In my perfect imaginary world I’m cooking up a storm of fabulous recipes every day in my kitchen and venturing off quite often on exciting expeditions to meet lovely chefs and restaurateurs – as I did yesterday – to talk about food and cookbooks. But in real life the day job calls (fortunately quite often or there’d be trouble brewing in my bank account) and some days, like today, I have to pretty much tie myself to my desk and work chair and say to myself, Work! I enjoy the work I do and think I’m lucky and privileged to be paid to read some great books, but my real passion is for anything to do with food. And one of the joys of working from home is that I can combine a serious amount of work with some cooking. Like today: putting some butternut squash in the oven, beautifully spiced up, ready to blend into a dip for lunch.
This recipe is similar to the Sweet Potato Dip I wrote about earlier this year, but made infinitely more exciting by a few tips from Ottolenghi in his new book, Jerusalem. I was in fact using up the other half of the butternut squash with which I’d made another of his recipes on Sunday. The key to this recipe is roasting the squash in a dish tightly covered with foil so the pieces of squash don’t brown or dry up on the outside – you need to keep it soft and tender. And as well as the addition of tahini – a sauce which is basically pulped sesame seeds – Ottolenghi scatters sesame seeds over the top at the end. And, I thought, that’s such an obvious and great thing to do, i.e. whole sesame seeds with the tahini, why hadn’t I thought of it myself or seen it anywhere else. He also flavours his squash with cinnamon which is a brilliant combination with the sweet, earthy squash and where at the end he drizzles over some date syrup, I used maple syrup instead (his suggestion) because I really couldn’t justify leaving my desk for as long as it would take to source date syrup in Twickenham … which may be a lost cause anyway.
This is my version made with a much smaller amount of butternut squash so the ingredients are more haphazardly thrown in. If you want the real deal you’ll have to turn to Ottolenghi’s book – which is a delight – but mine turned out really well, so I’m hoping it’s close to what Ottolenghi intended … but whether it was or not, it was absolutely delicious!
Firstly peel an de-seed your butternut squash (I used just a half of one) and cut into uniform pieces and put in a roasting dish. Drizzle over some olive oil, sprinkle over a little cinnamon and a few chilli flakes (this was my extra addition as I’m partial to adding chilli wherever I can) and season with some salt and freshly ground pepper. Carefully turn it all with your hand to cover each piece of squash with oil then cover the dish tightly with some foil and put in the oven (180 Fan) till nicely soft and tender, but not breaking up. Timing will depend on the size of your squash pieces. I set my timer to look after 30 minutes … but forgot to start it, disappeared to my desk and after a while thought, that’s been a long 30 minutes … ummm …. fortunately it was OK and indeed needed a little more time, so I guess in the end it took about 45-60 minutes. Once cooked allow to cool. Then put the squash in a food processor with half a garlic clove mashed with a little salt, 2 tablespoons tahini and 2 tablespoons Greek yogurt. Pulse to a paste – rough or smooth depending on your preference – and check seasoning.
Transfer to a plate or shallow dish. Now brown a few sesame seeds in a dry frying pan. When they’re done, drizzle a little olive oil over the squash mix, then a little maple syrup and finally scatter over the sesame seeds.
I made a little tomato and parsley salad to go with it, dressing it simply with olive oil and a little red wine vinegar and seasoning. I thought the acidity of the tomatoes would balance the sweetness of the dip. I also toasted some slices of bread and drizzled olive oil over them, but you might prefer some warm pitta bread with it. There … one gorgeous and quite simple lunch!