Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Butternut Squash and Ricotta Bake with Pesto



I still haven't quite recovered from the magnificence of Heston Blumenthal's Dinner (as blogged by Greedy Gusto here). That meat fruit! The tipsy cake! Wowee. Just to manage expectations right at the start, there isn't going to be anything quite as amazing as that today, I'm afraid. Something simple and tasty and hearty? Yes! But fluffy, sugar-topped brioche soaked in gooey brandy and sauternes, alongside caramelised pineapple from a specially designed pineapple spit roasting station? I WISH.


Anyway, as the Dine at Mine household are currently homeless vagabonds, this particular dish was cooked for us at Dine at My Parent's house and very delicious it was too. Golden chunks of butternut squash were roasted with thyme, then layered with ricotta, onion, parmesan, pesto and sunblush tomatoes to form a sort of lasagne-style, cheesy-topped bake. Admittedly the best you could say of its appearance is "colourful" (and not in a chic Farrow & Ball way, in a "that 5 year-old has gone bonkers with crayons" way), but aesthetic fascism aside, this was a seriously tasty lunch.



I think I'd make some changes next time, though. For one thing, it came out quite oily - probably the fault of the sunblush tomatoes and the pesto, but a bit offputting nonetheless. Next time, I'd be tempted to keep the flavours of the pesto but skip the oiliness by using basil leaves, toasted pine nuts and extra parmesan instead. The pine nuts would also add a welcome crunch, as would some crispy shards of prosciutto (thereby sacrificing the vegetarian credentials, but sod it). But give it a go and see what you think. At the very least, it's a nice seasonal bridge between summery salad flavours and the roasted roots of autumn. And at the most? Butternut squash smothered in cheese! You can't go wrong.



Incidentally, there's nothing like a blog to bash you over the head with a bit of self-awareness. I didn't know it before, but apparently I am obsessed with butternut squash: see also salad with chickpeas, salad with mushrooms, a soup, a chilli, and some muffins for good measure, not to mention sweet potato salads and chips. And surely we're only just entering butternut squash season now? The future is orange around here, people. 



Butternut Squash and Ricotta Bake with Pesto
Serves 4 - 6

- 1 butternut squash, cut into chunks (not peeled)
- a few fresh sprigs of thyme
- olive oil, salt and pepper
- one onion, chopped
- 2 cloves of garlic,  chopped
- 1 pot of ricotta cheese
- 1 egg
- a couple of handfuls of parmesan, grated
- about 4 tablespoonfuls of green pesto (from a jar)
- some sunblush or sundried tomatoes (about 10-12)

Preheat the oven to 180C and toss the squash chunks in oil, salt, pepper and thyme then roast for around half an hour or until tender. Meanwhile, gently fry the onion and garlic in a little oil until softened (about 5 minutes). In a separate bowl, mix together the egg, ricotta and most of the parmesan, with a good few twists of black pepper. 

Once the squash is cooked, start to layer everything up in a big oven-proof dish - first half of the onion/garlic mix, then half the squash, then half the sunblush tomatoes, half the pesto and half the ricotta mixture. Don't worry about smoothing or spreading the layers, just blob it on fairly evenly and hope that the heat will spread it all for you. 

Repeat all the layers again and finish by scattering the rest of the parmesan on top - we also crumbled a little bit of feta on for extra flavour. Bake in the oven for around half an hour, or until golden and bubbling.

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