Over the next few days I will give you four simple recipes for winter salads. The first salad features what to me is one of natures most exquisite fruits... the pomegranate. Brought to Italy by the Romans via Carthage in about 700BC, the pomegranate, Punicum malum or "Phoenician apple" has enjoyed a rich and enduring history involving art, religion, myth and symbolism. It is also recognised as a symbol of hope, prosperity and abundance in many parts of the world (Garcinia Cambogia, The History of the Pomegranate, 1998). The Ancient Romans not only enjoyed the fruit but used the juice to tan leather due to the high tannic acid contained in the skins. Today the pomegranate still graces the modern Roman table and is used in everything from garnishing meals to exotic desserts.
The first time I experienced this magnificent fruit was in my aunty Nelly's backyard. Our extended family were all together again for Sunday lunch (just like yesterday)... pranzo della domenica insieme ierie oggi.... table laid with nonna's best damask cloth, serviettes starched and carefully placed into silver rings, red wine flowing. Nonna and the older girls were engaged in a high spirited conversation about this new fruit that had just ripened "for the first time". Being only about 5 years old and the youngest member of the family, it was hard to actually see what all the fuss was about. Begging and clambering at the feet of my taller cousins I just wanted to be picked up and included in their excitement. Nonna Lousia finally relented, embracing me in her strong and comforting arms.
"This is a pomegranate, my darling, say it.... pom..e..gran..ate. We have not seen or tasted it since before the war and now your zia (aunty) has been clever enough to grow them in her garden for us."
I cannot put my finger on why this experience was so profound for me. Perhaps it was the deep red colour of the pomegranate juice splashing over the wooden cutting boards as my cousins beat the fruit to release the jewel like translucent seeds encased within its white bitter flesh. Or the intense security I felt in my nonna's arms. Whatever the reason, pomegranates remain close to my heart.
I hope you will enjoy this salad and have fun removing the delicious seeds. xx
1/2 a small kent pumpkin
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 good handfuls of green beans
salt and pepper to taste
Method for the pumpkin
Preheat a fan forced oven to 200C. Line a baking tray with baking paper. Chop the pumpkin into large cubes (I leave the skin on, but peel it if that does not appeal) and coat with the olive oil. Place on the baking tray and season with pepper and salt. Roast for about 15 minutes or until the pieces have a golden hue.
Method for the pomegranate
While the pumpkin is roasting cut the top off the fruit and then lightly score the skin in quarters from top to bottom.
Now firmly but gently break the sections apart then bend the skin back and carefully scoop the seed clusters into a bowl and remove all the white pith. Set aside while you prepare the beans.
Method for the green beans
place two cups of water into a small saucepan and bring to the boil. Cut the top and bottom off the green beans and place the beans into the boiling water and cook for only two minutes. Remove from the heat and rinse under cold water.
Now you are ready to plate up! Carefully place the pumpkin on your serving dish and scatter the green beans, pomegranate seeds and their juice over the top. The soft creamy texture of the pumpkin combined with the crunch of the fresh beans and the slightly astringent flavour of the pomegranate make a wonderful accompaniment to beef, chicken or fish.