This is an old favourite, based on a recipe from the Community cookbook that I have, of course, tinkered with. It is so. bloody. delicious. It works as a dish outright or as a side. It’s a party favourite and all of the individual elements can be prepared ahead of time and stored for assembly at the last minute. Even better party wise, it doesn’t require any oven space, just the use of the stove top about 2 minutes before serving and the only elements that need to be stored in the fridge are the feta and the butter, which hardly take up much space so you’ll be the apple of any host’s eye!
The candied walnuts were inspired by a dish we are currently serving at Fred’s which walnuts coated with a deep wet caramel paired with delectable goats cheese. When I tasted the combination, I immediately thought of this dish, which in its original form does call for walnuts, but I URGE you to take the extra 15 minutes to candy them because this. is. a. revelation.
As noted above, you can make many of the elements ahead of time, up to 2 days before you intend to serve the dish. The pumpkin can be roasted and stored in the fridge for up to 3 days, although it will begin to lose its structure and become softer, so you may want to only cook it until it is just soft. The candied walnuts can be made in a much larger batch and stored on the bench, in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks! They’re delicious on their own or you could sprinkle them over ice cream, carrot cake, other salads… experiment with them and let me know your findings! The butter sauce, unfortunately, will solidify when stored in the fridge and the sage will lose its crisp which is, in my opinion, an essential element of this dish. You can experiment with making it ahead and microwaving it, but I can’t vouch for the results. It’s so fast to whip up that I don’t think you’ll save much time by making this ahead anyway – it’s the other elements that are more time consuming.
On the butter sauce: I really take this far on the burnt end because I love the sweet, nutty finish it gives. I find that even when the butter fat has gone right through to almost black, it holds a beautiful creamy flavour and doesn’t taste burnt. You can experiment with it and see what you like. Perhaps start by just bringing it to the point where the butter fat has turned a nice brown colour if you’re making a burnt butter sauce for the first time.
Drink this with a refreshing Chardonnay like Rob Oatley’s Signature Series or slightly more floral and my favourite of all time, the M3 by Shaw + Smith. If you’re looking for something a little more fancy, upgrade to the stone fruit focused, impeccably balanced Tolpuddle for a real treat. You want a wine that has a decent backbone of complex flavour along with high acidity and is mouth filling like these Chardonnays to match the rich, creaminess of this dish. The crisper fruitiness of a Riesling might get lost in this dish, leaving just the acid, while the punch of something like a NZ sav blanc could be too much. Pinot Gris/Grigio is likely to fall completely by the wayside when up against these flavours. So if you do want to deviate to other white grapes, find one that has full bodied fruit balanced with subtle oak (if any), high acidity and if possible, a bit of malolactic fermentation (this means that the wine has a creamy taste to it too). All of these factors are common in Australian Chardonnays.