Root to fruit: butternut squash

squash

I recently bought The Natural Cook – eco-chef, Tom Hunt’s recent cookbook, and I’m hooked. His recipes make seasonal veg the hero with tonnes of ideas on how to cook from “root to fruit”. Cooking this way means absolutely nothing is wasted. So, when we got hold of a load of wonky butternut squash, I took to adopting Tom’s philosophy.

Squash are one of those brilliantly versatile winter foods. Roasted, sautéed, baked or boiled, they’re great in salads, risottos, stews, soups, curries or sweet cakes. Deliciously chewy skin, soft sweet flesh and little seeds that are perfect for roasting, I’d go so far as to say they’re up there with my favourite veggies.

Here are a few of our favourite ways of devouring them, plus a handful of ideas to use up the leftovers.

ROASTED

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Honey-roasted squash with whole garlic, cumin seeds, woody herbs and chilli flakes is definitely a favourite. It’s darn good alongside roast pork or tossed in a salad with winter greens, a lemony mustard dressing (with the soft garlic mashed into it) and roasted nuts or maple fried squash seeds scattered on top.

Got leftovers?

Don’t throw the seeds! Rinse them under cold running water, pat dry with kitchen paper, then place in the oven as it’s warming up or cooling down (optimal temp is about 150ºC/300ºF). Once dried, transfer to a frying pan with a drizzle of maple syrup or honey for 3 minutes. Sprinkle over salads, pasta dishes, curries or eat as a snack.

Make roasted squash houmous. Blitz up your roasted squash in a food processor with chickpeas, a good dollop of tahini, a good squeeze of lemon juice and a few tablespoons of olive oil. Or, for Italian-style bruschetta, try mashing roasted squash onto toasted ciabatta with crispy fried sage and crumbled feta on top.

SAUTÉED

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Chop the squash into bite-sized chunks (keep the skin on) and add to a pan with a splash of oil, sliced garlic and chilli, fresh sage or rosemary leaves and cinnamon. Cook over a low heat until tender, then mash gently so it’s still a bit chunky. Toss through al dente pasta with a splash of the cooking water and serve with a crumbling of cheese (we used feta) and the maple-spiked seeds, if you like (see tip above).

If you’ve got leftovers, mix some stale breadcrumbs and grated Parmesan into the mashed squash mixture for a veggie ‘sausage’ roll filling.

PURÉED

Squash’s earthy sweetness make them the perfect pair to spices like nutmeg, cinnamon and ground cloves. Throw that combo into a cake mix and you’ve got something pretty special – check out these root veg cupcakes, or try this sweet tear ‘n’ share bread. You only use a little of the squash, so if you have leftovers, add a little stock and chilli flakes, season with salt and pepper and eat as a soup.

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Butternut squash tear ‘n’ share bread

400g butternut squash
50g butter
120ml milk
45g brown sugar
1 x 7g sachet of yeast
220g strong bread flour, plus extra for dusting
100g spelt flour (or just use strong bread flour)
sea salt
oil for greasing

For the cinnamon sugar:

250g brown sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
50g butter

To make the butternut squash purée, peel your squash (freeze or compost the peelings), then chop into 3cm chunks. Place in a pan of boiling water for 10 to 12 minutes, or until tender. Drain, reserving a cup of the cooking water. Blitz until smooth, adding a splash of the cooking water to loosen if needed. Leave to cool.

Brown the butter in a pan over a medium heat. Meanwhile, gently heat the milk until lukewarm, then slowly add to the browned butter. Return it to the heat until bubbling, transfer to a bowl, then stir in the sugar. Allow to cool slightly – it should be somewhere between tepid and hot (around 40ºC if you have a thermometer). Add the yeast and set aside for 5 to 10 minutes.

Stir in the cooled squash purée, a pinch of salt and a heaped spoonful of the bread flour. Stir to combine, then gradually add the remaining flours until combined. Knead briefly until smooth and elastic, adding more flour to bring it together if needed. Place in a large oiled bowl, cover with a damp tea towel and leave in a warm place for 1 to 2 hour, or until doubled in size.

To make the cinnamon sugar, brown the butter, then stir in the sugar, cinnamon and a good grating of nutmeg.

Once the dough has risen, turn it out onto a flour-dusted surface and knead for a few minutes. Roll it out into a rectangle, roughly 30cm x 50cm, then spread the cinnamon sugar on top. Slice lengthways into six even strips and place them on top of each other, then slice horizontally into 6 even squares. Pile them into a greased 1-litre loaf tin, cover with a tea towel and leave to prove for a further 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 180ºC/350ºF. Once risen, place the bread into the hot oven for 30 minutes, or until golden. Leave to cool slightly, then tear ‘n’ share with a hot cup of coffee.

(recipe adapted from The Sprouted Kitchen)

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