In my kitchen there is usually a butternut squash sitting in my vegetable rack, awkwardly resting atop onions and sweet potatoes and always threatening to topple. Despite the amount of space it takes up I do like to have one hanging around. It lasts for a while after you bring it home, it’s tough skin seems to protect it for a week or two, so it’s good to keep in for when all your other vegetables are gone.
Preparing butternut squash though, is one of those kitchen jobs which I find such a bore. Despite what some chefs suggest I don’t like leaving the skin on – it’s too much of a chew, so I have to resort to the laborious peel of it. We got a new peeler recently though, it’s an OXO Good Grips Y Peeler one since you asked, and actually it makes much easier work of the peel (unlike our Jamie Oliver peeler which, I’m sorry Jamie, is terribly flimsy). You still have to take the skin off in a couple of layers but it’s much better than to try and wield a paring knife along the undulating curves of the vegetable.
Although once you’ve peeled it, that’s only half the job done as then you have to tackle those seeds which are like unwanted squatters, absolutely impossible to evict, despite every effort to dig at them. These days I just cut around them which does mean losing a little good squash but certainly saves my sanity. I remember watching Saturday kitchen ages ago and one of the random members of public that they have eating at the table asked the chef of the day what the easiest way of preparing a butternut squash was. I watched keenly, eager to find out some key technique which I had been missing all these years, only for the chef to turn to the man with disdain and say ‘Practice.’
I am also particular about how my butternut squash is cooked. I can’t bear it al dente and simply cannot fathom the inclusion of it in those pre-packaged stir fry vegetables from the supermarket. I believe it should be roasted until the flesh is silky smooth but slightly chewy on the edges where the sugars have begun to caramelise. This means then that I favour a long, slow roast. If I am going to mash the squash then I chop it into even 1 inch sized pieces and tuck it into the oven for an hour or two until it’s reached the tenderness I desire. I often mash it quite haphazardly as well so it’s beautifully textured rather than pureed. If I’m not going to mash it, then smaller pieces can be acceptable for a quicker roast but then I am after much crispier edges.
Butternut squash can be quite dense and I usually need a portion of greenery to accompany it to lighten the load. The brightness of the mint within this pesto sings in complete harmony with the squash. The feta and pistachio give a fresh creaminess and sweet savouriness to the proceedings with a zing of lemon to perk it up. We ate this with some lamb chops which had been grilled for just long enough that the thin layer of fat had crisped up but the inside was still pleasurably medium rare. It really felt like something special.
Roasted Butternut Squash Mash with Feta, Pistachio and Mint Pesto
Serves 4-6 as a side
2 x butternut squash (about 1.3kg each)
60ml olive oil
75g shelled pistachios
28g fresh mint, leaves removed from stalks
10g parsley, leaves removed from stalks
1 clove garlic
Juice of ½ lemon
150ml extra virgin olive oil
- Pre-heat oven to 180°C.
- Peel the squash and remove the seeds. Then cut into 1 inch thick pieces.
- Pour the olive oil into a large roasting dish and follow with the pieces of squash, making sure they are all coated in the oil. Season with salt and pepper.
- Place the dish in the oven and roast for about 2 hours, checking occasionally to turn the squash over. The squash is ready when it is completely soft in the inside and the edges are just caramelising.
- Whilst the squash is roasting you can make the pesto. Place the pistachios in a food processor and blitz until finely ground.
- Add the mint, parsley and garlic and blitz again until chopped very finely.
- Scoop the feta into the food processor, squeeze in the lemon, and grind in some black pepper then whizz up again so that all the ingredients come together to form a thick paste.
- Then with the food processor still on, stream in the olive oil slowly so that it incorporates into the paste and forms a smooth pesto. Set aside until the butternut squash is ready.
- Once the squash has been removed from the oven, then take a masher to it. How smooth you want the squash is up to you.
- Serve the butternut squash mash with healthy drizzles of pesto.