Waitrose Weekend: Winter Squashes

Posted on 22th October 2014

I really thought I was in control and that this was not going to change – how wrong can one be. It was supper-time at my son’s home and I was on granddad visit, the youngest was about to be fed and I was to be the ‘victim’ or helper!


Jamie is my youngest grandchild, he will be one next month and he always has a smile on his face, such a lovely endearing young chap, growing well, putting on weight and always has a good appetite! It is an important time in a child’s growth period when their diet starts to include purées and a time when we need to pay a lot of attention.


So what gastronomic delight was I to be feeding this young chap? It was orange in colour, smelt quite delicious and had a slight sweet taste. Butternut squash came the reply. ‘What?’ Says I. I had not heard of butternut squash until I was 18, and here is my one-year-old grandson already eating it! In all fairness he did a good job, his face had a covering where he has wielded his own spoon and missed his mouth, the high-chair had a slight speckling and I was splattered only a bit!


The whole episode made me realise how the world has changed in its eating habits and what to me was adventurous, to my daughter-in-law was just natural. I thought the great thing was that while I was feeding Jamie, my son was using the rest of the purée with tinned tomatoes, garlic and chilli and chopped up butternut squash to serve as an accompaniment to the roast he had made for the rest of the family.


Of course this is the time for winter squashes, not all of which are edible. The best ones to look for are Ebony Acorn, Little Gem, Onion, Bubbard, Kabocha and butternut. Then again pumpkins are also in season, and an obvious choice for making spectacular Halloween jack-o’-lanterns. And then there are those of us who are keen to cook with those fabulous-looking ‘vegetables’ instead.


For me the best thing to do with pumpkins is to find hard-fleshed orange ones and make a great pumpkin pie or cheesecake. Blended with sweet spices such as cinnamon, cloves and cardamom, pumpkins make a great dessert. The combination of roasted pumpkin and spices also works with savoury dishes, such as stews or curries where garlic, ginger and nutmeg are used.


Best of all though, I think the greatest use of pumpkin I have ever tasted came from Italian cooking. Quite a few years ago I was in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy where we had been inspecting wonderful Parma hams and delicious Parmesan cheese. Of course Parma ham and Parmesan cheese featured heavily on the lunch menu, but the dish that really won my heart was a pumpkin tortelli.


I have only ever had this dish once since that trip and it even surpassed my anticipation. Early this year I had supper at Angela Hartnett’s wonderful Café Murano and the dish was there and it was exquisite. Such light pasta with the filling a perfect balance of pumpkin and mustard fruits. It’s not easy to make but for the more adventurous, it’s well worth a try!

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