© The Financial Times Ltd 2015 FT and 'Financial Times' are trademarks of The Financial Times Ltd.
September 27, 2013 7:18 pm
According to Simon Schama, the “two most depressing words in the English language have to be ‘butternut squash’”. In a recent Spectator diary he rages against the end of summer, against “the gamey pong of the incoming grouse and the smoke of the wood fire”. Loath as I am to take issue with the sage, I think he’s got it all wrong. Cooks must surely prefer the stronger flavours of autumn, whether it’s pongy game, fetid wild mushrooms or the sweet aromas of a good daube. Summer – for all his “swishing chiffon” and “wine beneath the stars” – is, gastronomically, for wimps.
The prof may have a point about butternut squash but it is hardly a signifier of autumn. Its bland surfaces protrude from the supermarket counter for 12 months of the year and it is sadly often the default choice of chefs looking for the “vegetarian alternative”. Thirty years ago I used to read French and Italian recipes in which zucca, citrouille and courge were inevitably translated as “pumpkin”. The only pumpkins we knew were jack ’o’ lanterns, and it was hard to understand how cooks could wax so enthusiastically about the ravioli, risotto and soups made from such a feeble, watery product.
Proper squash is rich, pungent and an autumnal treat: I refer to those seasonal varieties – onion squash, acorn, turban, Hubbard and quite a few more – that one does see increasingly around the place. Rather than my usual snooty greengrocer or any farmers’ market, I found the examples used here in a large but not prestigious supermarket. For the restaurant, my squash is supplied by an expatriate American hippie with an organic farm not far from London. Being of the same generation and sharing a fondness for the music of the Grateful Dead, Greg and I have affinities. He came into my office a couple of weeks ago, his smiling face tanned in the Oxfordshire sun and his long grey locks tamed into a pigtail, and announced that the squash was imminent and he hoped to deliver in the last week of the month. The good professor does not know what he is missing.
Rowley Leigh is the chef at Le Café Anglais
Risotto with squash and chorizo
While simpler risotti need good stock, this gutsy dish can get by with a cube. Serves six to eight
2 sticks of celery
75g unsalted butter
100g chorizo sausage
Nutmeg (ground or grated)
2 sprigs of thyme
500g risotto rice
100ml Prosecco or medium dry white wine
200ml chicken stock or a cube
10 sage leaves
50g finely grated Parmesan cheese
Cut the squash in half, remove the seeds and cut into segments. With a robust peeler, remove the skin. Cut the squash into smaller segments, then into batons and then into dice about half a centimetre cubed.
Peel and chop the onion and celery into fine dice. Heat a heavy casserole, melt half the butter and add the diced vegetable. Sweat it gently for a good five minutes without allowing it to colour. Pull off the skin from the chorizo and cut into small dice similar to the squash. Add it to the onion and celery and continue to sweat gently without frying the meat and allowing the fat to slowly render into the pan. After a further five minutes add the squash and the thyme and season with salt, pepper and a hint of nutmeg. Keeping the heat low, turn the squash until it starts to soften before adding the rice. Turn the rice and, once coated in the butter and fat from the chorizo, pour in the Prosecco. Continue to stir and cook.
As the risotto cooks, add the hot stock little by little – it will need surprisingly little stock as the squash releases its liquid. Shred the sage leaves very finely and add after 10 minutes. Continue to cook for at least 15 minutes. The rice will gradually increase in volume and will be cooked when still nutty to the bite but without a hard, starchy centre. As soon as it is cooked, stir in the remaining butter and perhaps a third of the Parmesan. Once this is amalgamated, with every grain of rice still intact but held in suspension in a glorious sloppy mass, take to the table and serve with the remaining Parmesan alongside.
Rowley’s drinking choice
There is a special affinity between a risotto and northern Italian reds. The junior grapes of Piedmont, Dolcetto and Barbera – the one bursting with tannins, the other with acidity – are a particular joy.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2015. You may share using our article tools.
Please don't cut articles from FT.com and redistribute by email or post to the web.