, there’s nothing quite like seeing a large roasted pumpkin bearing treasure hit the festive table. I’m excited to share this one with you: my Christmas pumpkin stuffed with a luscious, savoury mixture of nuts, herbs and mushrooms.
The Christmas pumpkin
This recipe, for which you’ll need a food processor, deserves the very best pumpkin you can get hold of. I love sweet beautiful delica pumpkins and crown prince, neither of which are cheap, but if there was ever a time to splash out …
Prep 10 min
Cook 1 hr 45 min
1 delica pumpkin, about 1.6kg
1½ tsp fine sea salt, plus a pinch extra to season the inside of the pumpkin
150g mixed nuts (walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts)
750g mixed mushrooms, cleaned
4 tbsp olive oil
14 sage leaves, finely chopped
3 sprigs thyme, leaves stripped
1 large onion, peeled and finely chopped
2 small leeks (250g), trimmed and finely chopped
5 garlic cloves, peeled and grated
½ tsp ground black pepper
¼ tsp ground nutmeg
1½ tbsp balsamic vinegar
Use a small serrated knife to cut off a lid from the pumpkin and to make a hole big enough to fit your hand into. Using your hand like a bear claw, scoop out the seeds and stringy bits inside (put them in the compost). Rub some salt inside the pumpkin, then set aside.
Put the nuts in a food processor and reduce to a rubble of dust – keep an eye on them, though, or they’ll turn to nut butter – then tip into a bowl. Break the mushrooms into pieces, add to the food processor, blitz to lentil-sized pieces and leave in situ until later.
Put the oil in a large frying pan over a medium heat and, once hot, throw in the sage and thyme leaves. The moment they start to crackle, stir in the onion and leeks, and cook, stirring, for 10 minutes, until soft and starting to brown. Add the garlic and cook for three minutes, until the raw smell disappears.
Tip in the mushrooms and cook, stirring every now and then, for 10 minutes, until they release their moisture. Add the measured salt, pepper, nutmeg and blitzed nuts, and cook, stirring regularly so the mix doesn’t stick, for six to eight minutes. Take off the heat and stir in the balsamic vinegar.
Heat the oven to 200C (180C fan)/390F/gas 6 and line a tray (I use a reusable baking sheet). Spoon the mixture into the pumpkin, squashing down each spoonful so there are no gaps (you might have too much filling, but that’s better than not having enough), then pop the lid on top. Rub oil over the skin of the pumpkin, wrap it tightly in foil, put on the lined tray and bake for an hour to an hour and 10 minutes, until the tip of a sharp knife slips through it easily.
Remove the pumpkin from the oven, unwrap (you might have to leave the foil at the very bottom of the pumpkin) and carefully transfer to a pretty serving plate. Cut into large wedges and serve with my cabbage and apple salad.
Fiona Beckett’s drinks match You could drink white (chardonnay, I suggest) or red with Meera’s pumpkin and slaw combo, but I’d go for a pinot noir. Morrisons has a really good Chilean Single Vineyard Pinot (£10, 13%) in its The Best range that’s suitable for vegans. Or, if you’re not a vegan, The Wine Society has a delicious Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir 2019 (£14.95, 13.5%) in its Exhibition range, which is great value for a California red of this quality.