Butternut squash roasted with Chinese five spices, then plunged into a cheesy pool of savoury custard – and that’s not all! There’s also rayu topping!
What to do with butternut squash
Seasonal when the evenings are long and wet, bright orange in colour and with the skin so tough it’s impossible to peel it, butternut squash is the autumnal vegetarian darling.
The texture is one of those that go from hard to mushy. The taste is something between bland and sweet potato. And the shape is awkward to say the least: a pear with a stringy nest of seeds inside its round bum.
I am not selling the squash very well, am I? That’s because I have never considered myself a fan of the vegetable.
Sure enough, it’s a vegetable (or plant as we should refer to things these days; also – technically fruit) and so it’s good to eat, but there are more interesting members of the gourd family like cucumbers, melons or even courgettes.
For butternut squash to make an interesting dish in my view, it takes quite a lot of seasoning, a bold approach to cooking it and a topping/dressing/sauce that will play the main part, with the squash a canvas for the flavours. In a (butter)nutshell – it takes Ottolenghi.
The recipe for five-spice butternut squash with cheesy custard and orange rayu comes from Ottolenghi Test Kitchen, one of my all-time favourite YouTube channels. It also features on New York Times Cooking, if you have a subscription.
I have taken a few liberties with the recipe, with full respect. I skipped the shallots roasted with the butternut, I upped the cheese and cut down the eggs in the custard, and I played a bit fast and loose with the rayu. Details below!
How to bake the squash
Butternut is a hard nut to squash and to peel, so sensibly, Ottolenghi decided not to. In fact, roasted twice, the skin is perfectly digestible, should you wish to eat it all.
So the tough (literally) part is to chop it in half lengthwise, then it gets easier to slice it thickly crossways.
The roasting mix of oil with five spice and cinnamon makes it smell wonderful, but you need to rub all the slices in it while trying to keep them in order – tricky! An ovenproof skillet or a cast iron pan that fits the half squash in it will be the best roaster, and it takes half an hour to soften it; a little longer than in the OTK recipe.
I omitted the shallots, just to focus on the main star of the show.
How to make the rayu
Rayu is Japanese chilli oil. Obviously, OTK take on it is much more complex than just steeping chilli flakes in oil.
I took a third way: I added the extra, lovely ingredients like grated ginger, orange zest and sesame seeds but I mixed it all without cooking. Plus, I kept to the Japanese aspect of it by using Shichimi seasoning instead of O’s Aleppo peppers.
In my humble opinion, the outcome is lovely. If you have any of the rayu left over, it’s gorgeous on grilled salmon and on fried eggs.
How to make cheesy custard
As signalled, I used only two egg yolks but twice as much cheese in my ‘custard’. Say what you will, I prefer the ‘cheesy’ part of the ‘cheesy custard’.
I also used less stock, for the same reason – so it wasn’t quite as runny and wobbly when baked.
It’s a great recipe though, sharp and salty with the garlic and miso, and I’ll certainly bookmark it for my next potato or vegetable gratin.
A gorgeous, autumnal vegetarian dish
It all turned out absolutely great – a satisfying, warming and vibrant dish, just right for a dark November evening.
That’s the great thing about recipes like this (and Yotam) – you get three different takeaways from it. The custard will be my new essential for various gratins and bakes. The rayu is another gorgeous, spicy, versatile topping or dressing.
And I am probably even going to enjoy the butternut squash from now on.
More Ottolenghi recipes
Crusty Italian bread from Ottolenghi proves that it’s not always only sourdough that’s the best.
Devil’s food cake with hazelnut praline, chocolate and fudgy, frosted with malted cream and hazelnut praline crumb, this cake is stupidly good.
Unquestionably the best dip I have ever tasted, muhammara: a coarsely ground mix of roasted peppers, walnuts, and gorgeous Syrian pepper flakes.
More vegetarian bake recipes
Autumn vegetable tian, a cheesy bake of carrots, parsnips, potatoes and other root vegetables, easily made ahead.
Potato and cabbage gratin, herby with sage and dill, cheesy with gruyere or Cheddar. Rich, warming and absolutely comforting – it’s an oven-baked antidepressant!
Spicy, cheesy lentils bake, a superior vegetarian dish put together in 15 minutes. Baked cheesy lentils inspired by NY Times Cooking.