It was my lucky day: I picked up a butternut squash at the Food Bank. Squashes, and indeed the whole Cucurbita genus (pumpkins, marrows, gourds, courgettes, cucumbers), are actually fruits not vegetables, being seed-bearing. However for culinary purposes they, like tomatoes, peppers, aubergines and legumes, are treated as vegetables. I rushed the shiny, rock hard, pear-shaped orange beast home and concocted a cheap and tasty vegetarian supper.
BUTTERNUT SQUASH & KALE GRATIN
1 butternut squash, peeled, de-seeded, cut into chunks
A knob of butter
A bunch of kale, de-stalked, shredded
200ml double cream
250g hard cheese (eg: Gruyère, Parmesan, Cheddar)
Sprig of thyme
Salt and black pepper
1. Sweat the squash and butter in a covered pan over a low heat for 10 minutes and steam the kale for 5 minutes
2. Warm the cream gently with the thyme, discard the thyme
3. Amalgamate the squash and kale in an ovenproof dish, season, pour over the cream, crumble/grate the cheese on top
4. Bake for 20 minutes
The two of us wolfed it down with a few home-made chunky chips (I wouldn’t dream of eating a meal without carbohydrates, or fat come to think of it), and there was plenty left over to freeze for another time. Some people say squashes are bland and boring, but I disagree: the sweet, nutty flavour is unique to the plant and its welcoming fleshy consistency makes it adaptable into endless meals, from soups via mashes to roasts. The native of South America is a great companion for every root and leaf vegetable, as in the curly kale I found in the back of the fridge, and needs very little help to be turned into something quite luxurious and indulgent.
A word of warning: squashes have to be peeled and diced, a task akin to cutting diamonds, so take care not to do what I did in my haste to get the thing prepared and virtually slice a finger through to the bone when my paring knife skidded on the rind. I didn’t make too much of a fuss and eventually, after holding the finger under cold running water for 10 minutes, the flow of blood began to coagulate. A few droplets found their way into the bake, but my partner didn’t notice – and anyway, it’s protein isn’t it?