Pleasures of the flesh: Mark Hix on the season’s best squashes

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

The juicy, versatile squash is the ideal ingredient for autumn's most comforting dishes

Over the past few years, squashes have steadily gained in popularity – and one thing I have spotted is that restaurants are selling increasing amounts of dishes containing these lovely vegetables; partly, I think, because some people love eating them but are uncertain about how to prepare and cook them at home.

The good news, however, is that they really aren't much different from root vegetables and, if anything, they're even more versatile. There are hundreds of varieties that keep cropping up and it can be hard to keep tabs on how different they all taste.

Squashes and pumpkins have to be ripe – one thing to remember is that some of the most interesting looking specimens can taste deadly dull when they are cooked. Butternut squashes are easy to spot and yield consistently good results. Ask your greengrocer for advice, and if you're lucky he will chop the thing in half and let you have a look.

Squash curry

Serves 4-6

You can use a selection of squashes for this, or just a single variety. Check how tough the skins are before preparing them as some squashes taste delicious cooked with the skin on. If your specimens have tough skins, then buy a bit extra to compensate for losing some of the flesh.

1kg squash, peeled if necessary, seeds removed and cut into 2-3cm chunks
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
60g ghee or vegetable oil
3 medium onions, peeled, halved and roughly chopped
5 large cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
1tbsp chopped root ginger
3 small, medium-strength chillies, sliced
1tsp cumin seeds
tsp fenugreek seeds
tsp onion or Nigella seeds
1tsp cumin powder
1tsp freshly grated turmeric or 1tsp turmeric powder
1 pinch saffron strands
A good pinch of curry leaves
tsp paprika
1tsp fennel seeds
1tsp mustard seeds
2tsp tomato purée
Half a lemon
1.3litre vegetable stock (a good cube will do)
3tbsp chopped coriander leaves

Season the pieces of squash. Heat half of the ghee in a large, heavy-bottomed pan and fry the squash on a high heat until lightly coloured. Remove with a slotted spoon and put to one side. Add the rest of the ghee to the pan and fry the onions, garlic, ginger and chilli for a few minutes until they begin to soften. Add all of the rest of the spices and continue cooking for a couple of minutes with a lid on to release the flavours, stirring every so often.

Add the tomato purée, lemon and stock, bring to the boil, season with salt and pepper and simmer gently for 45 minutes. Take a cupful of the sauce from the pan and blend in a liquidiser until smooth and pour it back into the sauce. Add the pieces of squash and simmer for about 15 minutes or until tender, then add the coriander and simmer for a further 5 minutes, seasoning with salt and pepper if necessary. Scatter over the chopped coriander, and serve with basmati rice.

Squash tart with Blue Monday, cobnuts and herbs

Serves 4

This is a colourful tart that you can serve as a starter or as a vegetarian main course. You can even make a long version and serve it as a sharing buffet dish.

1kg mixed squash, peeled if necessary and seeded
2tbsp rapeseed or olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
200g butter puff pastry, rolled to 1/3cm
1 egg, beaten
80-100g Blue Monday or another similar blue cheese, broken into rough 1cm nuggets

For the cobnut dressing

15-20 cobnuts, shelled and lightly toasted
2tbsp chopped green herbs
2tbsp rapeseed or olive oil

Cut the pastry into 10-12cm x 6-8cm rectangles, lay on a baking sheet and prick all over with a fork. From the trimmings

cut long 1cm-wide strips. Brush the edges of the rectangles with egg and lay the strips along all four sides, and trim them to form a ridge all the way round. Mark the edges if you wish with the blade of a knife, or use a special pastry crimper. Then brush the edges with beaten egg. Leave to rest in the fridge for 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 200C/gas mark 6. Depending on the types of squashes you are using, peel as necessary and cut into a mixture of chunks and wedges. Take about one-sixth of the squash (without skins) and place in an ovenproof dish, season, cover and bake in the oven for about 30 minutes or until tender, then remove and blend in a food processor.

Put the rest of the squash in a roasting pan, spoon over the olive oil, season and roast in the oven for about 20-30 minutes, turning them every so often, until cooked.

Cut 4 rectangles out of cardboard just slightly smaller than the middle section of the tarts, wrap them a couple of times with tin foil and place in the centre of the tarts.

Bake the pastry for about 8-10 minutes or until the edges are golden, then remove from the oven. Remove the foil rectangles and spread about a tablespoon of the squash purée in the middle of each tart. Don't put too much in; save what's left as a dip or sauce. Then arrange the cooked pieces of squash on the purée and place the nuggets of cheese on top. Reheat the tarts for about 8-10 minutes.

Meanwhile, roughly chop the cobnuts and mix in a bowl with the herbs and olive oil. Serve the tart on warmed plates with the cobnut dressing spooned over.

Spiced autumn squash soup with fried halloumi

Serves 4

Autumn squashes make a great silky soup. The orange and yellow squashes are more visually appealing, so ask your greengrocer for his advice on colours and flavours or buy a butternut squash which will give guaranteed colour and flavour.

