Looking through my images in search of vegetarian inspiration (for my cooking classes), I found this rather delicious dish of roasted pumpkin I cooked some months ago.
Really simple, but made extra good by way of seasoning. Looking at it makes my appetite switch on, and I realise I’ve not told you about the way Skye Gyngell seasons her dishes, a way that I’ve enthusiastically pilfered since learning from her at Petersham Nurseries Cafe.
At Petersham Nurseries Cafe, pretty much every dish came together in the plating. Skye taught us to stand in front of the plate ‘loosely’, feet shoulder width and knees relaxed. If you approach a plate with tension in your arms and body, the composition you’re making gets heavy and constipated. (Once you’ve got your ‘eyes on’ for this, you’ll see the constipation everywhere!)
As her cooks plate their dishes, Skye teaches them to bring attention to every bite the eater will make, from the bottom up. With each addition, ask, will this bite take the eater to a heavenly place?
Wedges of roasted pumpkin are tossed in a bowl and seasoned in anticipation of the plate. One wedge is dropped with casual aim to the plate, and is sprinkled with a little more seasoning. Then some tiny beetroot greens are dressed and drop to the pumpkin wedge like feathers. A ball of the freshest buffalo mozzarella is torn open and seasoned also, finding its nest amidst the greens, half perched on a pumpkin edge. On and up the cooks hands work, seasoning, dropping ingredients onto the plate with a lightness that defies their matter. This continues with languid strips of proscuitto, more pumpkin, more green leaves, torn spheres of mozzarella, until the light casual pile is finished with one last seasoning from the cook.
Skye Gyngell’s Seasoning Secret
- curly leaf parsley, chopped very finely (to ‘fairy dust’, as Skye Gyngell would say)
- very finely grated parmigiano reggiano
- Maldon Sea Salt Flakes or Murray River Salt Flakes
- lemon zest, finely grated
- freshly ground black pepper
- wedges of lemon (to squeeze juice out of)
- extra virgin olive oil
- some other additions, depending on the dish: lime wedges (instead of the lemon), aged balsamico, fine sherry vinegar, very finely chopped long red chillies, other finely chopped herbs
This simple set of ingredients, with just a few variations, is used at the Petersham Nurseries Cafe to season nearly every dish we compiled. They add extra depth and height to the flavour spectrum of pretty much any food you season. Try them on salad leaves, roasted vegetables of any description, meats sliced into warm salads, lentils or pasta dishes, as a last minute gesture, a sensuous, vibrant attention to detail. How much to add of each ingredient requires continual taste testing, there’s no way around that, and who’d want there to be?