It feels good to be back in the writing saddle. Everyone here survived just about one full week of school before the month long interruptions of Jewish Holidays set in, and we are officially in the throes of Autumn, bundled in sweaters and slippers one day and stripped down to t-shirts the next.
Back to school week helped me regain my rhythm after a summer of what can only be described as controlled mayhem. Working from home on a new exciting project with four children lounging around every corner of the house certainly tested all of my boundaries of focus and patience. Hours of ball games were played, while I gallivanted around London searching for the finest breads, pastries, coffees and sandwiches for our soon to be re-opened, re-launched and revived favourite specialist destination delicatessen.
I am definitely not going to win mother of the year for this summer, but I doubt anyone who works from home during the holidays can honestly say they complete every (or any) task well. Safe to say the summer came to an abrupt end with the stark realisation that the fridge was bereft of any basics and not a haircut, dentist, or optician visit appeared in our holiday schedule.
But as the autumn routine sets in with a busy few months of old and new projects and planning our next supper club and final class of the year, there is great comfort that fridge is re-stocked with my staple dressings and condiments ready for emergency weeknight meals. And rest assured now that winter squash are back at the farmer’s market, this recipe for roasted butternut halves that I love to blitz into soup will be lurking in my fridge or freezer all autumn and winter long.
These days I like to keep home cooking as simple as possible. When the opportunity arises I make double of anything I can to keep or freeze giving me a secret stash of soup, grains or pie filling just waiting to be heated or consumed on those days when things just don’t go to plan. Stealing a few quiet moments to roast or simmer ingredients with minimal prep in my mind is a good use of time and reaps many smug satisfaction rewards.
So when you are next at the farmer’s market, greengrocer or supermarket, pick up a few good looking butternut squashes or blue skinned pumpkins and a head of garlic. Carefully halve them (make sure you use a sharp knife), and roast them with some whole garlic cloves and aromatics. Keep two halves for delicious sides to just about any protein, mixed in with your favourite grain, or as part of a salad. Blitz the other halves of sweet orange flesh in a blender with some good stock and hey presto you have soup for comfort and warmth as the days get shorter.
Roasted Butternut Squash (and a soup)
This is more of a suggestion of different ways to flavour and serve butternut squash either as a vegetarian main course, salad, side or soup. Pick your aromatics (or not) and dressing (or not) or soup addition (or not) and make it your own. Consider this your mid week saviour.
2 butternut squash or a small pumpkin (I like the ones with a blueish skin) or 2-3 large sweet potatoes
8 garlic cloves
3-4 tbsp olive oil (or oil from your confit garlic lurking in the fridge)
salt and pepper
a sprinkling of allspice
a pinch of chilli flakes
a few sprigs of thyme and/or a few bay leaves
If you are not making it into soup, you could sprinkle with a little brown sugar or maple syrup and butter for a sweeter side dish.
Preheat oven to 220C (440F), and line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper or foil.
Wash the outside of the vegetables under cold running water.
Cut each squash or pumpkin or sweet potato in half through the stem, and scoop out the seeds.(If you only have small sweet potatoes, keep them whole.)
If using butternut squash, slash the top section (the part without the seeds), careful not to cut all the way thorough (this ensures even cooking and a good guide of where to slice before serving).
Rub the cut side of the vegetables with olive oil, and season well with salt and pepper. Add any of the aromatics if you want.
Put 2 cloves of garlic (with skin on) in each cavity of the squash/pumpkin with herbs (if using) and carefully turn over onto the prepared baking sheet, ensuring the garlic remains in the cavity.
Bake, skin side up for 30 minutes. Turn over and continue to cook for another 20-30 minutes until the squash is soft when pierced with a knife and crispy around the edges.
To serve, cut the squash, sweet potato and/or pumpkin into slices with a garlic clove to squeeze onto the flesh. You can eat the cooked skin of the squash, but you will want to scoop the sweet flesh out of the pumpkin.
These roasted beauties can be eaten warm or cold. Just cut into slices and serve. They are delicious as a leftover as part of a salad with crumbled feta or goats cheese, some toasted hazelnuts or dukkah, a smattering of pomegranate seeds and leaves.
Or cube and toss with with steamed winter greens such as steamed chard, kale or cavolo nero as a main veggie course.
Or simply drizzle with good tahini or dilled soured cream (ie. soured cream with chopped dill stirred through)
Or just keep in the fridge to serve alongside roasted chicken, fish or part of a weeknight dinner spread.
To turn your roasted veg into soup:
Scoop out the warm flesh from all the veg, and squeeze the cooked garlic cloves into a blender with a sautéed onion (optional) and 1-1.5 litres of vegetable or chicken stock. Blend until smooth. You can flavour this with coconut milk, allow some spinach leaves to wilt in at the end, or add a dollop of creme fraiche. Croutons or brown rice will bulk this up for a complete meal, and I sometimes like to increase the amount of liquid and add a tin or jar of good cannellini beans for a really hearty winter warmer.