The greenhouse is relatively bereft of promising young shoots now, in this chilly November. But the work it did in spring – sheltering promising young shoots from the vagaries – is still being felt in the kitchen, and will be for some time to come. I sowed three types of winter squash, ‘Uchiki Kuri’, the pretty little deep orange onion shaped squash, ‘Cobnut’ an early flowering and ripening form of butternut squash (and far better suited to our growing conditions than most butternuts), and ‘Burgess Vine Buttercup’ which is not the most beautiful thing, but is possibly the best tasting. I chose all three because they are delicious, sweet and dense, and just the sort of thing that I want to be eating come November, when the weather turns as cold as it has this last week. Winter squash are infinitely better than pumpkins, when it comes to the eating (it all comes down to wateriness), and certain varieties of winter squash are infinitely better than others, and these three are winners, and worth making note of if you plan to try growing your own for the first time next year. All were sown into their own little pots in spring under glass, at first with a little heat to stop them from shivering in the early spring chill. As they grew and the weather warmed they were potted on into bigger pots, slowly hardened off, and then finally planted out into muck-filled pits when all danger of frost had passed and the glasshouse had done its job.
All summer they grew and packed away dense golden flesh that will store right through winter, only to be released by a sturdy, sharp knife and a long, slow spell in the oven or the pot. The warm, comforting side to winter squash is obviously very welcome right now, but it is a vegetable that can get a little cloying cooked some ways: too cosy, too ‘squashy’. One of my favourite ways to eat it is as sweet and sour squash, the treatment giving it enough zip to wake it up and boot it out of mama bear’s chair. This recipe is inspired by the traditional Sicilian dish Zucca in Saor, which is made much the same way but with pine nuts, raisins and cinnamon instead of the mint, feta and walnuts. Both ways are very much recommended.
Sweet and sour winter squash
450g winter squash, diced
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper
3 garlic cloves
2 ½ teaspoons sugar
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
150g walnuts, toasted
Handful chopped mint
Turn your oven to 400F/200C/gas mark 6. Tumble two tablespoons of the oil together with the squash in a large roasting tin until everything is coated, and season with salt and pepper. Bake for around 20 minutes, until the squash is slightly softened but not yet quite tender. Spoon the sugar into the vinegar and mix together until the sugar has dissolved. Warm 1 tablespoon of the remaining oil in a saucepan and crush the garlic into it then tip in the squash. Now cook until the squash is tender but still holds its shape. Remove from the heat and tip in the vinegar and sugar solution and mix thoroughly. Allow to cool to room temperature. At this stage you can leave the squash in the fridge to marinade for up to 24 hours if you wish, just bring it back to room temperature before you finish and eat it. Before eating, crumble over the feta, break up the walnuts and sprinkle them over, and finish with the mint and the last tablespoon of oil.