Autumn treasures

The temperature has dropped, the wind is picking up and the leaves are beginning to turn – summer seems but a distant memory; autumn has well and truly arrived.
I have sadly neglected this blog over the summer, but with good reason; B. and I bought a house!
What with the buying process and wanting to decorate the house before we moved in, it took most of the summer to sort out. However, I am pleased to report that we are now all settled in and ready to get back to the serious business of cooking!
With the changing of the seasons comes a new exciting array of produce to cook with and help us get through winter: among them mushrooms, autumn berries and root vegetables.
My absolute favourite autumnal/winter vegetable has to be squash. For a start there are so many varieties: butternut, acorn, harlequin and yellow crookneck are just a few. They come in all different shapes, sizes and colours – true autumnal treasures.
Butternut is the most accessible and easy to find, and is very similar to pumpkin. It has a wonderful rich sweetness in its dark orangey flesh, and is extremely versatile. Butternut can be used in many dishes, from curries to soups and stews.
However, as I mentioned in my wild garlic post, I have a great love of risotto – and one with butternut squash is perfect for the cool (and often miserable) autumn weather. Many people I know who don’t like squash find it too sweet; here I have combined it with earthy sage, aromatic thyme and tangy Gorgonzola to offset the sweetness, and it is a stunning match.
Although you can boil squash, it does lose some of its sweetness; roasting it along with some sage and thyme in this dish intensifies the flavours and they all marry together nicely. The fried sage leaves may sound a little fancy, but they taste amazing and make a real difference.

For me, this dish signals that autumn is here, and goes a fair way for compensating for the terrible English weather. I hope it does the same for you too.

Butternut squash, gorgonzola and sage risotto

Serves 4

1 onion, diced
Splash of olive oil
Knob of butter
1 medium-sized butternut squash
6-8 sprigs of fresh sage (about 1 standard supermarket pack)
Few sprigs of fresh thyme
400g risotto rice
1.5l vegetable stock (I used Marigold Vegetable Bouillon)
115g Gorgonzola

 

1. Preheat the oven to 200°C/180°C fan/gas 6. Peel the butternut squash with a vegetable peeler (the skin can be tough to peel); scoop out the seeds and fibrous bits and discard. Cut the squash into small chunks and put  onto a baking tray. Reserve 6 of the largest sage leaves and finely chop the remaining leaves. Pick off the thyme leaves. Sprinkle the sage and thyme over the squash, season with sea salt and black pepper, then drizzle with olive oil. Toss to combine and cook for 20 minutes or until cooked through and starting to caramelise.

2. Meanwhile, fry the onion in a splash of olive oil and a knob of butter over a medium heat for about 5 minutes until softened but not coloured. Add the risotto rice, stir then gradually add the hot stock, stirring continuously between each addition until absorbed. Continue for 20 minutes or until the stock has been absorbed and the rice is al dente. Add more water if needs be.

3. In a small frying pan, fry the reserved sage leaves in a little olive oil over a medium-high heat for a few seconds each side until crisp. Set aside on a plate lined with kitchen paper.

4. Remove the risotto from the heat and stir through the gorgonzola and roasted squash. Top with the crisp sage leaves and serve immediately.

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