1 small leek, roughly chopped
1 small onion, roughly chopped
1 medium chilli, chopped
A couple of good knobs of butter
1kg squash, peeled, seeded and roughly chopped
1litre vegetable stock (or good quality cube)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the topping

1tbsp pumpkin seeds, lightly toasted
1 small red chilli, trimmed, finely chopped
1tbsp chopped coriander
1tbsp olive oil
150g halloumi, cut into rough 1cm chunks

Gently cook the leek, onion and chilli in the butter until softened. Add the squash and stock, bring to the boil, season, then simmer for 20 minutes. Blend the soup in a liquidiser until smooth; strain through a sieve. Fry the halloumi in a little oil until lightly coloured; drain on kitchen paper. Mix the pumpkin seeds, chilli, coriander and olive oil together. Reheat the soup; adjust the consistency with a little vegetable stock or water if necessary. Check the seasoning and serve with a spoonful of the pumpkin seed mixture and the fried halloumi.

Squash and wild mushroom salad

Serves 4

Squashes and mushrooms make a terrific salad. I've used pumpkin seed oil here which has a fantastic green tint; but rapeseed or olive oil will do just as well.

1 squash weighing about 1kg, or a selection
A few sprigs of thyme or oregano
4-6tbsp olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
150-200g wild mushrooms, cleaned and cut into even-sized chunks
A couple of handfuls of small salad leaves
For the dressing
1tbsp cider or white wine vinegar
1tsp grain mustard
2tbsp pumpkin seed or rapeseed oil
2tbsp vegetable or corn oil

Preheat the oven to 200C/gas mark 6. Prepare the squashes by peeling the ones with tougher skins, halving and de-seeding them (leave the skin on the tender ones). Cut them into even-sized pieces and transfer to a roasting tray. Season and scatter the thyme over, then spoon over a couple of tablespoons of olive oil. Roast for about 20-30 minutes, turning every so often, until tender. Meanwhile, heat the rest of the olive oil in a frying pan and fry the mushrooms on a medium heat – seasoning them and turning them as they are cooking – for a few minutes until tender, then mix with the squashes.

Whisk all of the ingredients together for the dressing and season. To serve, arrange the leaves, squashes and mushrooms on serving plates with any cooking juices; spoon over the dressing.

Mark Hix will be cooking at the Feast of Dorset, Deans Court, Wimborne, this afternoon (see for details)

The Banksy image in Folkestone before it was vandalised
Life and Style

Sales of the tablet are set to fall again, say analysts

football West Brom vs Man Utd match report: Blind grabs point, but away form a problem for Van Gaal
Arts and Entertainment
Gotham is coming to UK shores this autumn
tvGotham, episode 2, review
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Arts and Entertainment
Bloom Time: Mira Sorvino
tvMira Sorvino on leaving movie roles for 'The Intruders'
Brian Harvey turned up at Downing Street today demanding to speak to the Prime Minister

Met Police confirm there was a 'minor disturbance' and that no-one was arrested

Arts and Entertainment
George Lucas poses with a group of Star Wars-inspired Disney characters at Disney's Hollywood Studios in 2010

George Lucas criticises the major Hollywood film studios

Chris Grayling, Justice Secretary: 'There are pressures which we are facing but there is not a crisis'

Does Chris Grayling realise what a vague concept he is dealing with?

Life and Style
A street vendor in Mexico City sells Dorilocos, which are topped with carrot, jimaca, cucumber, peanuts, pork rinds, spices and hot sauce
food + drink

Trend which requires crisps, a fork and a strong stomach is sweeping Mexico's streets

Life and Style
The charity Sands reports that 11 babies are stillborn everyday in the UK
lifeEleven babies are stillborn every day in the UK, yet no one speaks about this silent tragedy
Blackpool is expected to become one of the first places to introduce the Government’s controversial new Public Space Protection Orders (PSPOs)

Parties threaten resort's image as a family destination

Life and Style
Northern soul mecca the Wigan Casino
fashionGone are the punks, casuals, new romantics, ravers, skaters, crusties. Now all kids look the same
Life and Style

I Am Bread could actually be a challenging and nuanced title

Nigel Farage has backed DJ Mike Read's new Ukip song
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    SCRUM Master

    £30 - 50k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a SCRUM Master to joi...

    Franchise Support Assistant

    £13,520: Recruitment Genius: As this role can be customer facing at times, the...

    Financial Controller

    £50000 - £60000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: A successful entertainment, even...

    Direct Marketing Executive - Offline - SW London

    £25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A fantastic opportunity h...

    Day In a Page

    Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

    'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

    If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
    James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
    Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

    Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

    Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
    Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

    Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

    Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
    How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

    How to dress with authority

    Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
    New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

    New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

    'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
    Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

    Tim Minchin interview

    For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
    Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
    Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

    Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

    Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album
    Hugh Bonneville & Peter James: 'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'

    How We Met: Hugh Bonneville & Peter James

    'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's heavenly crab dishes don't need hours of preparation

    Bill Granger's heavenly crab recipes

    Scared off by the strain of shelling a crab? Let a fishmonger do the hard work so you can focus on getting the flavours right
    Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

    Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

    After a remarkable conversion from reckless defender to prolific striker, Monaco's ace says he wants to make his loan deal at Old Trafford permanent
    Terry Venables: Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England

    Terry Venables column

    Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England
    The Inside Word: Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past

    Michael Calvin's Inside Word

    Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past