by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall from River Cottage Good Comfort (Bloomsbury) Photography © Simon Wheeler
Winter squashes are being produced in Britain more and more these days, both by home gardeners and larger-scale growers. The variety and quality just gets better and better and that makes me very happy! By all means, use the very available butternut for this warming, filling and undeniably cheering dish – but you might enjoy it even more if you try one of the other squash I suggest here.
Sizing squash takes a bit of trial and error with unfamiliar varieties, as you never quite know how thick the ‘walls’ are. So err on the side of generosity when choosing – and bear in mind that you are looking for half a squash to either feed one person, or two.
2 relatively small squashes (or 1 medium), such as Crown Prince, kabocha, delicata, red onion or butternut (about 1.5kg in total)
About 2 tbsp olive oil
1–2 garlic cloves, peeled and halved
A few sprigs of thyme, rosemary or sage
2–4 bay leaves
1 large onion, chopped
250g chestnut mushrooms, sliced
1 medium fennel bulb or ¼ medium cauliflower, roughly chopped
200g frozen peas or sweetcorn (or half and half)
100g blue cheese, crumbled, mozzarella, chopped, or Cheddar, grated
A pinch of dried chilli flakes or cayenne (optional)
Pumpkin seeds, or a handful of crumbled cooked chestnuts or bashed walnuts
Sea salt and black pepper
TO SERVE (OPTIONAL)
Vegan gravy (see recipe below)
Preheat the oven to 190°C/170°C Fan/Gas 5.
Wash any earth off the squash(es). Slice them in half through the centre as cleanly as you can then use a spoon to scrape out all the seeds and any soft fibres around them.
Put the squash halves, cut side up, in a roasting tin. Brush all the cut and scraped-out surfaces with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Drop half a garlic clove, a sprig of herbs and a bay leaf into each cavity. Roast for 45 minutes–1 hour, until the flesh is quite tender when pierced with a knife.
Meanwhile, heat 2 tbsp olive oil in a large frying pan over a medium heat. Add the chopped onion, season with some salt and pepper and get it sizzling, then turn down the heat and sweat for about 10 minutes to soften.
Turn up the heat again and add the sliced mushrooms to the pan. Cook, stirring, until the liquid they release is evaporated. Keep cooking for a few minutes to get some colour on the mushrooms and onion.
Now add the chopped fennel or cauliflower. Cook for another 10–15 minutes or so, until everything is fairly tender. Stir in the peas and/or sweetcorn 5 minutes before the end.
Take the squash halves from the oven and discard the herbs. Set the garlic aside for a moment. Starting in the middle of the squash, scoop out around half of the hot, roasted squash flesh with a teaspoon and put it into a large bowl. Leave a good 1–2cm-thick ‘wall’ all around the inside so the squash can hold its shape.
Add the vegetable mix and the reserved garlic to the hot scooped-out squash in the bowl, along with about three-quarters of the cheese, and stir together to form a rough mash. Add more salt and pepper, and a pinch of chilli flakes or cayenne, if you like, to taste. Heap this mix back into the half squash shells.
Sprinkle the pumpkin seeds or nuts and the remaining cheese on top of the filling and return the stuffed squash to the oven for 15–20 minutes until everything is molten and the exposed surface of the squash is browning nicely.
Give everyone a squash half (or if you’ve baked two halves from a larger squash, cut these in half again and put a squash quarter on each plate). Serve straight up, or with a crisp salad on the side. (If you really want to make an occasion of it, you can serve it with my vegan gravy too!)
Vegan ‘festive’ stuffed squash: For a vegan stuffed squash, leave out the cheese and add sliced olives or baby capers to the stuffing mix. Served with the Vegan gravy on page 214, and sprouts and roasties on the side, this makes a great vegan Christmas dinner.
Spicy stuffed squash: Leave out the thyme, rosemary or sage. Add 1 tbsp curry powder or paste to the sweating onion. Leave out the cheese and stir 2 tbsp half-fat crème fraîche or soured cream into the stuffing before putting it back into the squash. Sprinkle with chopped coriander to serve.
Great gravy is a real sauce of comfort (sorry!). I serve this meat-free gravy with all kinds of meals, vegan and otherwise, including my toad-in-the-hole on page 212 and the stuffed squash on page 216. It gets its rich, umami taste from the browned mushrooms and onions, and the background flavours of red wine (or beer for a slightly bitter note), soy and a hint of coffee.
2 tbsp olive or vegetable oil
About 100g dark-coloured mushrooms, such as chestnut or open-cap, roughly chopped
200ml red wine or dark beer
1 medium onion, roughly chopped
1 medium carrot, scrubbed or peeled and sliced
1 celery stick, roughly chopped
1 tsp fine plain wholemeal flour
About 500ml light vegetable stock
2 bay leaves
A large sprig of thyme (optional)
1 tbsp strong coffee, such as espresso
1 tbsp tamari or soy sauce
Heat 1 tbsp oil in a wide,, heavy pan over a high heat. Add the mushrooms and fry ‘hard’ for 6–7 minutes, without stirring, until they start to develop some good brown colour. After that, you can stir from time to time: keep cooking until the mushrooms are a rich dark brown. Use a wooden spatula to loosen any bits sticking to the base of the pan from time to time. Tip the mushrooms into a bowl, then add a splash of the wine or beer to the pan, scraping to deglaze it as it simmers. Add this liquor to the mushrooms.
Give the pan a wipe and add the remaining 1 tbsp oil. Toss in the onion, carrot and celery and sizzle pretty hard until the veg are well browned (almost a bit burnt). Sprinkle in the flour and cook, stirring, for a couple of minutes. Add another splash of wine or beer, giving the pan a good stir-and-scrape with a spatula.
Stir in the stock, remaining wine or beer, and the herbs. Bring to a simmer and cook for a few minutes to make sure the veg are tender. Add the coffee and tamari/soy and return the mushrooms to the pan. Take off the heat, discard the herbs and tip the contents of the pan into a blender. Blitz thoroughly until smooth, then pour into a small pan and reheat gently, adding a little extra stock or water to get a pouring consistency. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Serve the gravy straight away or cool and refrigerate until needed (it also freezes really well).
Vegan onion gravy: Finely slice 1 large onion and fry it in 1 tbsp oil in a covered pan over a medium-low heat with some salt and pepper, stirring often, until well reduced, soft and golden. This might take 20 minutes or so. Add to the finished vegan gravy and stir well. This is excellent with sausages (either veggie or meat) and mash, and with the toad-in-the-hole.