I tentatively observe my rotund adversary from a safe distance, chefs knife in hand, carefully calculating my next move. There it is on the chopping board, all smug and awkwardly shaped, taunting me with its curves and corners. I go forth swiftly, knife poised to make my move, for it must be sure, without hesitation. I steady myself, push firmly as the knife passes through the creamy orange flesh. I breathe a sign of relief as I feel the knife contact the wooden board beneath. Match point victory to me. Butternut, you lose.
Everyone loves a bit of drama every now and again don’t they? Even if it is a rather benign slaying of a butternut squash. And surely EVERYONE knows butternut squash can be tricky customers, or is it just me…..? I find a sturdy knife, a great deal of mettle and a considerable amount of endurance are required.
I took down my first butternut in the early 2000s. Admittedly, I was a bit late to the party with this one. I had no idea what to do with this strange, alien looking vegetable with unyielding beige skin. I actually called mum and asked ‘how do I know when it’s ready to eat?’. Mums are quite good with questions like this along with ‘how do I tell if bacon is off?’ and ‘how long do I boil an egg if I want a runny yolk?’. While she could help me with the bacon and egg questions she too had no experience with the dreaded squash. And so I leapt in to the unknown and there began my journey of squash discovery. Here’s what I’ve discovered along the way.
Butternut squash, bacon and rosemary macaroni cheese
I make this for a special Saturday night tea. I find it’s much more suited to a weekend meal as there are a few steps which do take a bit of time. It’s not a complicated meal by any means so don’t be put off by the time commitment. The original recipe was a pull out Jamie Oliver recipe from the March 2005 issue of Delicious magazine. The recipe doesn’t appear to be available online but I see Jamie has a number of similar healthy recipes out there. Don’t worry, Jamie old boy, you had me at full-fat, double cream, bacon and cheese. So, here’s my version of the recipe to serve 2 greedy people. It’s easy to double but I’d advise only making as much as you’re going to eat at the time because the pasta tends to overcook when the leftovers are reheated. Allow up to an hour and a quarter for cooking and however long it takes you to wrestle the butternut.
Approximately 300g or half a large butternut squash
2 garlic cloves, sliced
Pinch chilli flakes
½ cinnamon stick
150 ml full fat milk
150 ml double cream
80 g parmesan cheese
100 g pancetta or streaky bacon
Leaves stripped from a sprig of fresh rosemary
60 g farmhouse style bread or ciabatta torn into chunks
Prepare the squash (have on hand refreshments and someone to mop your brow): cut, peel, scoop, then chop into chunks. Fry the garlic with a splash of oil till lightly toasted. Add the chilli flakes, cinnamon stick, squash and a little water to cover the bottom of the pan. Not too much water at this stage otherwise your mix will be too sloppy. Better to add more later if you need to. Put the lid on the pan and bubble energetically for 20 minutes or until the squash is soft. Near the end of cooking remove the lid and reduce the liquid in the pan till it’s almost gone. Take out the cinnamon stick, mash the squash and season.
Cook the macaroni with a little salt according to the packet. Drain the pasta while it’s still quite firm as it will cook further in the oven. Put the pasta in a bowl and stir through the milk, cream, the squash mixture and most of the cheese. Spoon into a baking dish.
Fry the bacon in a large frying pan until starting to tinge brown at the edges. Add the rosemary and the bread and fry for a couple of minutes till the bread has soaked up the bacon fat. Tip the bacon, bread and rosemary into a food processor and whiz up till you have crumbs. Sprinkle the remaining cheese on top of the pasta then top with the crumb mixture. Bake in the oven at 180ºC for 35 – 45 minutes till the pasta is bubbling and the top has gone nice and crispy.
Butternut squash with penne, bacon and sage
This is similar to the recipe above except it’s a bit less time consuming so perfect for a mid week meal. I think I may have overdone this recipe in our house but there have definitely been no complaints so far. Get the recipe here.
Chickpeas with pumpkin, lemongrass and coriander
This is another one that’s been doing the rounds in my kitchen for quite some time now. It’s a Nigel Slater recipe and it’s in Tender Volume 1. It’s also available online here but I recommend you get hold of a copy of the book. It’s an excellent quality visually pleasing weighty tome which is just jam packed full of photos and recipes to make you very hungry. I can always rely on Nigel to come up with some good ideas. He’s saved many a dull weeknight meals. Cheers Nigel, high five!
Smoky chilli beef and pumpkin adobo
This is a slow cook chunky chilli which contains squash with the skin ON! This was an absolute revelation to me. You can EAT the skin! And it’s not tough and chewy like you think it’s going to be. Honestly, I’m not joking. We need to shout this from the roof tops people! Tell everyone you know! No more peeling (unless the recipe requires it), wohoo!
1 kg braising steak cut into large cubes
Sea salt and ground black pepper
1 large onion finely chopped
10 garlic cloves finely chopped
3 tbsp chipotle chillies in adobo (you can make your own alternative – see below)
Pinch ground cloves
1 tsp ground cinnamon
3 tsp ground cumin
6 bay leaves
1 tbsp dark muscovado sugar
2 cans of chopped tomatoes
1 beef stock cube crumbled
250 ml pale ale
500 g pumpkin cut into 5 cm cubes, skin on
- Toss the cubed beef in the salt and pepper then fry in batches in the oil until brown. Remove from the pan. Don’t crowd the pan other wise your meat will be dry. Be patient!
- Gently fry the onion in 2 tbsp of oil till softened (about 10 minutes) then stir in the garlic and the chilli paste. Add the rest of the ingredients with the exception of the pumpkin, return the beef to the pan and add enough ale to cover.
- Cover with a lid and bring to the boil. Transfer to the oven at 180ºC and cook for 2 hours. I don’t have any pots which go from hob to oven so I transfer the contents of the pan to a casserole dish I’ve warmed in the pre-heating oven.
- Add the pumpkin cubes to the casserole half way through cooking.
- Serve with rice or tortillas and the usual chilli accompaniments.
To make an alternative to the chillies in adobo combine 2 tbsp tomato puree with 2 tsp dried red chillies and 2 tsp smoked paprika.
Butternut and beetroot stew
I’m afraid the beetroot kind of stole the show with this one. I used a mix of beetroot from the garden: regular and stripy. I love eating purple food. Naturally purple food that is. And when it was cooked the whole stew turned a luscious pink. What you end up with is a fragrant curry style stew. I’ll use less liquid the next time I make it because it was a bit soupy, so watch out for that. The recipe is among these 10 best beetroot recipes on the Guardian website and you can find it here.
And then, there’s lots of soup ideas too and of course limitless baking ideas but perhaps I’ll leave that for another day……