Essential ingredients: squash


squash 2

Halloween may be behind us, but the squash season certainly isn’t. This month our Head Chef Stewart Turner provides a wholesome pie recipe, while Demetri Walters MW suggests appropriate wine pairings

On the table: Our seasonal spotlight falls on squash which are now in their peak season. Although butternut squash are available throughout the year, the UK offerings are now in their prime, but there is an amazing variety of squash to choose from, in an amazing array of sizes, shapes and colours. Although most are edible, some are used for decoration only.

These vegetables have a fantastic versatility from roasting to braising, curry to crush, they take flavour on really well and bring a hearty quality to a dish. As a complex carbohydrate full of beta-carotene, vitamin C and fibre, they also make a great alternative to potatoes or other simple carbs. All squashes and pumpkins have a tough outer rind, an inner cavity filled with hard seeds and sweet, rich, well-coloured flesh with a dense, nutty and earthy flavour.

Gâteau Pithiviers is one of my favourite dishes. Classically sweet, it is, in essence, a puff pastry pie filled with jam and almond cream, a sort of French Bakewell tart if you like, but with puff pastry (which for me is what makes all the difference). I first made a savoury version whilst working at The Waterside Inn, with a celeriac and truffle filling. This dish is a take on that. I have done individual Pithiviers but you can make one large version that is presented at the table and then portioned – it adds a bit of “wow” factor and really cuts done on prep time, just increase the cooking time.

Great as a starter or light lunch, they work just as well as an accompaniment to meat or fish. For the ease of the recipe I have stuck with butternut squash but you can use any squash you like, whichever takes your fancy. The pancetta is optional so feel free to take it out if you fancy a veggie option.

In the glass: As the nights continue to lengthen and the short hours of daylight often seem interminably grey, squash offers us the comfort of a vegetable seemingly made for winter. Stewart’s squash Pitiviers is a flavoursome and textured dish that would provide the perfect foil to an equally robust wine, and likely a white one. My go-to region would be France’s Northern Rhône and a rich and expansive Marsanne/Roussanne blend.  Though considerably more aromatic, Viognier from Condrieu would work equally well, as would many New World counterparts.

The secret to complementing the mouth-filling consistency of squash, is to pair it with something equally full-bodied and not too high in acidity. Squash is often accompanied, and certainly in this case, by highly flavoured ingredients with marked pungency and taste. Buttery, fuller-bodied white wines, often with the oxidative complexity arising from wood-ageing, work best. Think Meursault, fuller Pinot Gris, as well as southern Italian native varieties. Makes for a cosy meal, doesn’t it?

Squash PithiviersServes 6
  • 1 large butternut squash
  • 2 shallots – peeled and finely chopped
  • 1 chilli – split, deseeded and finely chopped
  • 4 cloves of garlic – 2 crushed, 2 peeled and finely chopped
  • 2-3 sprigs each of thyme and rosemary
  • 40g pancetta – diced (optional)
  • 25g parmesan – grated
  • 2 tbsp sage – chopped
  • 500g pre-rolled puff pastry sheets
  • 1 egg – beaten with 1 tbsp milk
  • 100g small girolles
  • Hazelnut praline – see below
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper

Preheat the oven to 180˚C. Peel and split the squash, remove the seeds and dice a little bit of the top for a garnish. Drizzle the remaining squash with olive oil and fill the cavity with the smashed garlic, thyme and rosemary. Wrap the squash in foil and bake the oven for about 30 minutes or until tender. Rinse the seeds, drizzle with a little oil, season and toast in the oven for four or five minutes, until lightly golden.

While the butternut is cooking, heat a splash of olive oil in a pan and sweat the diced shallot, chilli and garlic until tender. If using, dry the pancetta until golden, drain off any fat and combine in a bowl with the shallot mixture, parmesan and sage.

Once the butternut is cooked, discard the garlic, thyme and rosemary, place in a bowl and lightly crush the butternut with a fork, but try not to break it down too much. Add the shallot and parmesan mixture, combine well and chill until cool.

Once chilled divide the mixture into 70g portions. Place each portion in a ring or cutter, about 60cm in diameter, to form a patty. Cut the puff pastry into 12 squares:  six large enough to be cut with a 90cm cutter (these will form the base) and the other six slightly larger, as these will have to stretch over the filling.

Place a patty in the centre of each of the base squares, brush around with a little egg wash, drape one of the larger squares over the top and push down around the edges to expel any air and seal well. Repeat with the remaining Pithiviers. Chill in the fridge for 30 minutes to allow the pastry to rest. Cut out each Pithiviers with the 90cm cutter, then form a small hole in the centre with a skewer and – using a sharp knife – score the pastry in a spiral pattern without cutting all the way through, the egg wash well and chill for another 30 minutes.

Bake the Pithiviers for about 20 to 25 minutes until risen and golden. While they are cooking, sauté the dices butternut squash and girolle mushrooms in a little olive oil and butter, deglaze with a splash of Chardonnay vinegar and add the chopped parsley.

Serve the Pithiviers with a scattering of the butternut and mushroom mix, and top with a little hazelnut praline. Finish with the toasted seeds.

Hazelnut praline

  • 125g toasted hazelnuts
  • 25ml hazelnut oil
  • 25ml smoked rapeseed oil
  • ½ clove of garlic – grated on a micro plane or finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp maple syrup
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 pinch crushed chilli flakes (optional)

Combine all the ingredients in a food processer and pulse to a course paste. Season to taste and use as required.