I’m eating a snack while I write this. It’s a bowl of squash seeds (that I saved from the butternut squash I roasted a couple of nights ago), dried out in a low oven with sea salt and chilli flakes. I’ve been taking advice from The Natural Cook – a cookbook, written by eco-chef Tom Hunt – which follows a ‘root to fruit’ ethos of eating. It’s a great book, with a lot of advice on how to stretch fruit and veg further, finding new ways to use the bits we often throw away.
So far, I’ve turned beetroot leaves into crisps, made a salad out of radish tops (really quite delicious) and peeled far less carrots. Small steps.
Tom is super interesting. As a self-proclaimed food waste activist, his restaurant, cookbook and catering company all reflect that in a big way. For the latter (aptly named Forgotten Feast), he cooks unwanted foods that would otherwise be wasted into beautiful banquets. His British tapas restaurant, Poco, which first opened in Bristol (and now, by happy coincidence, has opened on my road in East London), sources most of its ingredients within miles of the restaurant. It’s incredible food.
He’s basically big into cooking sustainably, really taking time to buy and use his ingredients with that in mind. Here’s a pic of January’s menu, which I just remembered I had. Oh and a few meals I’ve eaten there. Really simple and fresh, all seasonal, organic and locally produced.
Anyway, root to fruit. Aside from saving my squash seeds, I’ve been using The Natural Cook as a way to make the most of leftovers, cooking veg in bulk to make use of a hot oven. It saves time and energy.
As a hardy veg, squash or pumpkin are best bought in bulk – they last ages if stored properly (cool, dry, dark), and are easy to cram into the oven while something else is baking. A batch of cooked, tender squash can be the beginnings of many a meal – both savoury and sweet.
So I roasted a couple of squashes. Halved lengthways (seeds saved as mentioned), I cooked one sliced into wedges (unpeeled) on a tray with a good pinch of cumin seeds, salt and black pepper and a drizzle of honey and oil. For the other, I just lobbed it in there. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with it to be honest, and decided to leave out adding any extra spices or flavour, for more choice later.
If you’re roasting it in wedges, cook it until caramelised, tender and sweet, then toss however much you’re hungry for through winter leaves and a nice lemony, mustard dressing. Roasting whole garlic cloves in their skins, then squeezing and mashing the soft pulp into the dressing is most definitely worthwhile.
With the leftover wedges, I blitzed some yesterday into a sweeter houmous, combined with chickpeas, a good dollop of tahini, a little garlic, the juice from half a lemon and a few tablespoons of olive oil. Houmous is good with just about anything. If you’re not feeling that, mash it up and eat it in the days to come on garlic-rubbed toasts with crumbled feta and toasted seeds on top. By the third day, reconstruct it, mashing the squash and feta with a beaten egg, a little flour and whatever soft herbs, then dollop and fry it into fritters (for something more substantial, serve with a good pile of fried garlicky mushrooms on top).
Or, you can go sweet. With the remaining squash, I used a good chunk of it – on The Natural Cook’s recommendation – for pancakes. If I’d had the foresight I’d have done as the recipe suggests – to chop and bake the squash with cinnamon, crushed cardamom, ground ginger and honey – but rather I scraped out the flesh and sweetened the batter with grated nutmeg and cinnamon. It worked nicely anyway. The addition of squash makes for a lighter, fluffier, naturally sweeter version of the standard pancake, with a slightly earthy flavour. Serve with a little honey to counter it. Any suggestions what to do with the leftover skins? Answers on a postcard…
Winter squash (or pumpkin) pancakes
Adapted from The Natural Cook, Tom Hunt
200g leftover, baked winter squash or pumpkin
150g spelt or plain flour
½ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
200g natural yoghurt
100ml milk (whole milk if you have it)
2 free-range eggs
1 pinch of ground cinnamon
a good grating of nutmeg
butter or oil, for frying
(well-sourced) honey, for serving
Scoop the squash into a bowl (compost the skin) and mash well. Mix in the remaining ingredients (except the butter, oil or honey) to form a batter. Heat a heavy-based frying pan over a high heat, rub with a big knob of butter until it melts or add a drizzle of oil. Add dollops of the batter to the hot pan – you might manage about three at a time. Fry until golden, then flip and allow to cook through. Serve straightaway with drizzles of honey, and some yoghurt if you like.