29 Sep Balsamic Squash with Roasted Feta
The summer of 2016 (and yes, I think we’re ready to talk about it in the past tense now) was a gloriously busy one for me, full of exciting new projects and people and challenges. As autumn seeps in and I find myself slowing down to a lower gear, I’ve had time to reflect on the busy buzz of the summer months.
A busy summer, taken over by goals and deadlines, some food related and some not, has been a pattern for me over the last few years, and something I’ve noticed that seems to get compromised is my cooking. When I get busy, one of the first things that I seem to lose touch with is how much cooking for yourself can help you through busy spells. At my lowest ebb of energy and highest crisis point of deadlines, bananas have been known to become dinner in my house. That’s a terrible state of affairs, and with hindsight, I can see how, well, bananas that is.
It must seem a bit odd that a food writer would lose their enthusiasm for cooking, or undervalue it, but I think it’s a very normal pattern in modern life. When a task or a project takes over, those of us who have high standards for our work want to do so well that we don’t care if our personal well-being pays the price. So, we either eat unfulfilling take-away food or skip meals all together in favour of sticking with the task at hand. Even with an artillery of simple recipes that I’ve built up over the last few years of writing this column, and even though I truly find cooking restorative, I can find it hard to break away from my desk and head for a bit of relaxation time at the stove.
Point is, I’m happy to take this seasonal shift as an opportunity to reconnect with my kitchen. I love everything about the autumn; the slowness, the colours, the crisp, sunny days. This salad makes use of a great autumnal ingredients, the squash, and pairs it with tangy balsamic vinegar to make a hearty salad. Something else that might be new to you is the idea of roasted feta. I first had this in Bibi’s Cafe, a special little neighbourhood cafe in Dublin 8, and took the idea home with me. The cubes of feta will melt a little bit at the high heat of this recipe (you can roast them at a much lower heat to keep their shape intact) but I think you’ll love the dimension of taste the roasting brings to this salty cheese.
For the squash
1 medium sized butternut squash
2 sprigs of fresh rosemary
For the feta
100g of feta
Half a lemon
Salt and Pepper
For the salad
Handful of hazelnuts
3 large handfuls of a mix of baby spinach and kale leaves
1 tablespoon of rapeseed oil
Half a lemon
1 tablespoon of honey
Parma ham, optional
1. Pre-heat the oven to 200c/180c fan/gas mark 6. Peel the squash and slice into segments. I like slicing mine into full circles and then slicing those in half, to get half moon shapes. Discard any seeds. Place the segments into a roasting tin.
2. Drizzle the squash with a glug of oil, just a couple of tablespoons will do. Add a splash of balsamic, a tablespoon or two, to the squash and sprinkle with a generous pinch of salt and pepper. Pop into the oven and roast for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the squash is tender.
3. Meanwhile, slice the feta into cubes about an inch wide. Pop them into a smaller roasting tray and drizzle with a little extra oil, a squeeze of lemon juice, a drizzle of honey and a pinch of salt and pepper. Let them marinade until ready to roast alongside the squash for the last 15 minutes of the roasting. Add the feta to the bottom shelf of the oven.
4. Pop a small frying pan on a medium heat. Chop your hazelnuts in half and dry toast them in the pan, being careful they don’t burn. Set aside and allow to cool.
5. Get your greens ready by making your dressing. In a large bowl, pour in the rapeseed oil, squeeze in a bit of lemon juice, drizzle in some honey and sprinkle some salt and pepper. Mix everything well until you have a light dressing. Then add the greens and toss until the leaves are nicely coated with your dressing. Transfer the whole lot to a serving plate.
6. When you’re ready to serve, place the balsamic roasted butternut squash on top of the greens, and then top with dollops of the roasted feta. Add a few slices of Parma ham, if using. Sprinkle with the toasted hazelnuts, and finish with another drizzle of rapeseed oil.
Storecupboard Essential: Fresh Rosemary
To me, rosemary goes hand in hand with autumn and winter. It grows all year around but over time I’ve come to associate its woodland fragrance with hearty roasts, mushrooms and the other spoils of the colder months. I have a large planted shrub of rosemary in my small city centre backyard, which is thriving despite my style of negligent gardening. It’s not just rosemary’s flavour that’s sturdy.
This recipe first appeared in The Irish Independent on September 28th 2016