This morning I watched Jamie Oliver’s TED speech on the dietary crisis facing the US (and many other countries, including Australia) today. I know that there are many who find him a little sanctimonious when he gets onto his hobby-horse and starts banging on about school lunches, but the simple, inescapable fact is that he is right. Our dietary habits have changed and evolved – and not in a good way – with the result that the next generation will be the first to live a shorter life than their parents, largely because of too much of the wrong kinds of food. It is deeply shocking to see Jamie stand up in front of a classroom full of kids who can’t identify a fresh tomato or a cauliflower. In another scene, Jamie sits with a sad and confused young mother, surrounded by the food that she feeds her family, and bluntly points out that she is killing her children with it. Many believe that this is a result of modern living, lack of food education, capitalism, mass communication, the cultural hegemony of big fast food businesses, etc., etc., – but maybe this dietary evolution is a little more organic than that.
Quite coincidentally, just a couple of days ago, I read a report of a study undertaken by two brothers, one an eating behaviouralist and the other a professor of religious studies. They looked at 52 of the most noted paintings of Christ’s last supper and found that the portion sizes of the meals had increased significantly over the last 1,000 years. In general, the size of the main courses increased by a whopping 69% and the serves of bread by 23%!! While this is obviously not a scientific study, these findings tend to indicate that overeating is possibly not the modern phenomenon we think it to be, but a more general trend over hundreds of years.
I find recipes, on the other hand, can very quickly evolve from one thing into quite another – especially in my kitchen. I had been wondering how to use up the last of my lovely Food Connect pumpkin and came across a tempting recipe for little pumpkin tarts. Deciding that this was what I wanted to make, I set about checking the pantry for the bits and pieces that I needed and along the way became quite side-tracked. I ended up with a delicious meal that bore only a passing resemblance to the recipe I first started with, but one that I had tailored to my own personal preferences – I guess that is what they call “recipe development”!
I seriously dislike slicing onions, so the husband bravely volunteered to take on that task and I used my wonderful Thermomix to grate up all the pumpkin which was done in under 1 minute. I have to be very honest and tell you that I used frozen pastry, just because I was short on time, but any nice short crust pastry recipe will do for this.
PUMPKIN AND CARAMELISED ONION TART
I quantity of short crust pastry
2 sheets frozen pastry
3 onions, sliced
50ml olive oil
1 tbsp brown sugar
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
750 gm pumpkin, grated
50 ml olive oil
2 tbsp fresh thyme, chopped
100 gms parmesan, grated
Preheat oven to 190C.
Line a 24cm round fluted tart tin (I used a longish rectangular one) with pastry and blind bake for approx. 10 mins.
Heat olive oil in a heavy based pan, add onions and sprinkle with sugar and balsamic vinegar. Cook on low/med heat, stirring occasionally to prevent burning, for approx. 20 minutes until the onions are soft, sweet and caramelised. Set aside.
In a large pan, heat remaining olive oil, add grated pumpkin and thyme and cook, stirring, over low heat until pumpkin is just cooked.
In a large bowl, beat eggs lightly, then add pumpkin, 3/4 of the onions and 75gms of the parmesan. Fill the pastry with this mixture, sprinkling the top with the remaining onions and parmesan.
Bake at 190C for 25-30 minutes.
Let stand out of the oven for 10 minutes, before slicing and serving.