This week’s recipe is a last hurrah for the winter squash. They’ve had a pretty good innings. Harvested in October, they have been patiently sat in rows in the shed waiting for their moment of glory on the dinner table. The mice have only recently discovered them, burrowing tunnels through the yellow hide and leaving little trails of squash sawdust in their wake. I’m surprised I didn’t find one, Disney style, in the central seed cavity of a squash up-turned, post-gorge and rubbing his full belly. Still, it can’t be easy being a mouse in the depths of winter, and if the odd squash dinner makes things easier then I don’t mind. (I won’t, of course, be so magnanimous when the little sods are eating the tops off my pea shoots.)

So, between me and the mice, the squash stores have been depleted and, this week, I find myself with just a couple left to cook. I’m feeling the need for a good dose of vegetables but not in a crisp, raw, light way. No, I want rich, warming comfort. Fine, let’s not be ladylike about it: I want stodge. But veggie stodge. I begin with an unctuous squash puree, add spelt and top with a colourful and satisfying mix of roast veg and feta. It’s quite a lot of veg. And very filling. But it feels like a proper Sunday Lunch kind of a meal rather than an apologetic veggie main course and that’s exactly what I was hoping for.

Roast roots with squash, spelt and feta

Prep Time: 1 hour

Cook Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes

Total Time: 1 hour, 45 minutes

Serves: 6

Roast roots with squash, spelt and feta

This rich and comforting main meal is so unctuous and satisfying even ardent carnivores won't notice it's veggie. There's a bit of prep work, but it can all be done in advance and the dish comes together quite quickly.

  • 350g spelt grains
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 250g kale, washed and dried (it need to be really dry)
  • 1/2 tsp chilli flakes
  • Sprinkling garlic granules (yes, I know, very 70s)
  • 1 large squash (roughly 1.5kg)
  • 6 beetroot
  • 6 carrots
  • 1 sprig rosemary, chopped
  • 3 sprigs thyme, chopped
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 500g wild mushrooms (optional)
  • 50g butter (optional)
  • 275g feta
  1. Rinse the spelt then cover with cold water and boil for 20 minutes until just soft. Drain, rinse again then set aside until needed (there will be lots of ‘setting aside’ to come – this is a meal you cook in parts then bring together at the end, bear with me.)
  2. Pre-heat the oven to 155ºC.
  3. Remove the stalks from the kale and tear it into pieces roughly an inch square. Pop the leaves in a bowl with 3 tbsp olive oil, salt and pepper, chilli flakes and a shake of garlic granules. Massage the oil and seasoning into each piece of kale making sure everything is nicely coated but not swimming in oil. Lay the kale out across two large baking trays so the leaves are well spread out, then bake in the oven for 10 minutes, turning half way. Remove when just crispy but not brown and set aside until needed.
  4. Turn the oven up to 200ºC.
  5. Cut the squash into quarters, skin still on, de-seed them and wrap each piece tightly in foil. Pop them on a tray and roast in the oven for around 1 hour or until then are completely soft all the way through. Remove, unwrap and scoop the flesh into a saucepan, discarding the skins. Set aside.
  6. Whilst the squash is roasting, peel the beetroot and cut into eights. Half the carrots lengthways. Pop them both in a large roasting tin and add the rosemary, thyme and a good pinch of salt. Drizzle over 3 tbsp olive oil and toss everything together. Roast in the oven for 40 minutes or until the veg are soft and nicely charred at the edges. Remove from the oven and set aside (I did warn you).
  7. If you are using the wild mushrooms, melt the butter in a frying pan until it foams them fry the mushrooms until soft and season well. You’ve guessed it…. Set aside.
  8. All of this can be done in advance or just before you eat. When you’re ready to serve up, mix the spelt with the beetroot and carrots and sling them back in the oven at 200oC for 5 minutes to warm up again. Warm the squash puree through in the pan over a low heat and season well. Warm the mushrooms, if they need it, in the pan. On a large, warmed platter, spread a thick layer of the squash puree. Pile the spelt/root veg mix on top, poking in the odd handful of kale crisps as you go for crunch. Top with the mushrooms, if using, and crumble over the feta and more kale crisps to finish. Serve with a roaring fire and a good bottle of red wine (it’s not quite Spring yet, folks).
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