Oh how I love thee, squash of the gods. My ingredient of the month is the wonderful butternut squash; deep orange, deliciously sweet and nutty. Harvested in late Autumn and available throughout the winter, it is a kitchen staple to get you through the cold months. Not only thrifty and delicious but healthy too – rich in vitamin A, vitamin E and potassium.
At the moment I find myself mostly using it for soup but it also works wonderfully as a roasted veg – either as a side or as the star of the show!
The humble squash can be boiled, roasted, puréed, steamed, sautéed, mashed – it’s hard to go wrong.
Below are a few of my favourite ways to enjoy the beautiful butternut.
*The perfect soup to warm you up on a cold day
1 butternut squash
Spices/herbs (see step 5)
1. Chop a white onion then sweat in a large pan with a bit of butter or oil – I like to use rapeseed. Cook for ten minutes or so on a medium heat, you want it to soften but not colour.
2. Meanwhile peel and chop your squash into 1-2cm pieces. The skin can be tough so you need a decent peeler! (You can cheat a little here by using the microwave – prick your squash a couple of times and blitz in the micro for 5-6 minutes; this will soften the flesh and make it easier to peel.)
3. You can discard the seeds and pulp, or toast them to use later. They make a delicious and crunchy addition to soups and salads, or a healthy snack. Simply toast in a hot oven until golden.
4. Add your peeled & chopped squash to the onions and coat with the oil.
5. This is the best point to add any extra flavours – I like to temper the sweetness of the squash with a few spices; cumin, chilli, turmeric, nutmeg, or gram masala all work well so simply add to your taste. If you prefer herbs then sage and squash are a dreamy combination. Salt & pepper are a must!
6. Boil a kettle, make up a litre of vegetable or chicken stock and add the hot stock to your pot of onion & squash. You want the stock to just cover the veg. (You can always add more stock at the end if you prefer a thinner soup.)
7. Bring the whole pot to the boil then turn down and simmer for 20-30mins, depending on how small you chopped the squash. You want the squash to be soft and mash-able so just press a piece against the side of the pot to check it – when it mashes easily it’s ready.
8. Take your pot off the heat and allow to cool a little.
9. Using a stick blender or food processor (the latter may need to be done in two batches), blend your soup until smooth and creamy. At this point you can add more stock or a little milk if it seems too thick.
10. Taste to check seasoning and add salt & pepper as required.
11. If serving immediately, put the blended soup back in the pan and bring back to a simmer; if making ahead, leave the soup to cool then put it in the fridge or freezer for later. Make sure you bring it to a boil before serving.
12. Serve with crusty bread.
Pimp your soup:
*Add a swirl of cream or créme fraiche to each bowl – arty and delicious!
*If using sage, fry a few fresh sage leaves in a little butter until crisp and add to the top of each bowl.
*Roast the pumpkin seeds in some spices & a little oil and drop these onto your soup, or leave a bowl of roasted seeds on the table and allow your guest to top their own.
*Slice up some sourdough or stale bread, top with a little cheese (whatever you have lurking in the fridge will be fine!) and grill until melted, then rest them on the side of each bowl or simply float them on top of the soup.
Serves four as a side or two as a generous salad
1 butternut squash
Herbs/spices – see step 3
1. Preheat your oven to 180/160 fan.
2. Peel, deseed and chop your butternut; for roasting I like to use chunky pieces so either chop into chunks or cut the whole squash in half lengthways, then cut each half into crescent shaped slices.
3. Prepare your roasting tin – first add a good glug of oil, then your herbs/spices. I think smoked paprika goes really well with roasted butternut, its smokey warmth is a great foil for the earthy sweetness of the squash. But you could also use a little chilli, nutmeg, sage, fresh thyme, or simple dried mixed herbs.
4. Coat the chunks of butternut in the oil and herbs/spices and add salt to taste.
5. Roast for 30 to 40 minutes – keep an eye on it as corners can catch and burnt butternut is not good! You are looking for a rich blistered golden outer and a soft texture within. Turn the pieces halfway through cooking.
Roasted butternut is a tasty and healthy alternative to roast potatoes, or simply as a veggie accompaniment to any meal.
Make it the star of the show by crumbling over some feta and topping it with leaves & toasted hazelnuts to make a delicious warm salad.
*Butternut squash and sage risotto
1 large or 2 small butternut squash
400g risotto rice – arborio or carnaroli
1 glass White wine
Fresh sage leaves
Veg or chicken stock
1. Preheat your oven to 180/160 fan.
2. Peel and chop your butternut – you will be boiling half and roasting half so chop accordingly!
3. Put your boiling half into a pan with water and bring to the boil. Simmer for 15-20 minutes. When soft, drain and add a little butter & seasoning, then use a food processor or stick blender to make a smooth purée. You want a runnier consistency than mashed potato as it will be stirred into the risotto later. Leave to one side.
4. Put the rest into a baking tray, coat with a little oil, dried sage and salt & pepper. Roast in the oven until golden on the outside and meltingly soft on the inside – 30-40 minutes.
5. Finely dice an onion or several banana shallots. Melt a knob of butter and a glug of oil in a wide, heavy based pan and add the chopped onion. Sweat on a medium heat until soft but not coloured.
6. While the onion is softening, boil a kettle and make up 1 litre of chicken or vegetable stock in a saucepan. Bring your stock to a simmer and keep it simmering on the hob (with a lid on) while you make your risotto.
7. Add your rice to the pan with the onions. Toast the rice for a minute or so and make sure it is well coated with the oil/butter.
8. Add a glass of white wine to the hot pan and stir, making sure the rice doesn’t catch on the bottom of the pan. You may want to turn the heat down a little at this point – you want it warm enough to keep the liquid simmering but not so hot that the rice sticks.
9. When the wine has mostly been absorbed into the rice, add a ladleful of your hot stock to the pan. Keep stirring until the liquid has almost been absorbed. 10. Keep adding hot stock a ladleful at a time and stir as you go. Your aim is to cook the rice slowly and steadily. You will see that as the rice cooks the starch creates a creamy consistency which is the trademark of a great risotto.
11. Keep testing the rice – the whole rice process should take 20-30 minutes. The rice should be fully cooked but still have a little bite. You shouldn’t be able to see any pale white inside the grains.
12. In a separate pan, heat a knob of butter until foaming and add your sage leaves. Fry until crisp.
13. When your rice is cooked, add your butternut purée and mix it in. When serving, you want your risotto to fall onto the plate – it shouldn’t be runny but it shouldn’t stay in a lump either, so add a little more stock to loosen it if needed.
14. Serve your risotto in shallow bowls, topped with the lovely roasted chunks and a few crispy sage leaves.