I often think that when God wanted chefs to be able to increase their menu gross profit he made sure two ingredients were on the planet: ham hock and butternut squash. Both are cheap as chips and sell for the price of fish.
The first will give you terrines, soups and stews for pence and the squash is just as versatile. In fact, if you’re like me and Nigel Slater, you don’t throw anything of the latter away. The flesh makes the silkiest soup without any help from cream and the squash can be roasted or stuffed and used in stews and curries.
And I never throw discard those seeds when they can be washed, dried and roasted (if you haven’t got the oven on do it slowly and gently in a dry pan on the hob). Salted, they make a decent snack but I pop them in a jar for the next time I’m making granola.
That just leaves the skin and I’ve just come across a Nigel Slater recipe where he uses it to make crisps to garnish the soup. He peels it off in thin strips which are seasoned, tossed in oil, sherry vinegar and rosemary and baked until crisp, as here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/recipes/butternut_squash_soup_90300 I plan to try this soon. Squash also makes a pretty decent filling to pasta or, when mixed with potato or flour, as gnocchi.
I make a butternut squash ‘gnocchi’ – note the quotation marks because it’s not quite the real thing – which I’ve not seen mentioned anywhere before.
I cut the squash into one centimetre slices and, with the aid of an apple corer, stamp out little circular discs which I steam until soft, about five minutes. While they are cooling I make a sort of pesto. Last time out I crushed a few walnuts with some basil (any soft herbs will do when the garden starts to grow) oil, a very little garlic and parmesan.
I then heat oil and butter in a pan, fry the ‘gnocchi’ until gently brown and caramelised, stir in the pesto to coat and serve up on a plate with a few leaves as a simple starter. The sweetness of the squash contrasts against the nutty grittiness of the walnut.
Is it a new dish? If it ain’t, someone will be sure to tell me!