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The memory of Hallowe’en is fading, but pumpkins and squash are very much still around, and are bound to feature in American Thanksgiving celebrations next week. Even in the UK, most people know that squash make a great buttery mash, and that they are delicious among a platter of mixed roast veggies – but they’ve got more to offer.
These days, thank goodness, you can get a bit more than just butternut squash in the shops. Butternut is fine, don’t get me wrong, but for me its almost artificially sweet nature and simple texture make it just an appealing gateway to more exciting gourds.
There are loads of squash and pumpkins, and it’s worth experimenting when you see them at
the greengrocer. Some are a little watery, but I have already found that this year’s crop is delicious and varied in flavour.
I’ve recently been buying wonderful big delica squash from one of my Italian suppliers (natoora.co.uk). The delica is my ideal squash – it is sweet, but not too sweet, and has a great firm texture, edible pretty green skin (less work for the chef) and is as happy fried as it is roasted, mashed or in a risotto.
When cooking with squash, it’s important to balance the sweetness with something intensely savoury: anchovy, pancetta, salty cheese and chilli all help to make the sweet squash more delicious.
Fried squash might seem a bit weird, but trust me on this, it works. I first came across this treatment in Japan, where top chefs are unparalleled masters of the fryer. Cut thinly and cooked in a tempura batter, and served over a bowl of rice, it makes a wonderful simple lunch — here I present it as I do at Rotorino, my Italian restaurant in Dalston, east London: very simple, with a tasty anchovylaced mayonnaise.
We all know squash risotto, it’s a pretty standard recipe, but done properly it can be truly fantastic. With the right weather, and the right wine, a plate of this rice can approach a perfect moment for me.
Squash soup is another well-loved recipe that, when done correctly, can safely deliver that contented, warm-inside, cold-outside feeling that is what autumn cooking is all about.
Serves 4-6 as a starter For the mayonnaise 4 anchovy fillets 1 sprig of rosemary, leaves picked 2 egg yolks Juice of ½ lemon 400ml/14fl oz mild olive oil For the squash Vegetable oil, for frying 50g/1¾oz plain flour Approx 75ml/2½fl oz sparkling water ½ crown prince squash, deseeded, peeled and cut into 3-5mm-wide half moons
Make the mayonnaise first. Place the anchovies and rosemary on a board and finely chop until you have a paste. Put to one side. Place the egg yolks and a squeeze of lemon juice in a food processor and pulse until smooth (or you can do it by hand with a bowl and a whisk.) With the processor going, very slowly start adding the oil — a few drops at the beginning, increasing to a very slow stream. Add a splash of water if it is too thick for your liking. Stir in the anchovy and rosemary and another few squeezes of lemon and adjust the seasoning to your liking.
In a deep pan, add the vegetable oil to depth of about 6cm/2½in and heat to about 180C (360F) – you can test the temperature by dropping in a bit of bread; if it turns golden in about 30 seconds, then the oil is the right temperature.
Make a batter by putting the flour in a large bowl and slowly whisking in about 75ml of sparkling water. You want it to be the consistency of double cream – add extra water or flour until it’s right.
Dip the squash slices into the batter (you may want to do this in batches so as not to overcrowd the pan), shake off any excess and then carefully lower them into the hot oil. Once they turn golden and look crisp, scoop them out with a slotted spoon and transfer to kitchen paper while you fry the rest. Sprinkle with sea salt, then serve with the mayonnaise.
Serves 6 Approx 1.5 litres/2½ pints of chicken or vegetable stock ½ squash, peeled and cut into 2cm cubes 1 cinnamon stick 10 slices of pancetta, cut into matchsticks 75g/3oz butter 2 small red onion, finely chopped 1 garlic clove, finely chopped A handful of sage, finely sliced 1 red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped ½ tin plum tomatoes, drained and rinsed 200g/7oz arborio rice 150ml white wine 60g/2½oz grated pecorino or Parmesan
Bring the stock to the boil in a deep saucepan and season lightly with salt. When it comes to the boil, add the squash and the cinnamon stick, then turn the heat down and simmer until completely tender, about 20-25 minutes.
Meanwhile, place the pancetta in a large, deep pan and pace over a medium heat. Fry until it starts releasing some of its fat, then add 50g of butter, the onion, garlic, sage and chilli and a good pinch of salt.
Cook slowly for 15 minutes until the onions are soft and sweet, then rip in the tomatoes and cook for a further 5 minutes.
Turn the heat back up to medium and stir in the rice. Cook, stirring for a few minutes so the rice cooks in the tomato juices, then pour in the wine and stir until it is all absorbed.
Scoop out the squash, reserving the stock. Mash the squash until completely smooth, season well with salt and pepper and put to one side for a moment. Start adding ladlefuls of the hot stock, stirring and allowing the previous one to be absorbed before adding the next. Keep going, stirring as often as you can, until all the liquid has been absorbed and the rice is just al dente – this should take about 25-30 minutes. You want the
Thanks be to gourd: clockwise from above, deep-fried squash with anchovy and rosemary mayonnaise; squash, pancetta and cinnamon risotto; spiced squash soup with sage and chilli butter