Al Dente: Winter Squash Penne… Mostly

(With thanks to my dad for early name suggestions and Marguerite for bringing it home)

I got cook books for Christmas, for the first time, and it meant an awful lot. For years I’ve made food hot, or at times just much less cold, rather than actively make stuff from scratch. That’s fine, as is the relatively small amount of Vegetarian dishes I know how to make, but only as a foundation, I want to know how to make more stuff and in order to do that, I need to practice and in order to practice, I need cook books. Or to put it another way

Books

about

FOOD

How is there something wrong with that? So I was really pleased to get these books and equally pleased to see that one was Jamie’s 15 Minute Meals. Jamie Oliver gets a lot of stick from various corners of this country and I’m sure some of it’s deserved. But, for me, his enthusiasm and passionate advocacy of food, and people, means a lot. He loves what he does and he’s a great communicator and crucially, he comes at it with absolutely no sense of irritation that you don’t already know this stuff. He’s someone who loves food and doesn’t get precious about your dietary needs, lack of ability or whether or not you have 8000 pre-aged boards to serve your food on. Although he would rather like that last one.

So, I decided to make his Winter Squash Penne for dinner, along with a salad.. The plan was this:

-Butternut squash pasta
-Roast garlic and spinach
-Greek feta salad

So let’s take a look at the usual suspects shall we? Take it away, Victor Lazlo!

So we’ve got wholewheat pasta (Because health)
A butternut squash (I know, I KNOW. I’m giggling too.)
Olive Oil
Sage
Chilli Powder
Chickpeas
A stock cube
Parmesan

Oh and chicken. See?

So the first thing you do is realize that you don’t have a mixer on anything other than US voltage and swear a bit. Then, you get a really good, big pot, fill the kettle, boil it and drop the water into the pan. Boil the kettle first because that gets the water boiling faster when you put it in the pan.

Then, chop the butternut squash in half, peel the sticker of the neck end and drop it in the pan.

You may wince, or giggle, when Bobbiting your buternut squash. Either is fine.

Then, there’s the squealing of brakes as you part ways with Mr Oliver and realize that without a blender, ‘blitzing’ a butternut squash may actually require a large scale, 1940s-era air force. There are two choices here; you can scream and weep and bemoan the cruel nature of an uncaring malicious God or?

You can get over yourself and drown the squash in boiling liquid for 30 minutes to an hour. Seriously, that’s all you do, don’t peel it don’t chop it don’t do a thing other than boil it to death. So whilst you’re doing that, let’s talk about salad!

Here’s what Jamie thinks you should have:

3 ripe tomatoes
½ a cucmber
4 spring onions
2 little gem lettuces
½ a bunch of fresh mint
1 ripe avocado
2 tbsp virgin olive oil
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
20 g feta cheese

I had some baby tomatoes. Which looked sort of like ripe tomatoes viewed from a long way away. Also an avocado.

Clearly this would require a little improvisation. Here’s my ingredients:

Salad greens, ripe tomatoes, an avocado, some sweet cucumbers and some left over smoked cheese from the SINGLE GREATEST DUMPLINGS IN THE HISTORY OF THE UNIVERSE, which we’ll be talking about when I actually make that meal instead of trying to become one with it.

So what I did was; cut the sweet cucumbers lengthwise into strips, halve the baby tomatoes, dump the remainder of the cheese and a handful of salad greens into the bottom of a bowel and do this very cool thing I saw every waiter who ever served us at Chevy’s do with the avocado.

(Chevy‘s by the way is a US chain Tex/Mex restaurant which does infinite tortilla chips for free, will make the guacamole at the table and is on the list of US restaurants I will briefly live at).

Slice the avocado in half, rolling the knife lengthways around it. Then grip both sides and twist one. The flesh will part and life out and, if you’re me, you will once again marvel at how the seed of an avocado looks a bit…fake. Like if you sucked it it would be sweet and eventually have bubblegum in the middle.

It never does. Or at least it hasn’t yet.

