I’ll never forget last autumn.
I was back in England for work purposes, and was living in a small apartment, with a galley-sized kitchen.
It seemed terribly inefficient and wasteful to even consider using a large oven to cook meals for one, so following the advice of my sister I bought a counter-top halogen oven, something that proved to be an unusually smart move, ultimately saving me a small fortune in terms of electricity used, as well as countless hours of my precious free-time.
If I wasn’t roasting bell peppers, aubergines, or courgettes in it, I was preparing this dish. A few minutes to prepare, and then into the oven with it. Get on with other stuff until the timer rings. Wonderful.
Due to circumstances that no market trader I spoke to was ever fully able to explain, the butternut squash harvest that year had been a bumper one.
Not only were they magnificent specimens, some as large as a newborn infant, but due to an unanticipated glut they were more than plentiful, too. Merchants were often desperate to shift them, and the price could easily fall below £1. I became quite good at rucksack butternut squash Tetris, stuffing a week or more’s supply into my backpack.
When it came to the cooking of them, I knew exactly what I was going to do. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – when it comes to the preparation of vegetables, I automatically look towards India. As chef Paul Gayler once said, there is no cuisine better at treating vegetables often considered supporting acts with the respect they are due, and promoting them to the starring role.
If you’re going to take the trouble to get hold of some chaat masala, and I really hope that you do, your best bet will be your friendly neighbourhood Indian or Pakistani grocery. While you’re there, buy the garam masala too. You’re going to get much more bang for your buck in terms of sheer quantity alone, as well as a far better quality when compared to your local supermarket.
Baked Butternut Squash, Indian Style
- 1 medium Butternut squash
- Coconut oil
- Garam Masala
- Chaat Masala
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Lemon or lime juice
- Pre-heat the oven to 180C.
- Wash and dry the outside of your butternut squash.
- Top and tail the butternut squash. Cut it in half length-ways. Then, using a very sharp vegetable knife and a small spoon (a grapefruit spoon works perfectly here), cut and scoop out the seeds and the associated membrane.
- Using the same sharp knife, score a cross-hatch pattern into the flesh of the butternut squash. This will not only allow the flavours to permeate the flesh of the butternut squash, but looks marty purdy, too.
- Brush the cut surface of the butternut squash with a little melted coconut oil. Lightly season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Give the butternut squash a dusting with the garam masala. Don’t overdo it – garam masala has some delicate fragrances and flavour nuances, but if you use too much it can overwhelm both the food and your palate.
- Place the butternut squash directly on the rack in the oven. Bake until golden and tender – keep a close eye on it after the 40 minute mark.
- Remove the butternut squash from the oven. While it is still warm, sprinkle over a pinch of Chaat masala, and a drop or two of lemon or lime juice. Serve.
During those autumnal days of plenty, this dish was my go-to accompaniment to any of my curries.