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This is the total squash harvest here at the Garden Deli this year –

Not very impressive is it?  A series of things went wrong – first, very early on a lot of the seedlings were eaten away at the base of their stems and killed.  I’m still not sure what was to blame for this.  I had a good look in the compost and found lots of tiny worm-like creatures wriggling around, they looked mean enough to be blamed for the damage.  I washed the roots of the few plants that were still alive and repotted them in fresh compost, they survived but were knocked back by the whole experiece.

Next, once the surviving plants were bigger and the risk of frost had passed, they were planted out in what would normally be a sunny spot where the soil had been enriched with plenty of home made compost.  Within the first few weeks of outdoor living there was a hailstorm that ripped through some of the lovely big leaves.  And to top it all off, we had a cool, wet summer with not much sunshine, pretty much the exact opposite of the conditions that squash plants need to grow well.

Despite the failures of this year, I’m not going to give up on growing squash – next year will be better!

At this time of year there loads of pumpkin and squash recipes in the magazines and on the internet.  I decided to try using some squash as a seasonal pizza topping.  I’ve spent a long time searching for the perfect pizza dough recipe – trying different combinations of flour, oil, yeast, salt and water to get a pizza base that is thin, crispy and full of flavour.  I’m still some way from the standard you get at pretty much any restaurant in Italy, but I think this also has something to do with not having a wood fired oven.  So far, and after many, many pizzas, the nearest I’ve got to perfection in my own kitchen has been with the recipe from Polpo.

Usually our choice of pizza topping is fairly unadventurous – tomato and mozzarella is a favourite, sometimes with olives or pesto.  But being as it’s definitely the autumn now – the mornings are foggy and the leaves are yellow, an autumn-themed pizza seemed like a good idea.

I’m entering this in October’s One Ingredient Challenge, which has chosen pumpkin and squash as the one ingredient.  The challenge is hosted by Nazima at Franglais Kitchen and Laura at How to Cook Good Food – two blogs that are well worth a look.

Autumn Pizza

For the pizza dough (recipe from Polpo by Russell Norman)

Makes enough dough for one pizza of about 12″(30cm) diameter.

250g strong white bread flour

1 tsp salt

1tsp dried yeast

1 tbsp olive oil

about 150ml warm water

For the topping –

1 medium squash, peeled, deseeded and cut into small cubes

3 sprigs of fresh thyme, leaves only

freshly ground black pepper

3 tbsp olive oil

8 shallots, finely sliced

½ tsp caster sugar

sea salt

1 tsp balsamic vinegar

125g mozzarella, broken or cut into small pieces

Sift the flour and salt into a large bowl.  Add the yeast and olive oil, together with enough water to bring everything together to make a soft dough.  Tip the dough onto a floured board and knead for about 10 minutes, until it’s smooth and elastic.  Return the dough to the mixing bowl, cover with some cling wrap or a clean, damp tea towel and leave in a warm place to rise for about an hour.  You should then have a dough that’s about double the size you started with – if not leave it a little longer.

While the dough is rising, make the pizza topping.  Preheat the oven to 190oC, 375F, gas 5.

Toss the cubed squash with the thyme leaves, some black pepper and two tablespoons of the olive oil.  Spread the mixture in an ovenproof dish and roast in the preheated oven for 40-50 minutes, or until the squash is tender.

Mix the shallots with one tablespoon of olive oil, the caster sugar, salt and pepper and balsamic vinegar.  Put this mixture into another ovenproof dish and roast for about 20 minutes.

When the vegetables are cooked, mix everything together and leave to cool slightly.

Increase the oven temperature to 200oC, 400F, gas 6.

Oil a large pizza stone or baking sheet.  On a floured board, roll or stretch the dough to make a circle about 12″ (30cm) in diameter.  Put the pizza base onto the oiled sheet.

Add the mozzarella to the squash mix.  Check for seasoning and add more salt and pepper if needed.  Spread the topping over the pizza base and cook in the preheated oven for 10-15 minutes.