Anyway, pop the seed out, take a knife and score the flesh of the avocado into rough chunks, then wriggle a fork around in there, holding the avocado over the salad bowl until it all falls in. Job done.

Finally, there’s the dressing. I love olive oil and balsamic vinegar purely and completely, and I was very lucky because something very special was available to me. Just before we moved over from the States, we went to the Gravenstein Apple Fair in Petaluma. It was an amazing county fair filled with bands, rides, beautiful craft stalls and every single type of fried apple confectionery you could imagine, all aiming right for your veins. It was like being surrounded by amiable California food ninja. It was awesome.

Anyway, whilst we were there, Marguerite stocked up on flavored Balsamic vinegar to give to our bakey/cooky friends for Christmas. This having been pretty much achieved, there were some left and one, was THIS.


Thank you once again, Victor. Habanero pepper infused Balsamic vinegar. Not hot, but definitely warm. So some of that, some olive oil, toss every around a bit (I actually stir salads a lot of the time) and you get this! Once more, Victor!

Looks great and, hey, shouldn’t the Squash be ready by now?

Nope.

So, let’s get the stuff for the squash ready. Firstly, another pot of pre-boiled water and a metric asston of wholewheat pasta got put on. Secondly, I made up 500ml of chicken stock (Again with the boiling water) and added the chickpeas. Including the water, because it’s all going to boil off and reduce anyway, unless of course the Squash is ready by now?

Nope.

Okay so…let’s murder some garlic!

I wanted to do this thing that was suggested, where I mixed spinach with roast garlic to create a delicious, aromatic, garlic-tastic accompaniment to the pasta. In theory, and after literally six minutes of research, I found a number of ways to roast garlic in the microwave. All you need is some olive oil and some water.

Apparently more olive oil and water than I used.

And probably more garlic.

And less burning.

I didn’t know you could actually char things with a microwave. I’m curiously impressed. Plus, the spinach made it out alive, so I can add it to the pasta. Hey, shouldn’t the squash be ready yet?

Nope.

That’s it, enough is enough. I’ve had alls I can stand etc. I yanked the squash out, speared it with that thing you use to spear meat whilst you carve it (…a spear?) and hacked the squash up. It was still in pretty big chunks even if it was about three quarters boiled and I threw the spinach in with it. I have an immersion blender so I figured I could use that to hack it down and use the water to lubricate it. Next slide please Victor?

Thank you.

Looks…robust…possibly even flexed doesn’t it? As it turns, a little more water and eight freaking minutes in the microwave and the Squash, surely the Krogan of all vegetables, was finally cooked enough to be mulched down, along with some sage and chilli. I love immersion blenders and it took about a minute to get it nice and gloopy. Also pleasingly green thanks to the spinach.

So now what? Oh shit, the chicken!

I love chicken because it’s very easy to cook. We have a fantastic cast iron griddle pan that I just dropped olive oil onto, put the fillets on and turned them until they were done.

Top Tip: I was also told that on a griddle you can always tell when a piece of chicken is done because you can turn it over. If it sticks, then keep it on that side. If it doesn’t, then leave it a couple of minutes.
Even then, I ended up butterflying them to make sure they were fully cooked. Of course, butterflying here is a euphemism for ‘Hack at like an old school sawbones’. Either way, it’s a good idea to split the meat and cook it internally as well, just to be sure.

The final stage is easy; boil the sauce down until it’s thicker than water, add the pasta, dice the chicken up and throw that in and stir it until everything looks nice and covered. Then, shave some parmesan over the top and take a photo of your green goopy pasta next to a photo of Jamie’s orange goopy pasta. Victor! One! More! Time!

Good boy Victor.

I was actually really happy with this, especially after the garlic-icide and the minor colour change. Next time I make this, I’ll up the seasoning and decrease the amount of sauce but this is pretty good for a first try. But next time I cook, it’ll either be Hungarian pork steaks or home made bagels. Or possibly both! Victor! Quickly! To the app store!

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