A few months ago my second cousin Jaey and his lovely wife Marie gave us some seedlings that they had grown in their greenhouse from seed. Some lived, some didn't but part of the reason has been the generally appalling summer and the subsequent early onset autumn/winter. For example I have tomatoes, but they are green and, I suspect, unlikely to ever be red. I had early hopes for the cucumber plant but it died without bearing fruit. Most magnificent has been the bonbon squash vine curling round the back corner of our tiny garden, producing lots of huge buttercup yellow flowers. It is a pretty thing even if there had been no promise of food.
My inexperience as a gardener was also undoubtedly the cause of some of our general low yield. When the first squashes appeared on the vine I was very pleased and watered them religiously morning and night with a whole can of water each time, figuring they'd drink it up and swell into fine fruits. The next time I saw Jaey and Marie I told them of my devotion to be met by a quizzical glance. Seems that rather than make them swell lots of water makes them rot on the vine. Killed quite a few this way.
We did have one that managed to survive my excessive care and it grew and swelled and produced a smattering of stripes radiating out from the fat white button on its bottom just like a proper exotic vegetable. And it filled me with joy. I made elaborate plans for its consumption. I have had a recipe from Sally Clarke's Book for about 8 years that I had wanted to try and, finally, here was my chance. Admittedly it called for smaller squash than my lovely bonbon - gems the size of tennis balls rather than lawn bowling balls but I was sure I could compensate for the difference. I boiled them (I'd bought a second squash at the market so we could have one each) for 10 minutes rather than the 3-5 recommended then baked them for 40 minutes rather than the 25-30 suggested. Sadly it was not enough and the flesh was undercooked, which was a real shame. It was a beautiful deep orange colour and the filling, of cep and cream and rosemary was brilliant.
So I give you the recipe anyway - do it with tiny squash perhaps or test the flesh of a bigger beast before adding the soup. Or just make the soup - it was lovely, and very autumnal. We ate it with lots of hot buttered toast for a fine meal.
Roasted Gem Squash with Cep, Cream and Rosemary
6 gem squash, the size of tennis balls
100ml olive oil, plus a little extra for frying
3 cloves garlic, crushed to a paste with salt
2 tsp finely chopped rosemary
300ml double cream
500g fresh cep brushed clean or use other wild mushrooms, and slice thickly
1 tbspn chopped parsley
Scrub the squash thoroughly and cook in a big pan of boiling salted water for 3-5 minutes. You don't want them to crack or burst open. Drain them and allow to cool naturally. Use a large sharp knife to slice off the top quarter of each squash, keeping the tops to one side. Scoop out the seeds and fibre and bin them. Put the squash on a baking tray.
Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/gas 4.
Mix the olive oil, a third of the garlic, salt and pepper and half the rosemary together and spoon into the cavities of the squash and replace their tops. Roast for 30-35 minutes until the flesh has softened.
Meanwhile, simmer the cream with half the remaining garlic and all the remaining rosemary in a small pan over a very low heat. Season to taste.
In a heavy-based frying pan heat a drizzle of olive oil and the remaining garlic until sizzling and add the sliced mushrooms. Toss over a high heat until golden, season and add the parsley off the heat.
To serve you place the squash into individual soup bowls and spoon the cream into the cavities. Scoop the mushrooms on top and the 'lid' decoratively to one side.
Crusty bread or toast an absolute necessity to miss nothing.
I would make this again, despite the fact it didn't really work this time. Sally Clark normally has very good recipes so the fault probably lies with me. The filling was wonderful and I am still very taken with the idea of the sweet depths of roasted squash flesh wrapping round the earthy mushroom filling. Got to be worth one more go in what looks set to be a vey long autumn.