When it comes to working with herbs and spices, I appreciate the varied and wonderful flavours but I am not one of those people who can produce a meal off the top of my head, confident that it will create a palatable result.
Saying that, I do love a challenge but it tends to take me longer to produce something I feel happy about sharing with others…
One could be forgiven for thinking I was an utter novice at cooking but in truth, I just don’t possess the gift of pairing flavours in my mind. I have to combine the tastes and make an actual judgement. Then again, if we listened only to what would logically work in our heads, innovation would be near impossible.
Unfortunately, in this case logic was the sensible option, but at least I had a go and put my ideas into practice. Three, four, maybe even five times, I have made this recipe. Each time a disaster albeit the thing is, when I get an idea in my head, I find it difficult to lay it to rest even when everything goes to pot. In some cases, disastrous would be an understatement – sauces that are way off the mark, rounds of squash that were either too soggy or too rubbery and rice that never seemed to achieve the right consistency for this particular dish.
I guess my biggest problem isn’t combination as such, but too much of it. I tend to get over enthusiastic and destroy a perfectly good dish through my attempts to include so many contrasting flavours. As such, I concluded that my original idea needed to be toned down. So it was back to the drawing board!
I told myself I would have one final attempt, so I prepared the food and left it alone to cook for the required time but as I re-entered the kitchen, the smell of burning rice hit me. I was at my wits end and ready to give up. Even when I try to keep it simple, this dish seems to fall apart. My butternut tower was clearly not meant to be!!
Nevertheless, it still deserved a tasting. Dismissing all the rules of etiquette, I lifted a disc of the squash with my finger and bit off a chunk…..!?
Actually, the result was not that bad.
Now for the rice – I may have not added enough stock but I think I caught it just in time. Lifting a spoon straight from the pot, the grains held together well and it tasted perfect. I had done it!
Now, obviously I have adjusted the quantities so you hopefully won’t get the same problems but this warming dish is attractive, tasty and the ideal dish to serve as an entree.
If you’re a seasonal shopper, you can still grab some fantastic squashes but you’ll have to be quick. I bought so many this winter, I’m only just getting through the last of them but squash is one of my favourite vegetables, so it’s never difficult. It’s soft, sweet flesh is just sensational when roasted and it goes well with so many foods.
This recipe utilises the neck of the butternut, but I will be posting a follow-up recipe for using the rounded bottom. Ideally, you want to get a pear-shaped squash – not one that looks like a pumpkin! That’s what I would call ‘disordered identity’.
300ml orange juice
2 Tbsp fresh thyme, chopped
2 long-necked butternut squashes (preferably organic)
Freshly ground salt & pepper
180g short grain rice
1 large red onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 Vegetable stock cube (I used Kallo Organic)
Chopped nuts (optional)
Pre-heat the oven to 190C.
Cut off the necks of the butternut squashes. Wrap the bases in tin foil to use for another meal.
Cut away the stalks and disgard. Slice each neck into six 1.5cm(approx.) thick rounds.
Using a tall, sharp and rounded cookie cutter, slightly smaller in diameter than the rounds of squash, cut into the flesh, removing the outer skin and creating pretty and equally sized little rounds. This may require a little strength or alternatively, you could cut away the skin with a knife, using the cookie cutter as a template to achieve equal rounds.
Lay the twelve slices in a lightly oiled baking tin (12″ x 9″) and sprinkle over the thyme. Make sure it is evenly distributed over all the slices and then carefully add the orange juice. Grind a little salt and black pepper over each slice, cover the tin with foil and place in the oven to cook for 45-50 minutes.
Prepare your stock by boiling some water in the kettle and pouring 500ml into a pyrex jug. Add the stock cube and stir well.
15-20 minutes before the squash is ready, fry the onion and garlic in an oiled saucepan for 1-2 minutes. Add the rice and stir before pouring over the stock. Bring to the boil and cook for 8-10 minutes. Remove from heat and drain.
Turn off the oven, remove the squash and drain off any orange juice.
Now for the tricky bit. Using a pair of tongs or a spatula, carefully move a round of squash onto your serving plate. Place the cookie cutter you used earlier over the squash. This will help stack and shape the tower. Pour about 2-3 tablespoons of the rice into the cutter, over the butternut squash and press down firmly. Top with a final round of squash, then very slowly lift away the cutter and there you have it.
As long as this is done carefully with a tall mould/cutter and the correct rice was used, this will hold together well.
Repeat the process for the remaining towers, sprinkle each with some chopped nuts and serve with a salad.
Serves 2 as a main or 6 as a starter