I love butternut squash and the shops and markets are full of them and lots of other squashes and pumpkin at the moment. It’s that spooky time of year! But Halloween is over and there’s nothing at all spooky about this recipe. It is, in fact, a recipe from Ottolenghi’s new book, Jerusalem, which I bought a few weeks ago, have enjoyed reading, and I remembered seeing this recipe. I didn’t buy the squash with this in mind; I just like to buy butternut squash regularly: I adore that earthy, sweet flavour and the soft creamy texture once it’s cooked. I make soups, risottos or simply roast it. But this was going to be a more sophisticated and exciting type of roast.
I was so excited to buy this book as Jerusalem on a Plate remains one of the highlights of food TV in the past year for me and I only wish the programme would come out on DVD so that I could watch it over and over again. The book, however, is pretty fabulous too with stunning photographs and fascinating text as well as the wonderful recipes. I pretty much followed Ottolenghi’s recipe as it is in the book but used only half a butternut squash (the other half can go into one of those soups or risottos I was talking about) so made some adjustments to measurements. I had some lovely chicken legs from a good chicken son Jonathan had bought in the local Twickenham Farmers’ Market and jointed so I decided to roast them very simply to go with it. The squash was going to be exciting enough without doing anything fancy to the chicken to compete.
Butternut squash aren’t the easiest things to prepare and you have to be quite careful dealing with them. I used my very sharp Global chef’s knife (which would be my Desert Island Discs luxury should I ever become famous and they ask me on the show – in your dreams, I hear you say), and first of all cut the squash in half lengthways and spoon out the seeds. This isn’t something an ordinary vegetable peeler can deal with as the skin is very thick. Now I slice the skin off the top and bottom then stand the squash on its end and very careful slice down. It’s a bit tricky as it’s not a straight line! But just go about it as best you can.
I cut the squash into pieces larger than bite size – about 4 to 5 cm long – and tried to keep them uniform as much as I could. Then cut 1 red onion into wedges. Put the squash and onion in a shallow ovenproof dish and pour over a couple of tablespoons olive oil and season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Put in a 200 Fan oven for about half an hour. This is was a bit lower than Ottolenghi suggested but I wanted to cook my chicken at the same time – in fact, I’d got that going before I started preparing the vegetables. While the squash and onions are roasting prepare the tahini sauce and other flavourings.
You’ll need half a small clove of garlic, 2 tablespoon tahini, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, 1 tablespoon pine nuts, a handful of roughly chopped flat parsley and 1 rounded tablespoon za’atar. Za’atar is one of Ottolenghi’s favourite spice mixes that he says encapsulates the smell of Jerusalem. It’s usually a mix of za’atar (a bit like thyme), sumac and sesame seeds. It can be bought quite easily in supermarkets.
Warm a tablespoon olive oil in a frying pan and brown the pine nuts, then set aside, keeping the oil. Next make the tahini dressing: put the tahini, lemon juice, crushed and chopped garlic in a bowl with about a tablespoon of water and a little salt and whisk together. This was quite thick and although the instructions were to add more water, I added a little olive oil too and just went on doing this until I had a good, loose mayonnaise-type consistency.
Check how your squash is doing. You may want to turn it a couple of times. I took out the red onion a bit earlier as it was starting to burn – something Ottolenghi suggests doing but it was a bit tricky spooning them out and it occurred to me that next time I might add the onion about 10 minutes into the cooking time. Test whether the squash is tender with a fork or knife. Once it’s done remove from the oven. Now pour over the tahini sauce. I spooned it over and didn’t add quite all I made but just until it looked right for me. Then scatter over the pine nuts with the oil you browned them in. Finally, sprinkle over the za’atar and then the parsley.
Wow! It looked absolutely wonderful and it smelled so good I knew it would taste wonderful too. Having the simply roasted chicken with it was perfect, the squash is so full of gorgeous aromatic flavours that it’s definitely the star of the meal. There’s the soft, earthy squash with the nice texture of the pine nuts and onion; the lemony-nutty taste of the tahini dressing, and it all comes together into an amazing taste. It’s just a gorgeous dish that I could have quite happily had as a main course without meat … but actually, the chicken was pretty good too.