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Market Stars #1 - The Winter Squash

Kicking this off with the not-so-humble squash, the instantly recognisable hero of autumn. With its spectrum of bold colours and ability to stay fresh for months, this star is an Instagram hit and a favourite of chefs across the world. Halloween doesn’t hurt its reputation either, although the number of pumpkins left soggy and rotting after the festivities is said to be at least eight million, which is scarier than a Pennyworth costume in a dark alleyway.

In terms of the small print, winter squash – which are just summer squash that have developed a thick skin – pack a decent nutritional punch. I’m told it’s high in Vitamin C, carotenoids, fibre, potassium, and is fairly low fat and low calories, if you’re counting.

They’re also excellent at absorbing flavour and filling, so you can make it stretch on a budget and thankfully make it tasty.

Helpfully, no two squash are the same. When choosing your squash you want to consider:

  • Am I going to blend it? In that case, maybe choose one with a thinner skin, or one that you’re going to peel, so the finished dish isn’t gritty and weird.

  • On which note, can I be bothered to peel it? It can be a real bore peeling a ridged squash, especially if your knife isn’t sharp enough. And if your knife isn’t sharp enough – I’d be wary of the really big ones. I nearly lost a finger tip trying to make a risotto with a paring knife in lockdown.

  • How sweet do I want it to be? The bright orange-fleshed Crown Prince I cut open this week filled the kitchen with the smell of melon, which was initially weird but then just meant when baked it had a sweeter taste. Fine for my purposes (packing it in with blue cheese – more on that later) but it could be overwhelming without some balance.

  • ·And finally, and I mean finally, because see above re waste – which colours do you want in your kitchen? It’s pleasing to come into a warm kitchen with squash in all the hues of autumn set out, especially when it’s blustering outside and you want a hearty dish of something spiced.

For this week I chose a smallish, orange-flecked Hooligan because I wanted something firmer and earthier, and a large green Crown Prince with lurid orange flesh, almost like a sweet potato, because I wanted something sweet and lighter as well. I bought mine at Wild Country Organics in Balham Market for not many coins, and they had handy notices next to each variety with descriptions and recipe ideas.

So, to the recipes. This week was the first week it felt actually cold, so my mind was on spices and hot sourness and stodge.

I started off with a Squash, Nutmeg and Chilli Bucatini for the Hooligan, which provided comfort food with a warming kick from the chilli. Nutmeg and squash on its own can get a bit PSL girl (and more than a little bland), so the chilli elevates this into something of nuance. You can watch an extremely sped-up how-to video on my Instagram page.

Next, I’m already breaking the rules about store cupboard ingredients but I happened to have some dried limes and I wanted a sour hearty dish. You can make this Squash, Dried Lime and Chickpea Soup without dried limes, substituting (wet?) limes, so I think this

recipe can stay. This is also with the Hooligan.

Staying in the world of soups, you could make a fairly standard Squash and Sage number, or I really recommend this Miso Squash and Carrot one. I had a lot of chickpeas to use up from the dried lime soup, so blended in some and roasted some to scatter on top for texture.

Finally, I finally conquered my pastry demons (with a little mechanical help) and used up some old blue cheese for this Squash and Blue Cheese Tart, using the Crown Prince.

I’ve now eaten enough of this star for one week – this might be a hazard of the project – so I’m going to leave it there. I would just recommend as a final point: save, save, save the seeds. Roast them with some paprika, salt and chilli and you’ve got an elegant and waste-free topper or snack.

Get stuck in and let me know what you think in the comments – and please do suggest any of your favourite squash recipes!

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