Monday, 7 November 2016

Autumn Comforts: Butternut Squash

There's something wonderfully comforting about butternut squash. From its slightly sweet flavour and soft texture, to its beautiful sunset orange hue, it is the perfect ingredient to be cooking with at Autumn time. It's worth noting that you should be a little careful with other squash varieties- some of these beautiful Gourds we are seeing popping up at markets  at the moment are often only decorative, and not very nice to eat, though very pretty to look at. You're always safe with a butternut squash though, and it's got lots of beautiful flesh to give. It's also a great carrier for flavour. In the two recipes below I have paired it firstly with sage, a mellow and aromatic herb that I love to use in pasta dishes, and secondly with chilli, which gives my butternut soup a fabulous kick.

Top Top: When deseeding the butternut squash don't throw the seeds away- these little gems are delicious when roasted and a high source of fibre, plant-based protein and vitamins. Give them a wash and remove any bits of squash. Allow to dry on some kitchen towel. Place in a roasting tin with a little olive oil, salt and if you like a bit of spice, try sprinkling some hot smoked paprika on too. Roast at 180C for around 20-25 minutes, until they are a dark nutty brown colour. Sprinkle on salad or soups, or just enjoy as a snack. Waste Not Want Not!

Pretty little things squash seeds, and good for you too

Roasted butternut squash seeds with olive oil, salt and hot smoked paprika

Rigatoni with Butternut Squash, Sage and Feta

Serves 4

A perfect mid-week supper, this dish is high in the ease and comfort factor. I have chosen Rigatoni pasta in this recipe, simply because I like the satisfying bite that these big tubes of pasta give the dish. Any pasta would work of course, but I prefer to opt for varieties you can scoop up with a spoon alone, like Penne, Conchilglie (shells) or Orecchiette, simply because I like to be able to sit on the sofa with a big bowl full and eat it with minimal effort.

300g Rigatoni pasta or similar
1 large butternut squash, peeled, deseeded and chopped into bite size pieces
Large bunch of sage leaves, large stalks removed and chopped (fresh sage is best, but dried will work)
Olive oil
Knob of butter
1 large red onion, sliced
1 large clove garlic, finely chopped
1 red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped (optional- if you like a little spice) 
Large bunch of spinach
150g feta cheese 

1. Preheat oven to 200C. Place the butternut squash in a roasting tray, and sprinkle generously with half your chopped sage, and salt and pepper. Drizzle with olive oil, give it a good shake so it's all lightly coated in the oil, sage and seasoning. Roast in the oven for 25-30 minutes, giving it another shake mid-way through, until the squash is soft throughout and starting to going crisp on the outside.

2. Cook the Rigatoni in salted boiling water, according to pack instructions (usually 10-12 mins)

3. Meanwhile in a large pan, Melt the butter, and gently fry the onion in it until soft and beginning to caramelize. When they are soft and sticky, add the garlic, the rest of the chopped sage, and red chilli and fry for a couple of minutes till softened, adding more butter or olive oil if needed.

4. Next add the spinach to the pan and allow to wilt for a few minutes. Add your cooked rigatoni and butternut squash to the pan and gently fold to coat the pasta and ensure it's all mixed nicely. If the sauce is looking a little dry, just add a drizzle more olive oil and a knob of butter. Check the seasoning and add salt and pepper to taste (bear in mind the feta is salty, so don't go over board).

5. Place in serving bowls and crumble feta over generously. Enjoy with a good film and glass of red wine- bliss!

Butternut Squash and Chilli Soup

This soup is a great winter warmer, and it's a good idea to make a big saucepan-full on a weekend, and freeze it in batches, so you can dig it out whenever suits for a fuss-free dinner or a hearty office lunch. The amount of liquid needed in this recipe depends entirely on the size of the squash you start with, and on how thick you like your soup- the bigger the squash the more liquid you will need. I suggest you start with the amount I have recommended here, blitz it up, see how it looks, then adjust the liquid levels by adding extra stock, hot water or a drop of milk.

1 large butternut squash, peeled, deseeded and chopped into large cubes
Olive oil
2 onions, chopped
1 large clove of garlic, chopped
1 red chilli, finely chopped
900ml veg stock
4 tbsp creme fraiche

1. Preheat oven to 200C. Place the butternut squash in a roasting tin, sprinkle with salt and pepper, drizzle with olive oil and roast for around 30 mins, giving it a shake up/turn half way through, until it is soft and starting to go crisp at the edges.

2. Melt the butter in a large saucepan, and gently fry the onions until soft. Add the garlic and ¾ of the red chilli and fry for a few minutes until soft.

3. Tip the roasted squash back in the pan, add the stock and creme fraiche and give it a good stir. Use a stick blender to blend your soup, or pour into a liquidizer and blitz until smooth. If the soup is too thick, you can add a little more veg stock, hot water, or even a drop of milk to get it to your desired consistency.

4. Give it a taste, and add seasoning accordingly. Serve hot with a dollop of creme fraiche, a sprinkle of chopped chilli, and some of the roasted squash seeds (see Top Tip at the top of blog post).

Crème fraiche going in.....

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