When you’re young, getting some money as a Christmas gift opens up all kinds of possibilities. The shops suddenly become more interesting, toys and books that you’ve been coveting are now within reach. Is it a sign of old age that I still experience that youthful excitement at having some money to spend, but now the excitement is channelled into browsing the seed catalogues and dreaming of new plants for the garden?
But then with seed catalogues come decisions to be made. Which chillies to grow this year? Should I stick with favourite squash varieties, or try something new? Cherry or plum tomatoes… or both? Growing sesame seeds would be different, but what are the chances of them succeeding here?
The list of chillies I’d like to try growing is much longer than I can afford, or have room for in the greenhouse. But on the squash question at least, I think I’ve come to a decision – old favourites it will be… unless anyone can recommend a reliable and delicious variety that I really should try. I’ve grown ‘Crown Prince’ and ‘Uchiki Kuri’ for a good few years now. Not always successfully, but when they do grow well, these two produce fruit that are very good for eating. Last year I tried ‘Queensland Blue’ too – it was the only squash to germinate well and went on to grow into impressive looking plants. There weren’t many (one) squash on the plants… but then it did taste good, so maybe I’ll give this variety one more try. See, lots of decisions, even when you think you’ve made one.
We’ve been eating a good few bowlfuls of roasted squash soup recently – brilliant with thickly sliced homemade bread. A well-flavoured squash, roasted with some oil and spices makes a grand base for lots of meat-free dishes. Our vegan meal this week was a vegetable stir-fry. But no one really needs another stir fry recipe, so I’ll spare you that one. Instead, here’s an idea for a snack or starter – roasted squash bruschetta. With an earthy warmth from the cumin, more full-on heat from the chilli and a touch of sweetness from the maple syrup, the soft squash flesh carries a lot of flavour. And contrasted with the crunch of the toasted bread it makes a tasty and seasonal start to a meal.
… and I still haven’t made a decision on whether to try growing sesame yet. Does anyone have any experience with sesame?
Roasted squash bruschetta
1 tsp cumin seeds
dried red chilli flakes, to taste
pinch of sea salt
1 tbsp olive oil for roasting the squash, plus a little more for cooking the shallots and sage and toasting the bruschetta
1 small squash, cut into quarters and deseeded
8 fresh sage leaves, torn into halves or quarters depending on how big they are
3 small shallots, halved and sliced
1 tsp maple syrup
6 slices of crusty baguette
Put the oven on to heat to 180oC, 350F, gas 4. Crush the cumin seeds in a pestle and mortar. Add the chilli flakes (a few to start with – you can always add more at a later stage if you want a bit more heat), salt and olive oil and mix. Put the squash quarters, cut side up on a baking sheet and spoon the oil mixture over them. Roast for about 40 minutes, until the squash is nice and tender.
As the squash finishes cooking, heat a few drops of olive oil in a small saucepan. When the oil is good and hot, add the sage leaves and fry them for just a few seconds to crisp them up. Tip the sage leaves out of the pan and put to one side. While the pan is still hot, add the shallots and cook for a few minutes until they just begin to brown (add a drop or two more oil if needed, but the pan should be quite dry). When the shallots are cooked, take the pan from the heat and stir in the maple syrup.
Strip the squash flesh from the skin and put it into a bowl. Add the shallots and mix well, mashing any larger lumps of squash slightly. Check for seasoning, adding a little more salt and chilli flakes if needed.
Put the baguette slices on a baking sheet, drizzle a little oil over the top of each and toast them under a hot grill. Spoon generous helpings of the squash and shallot mixture onto the toasted bread, and sprinkle the sage leaves over the top. Eat straight away.