Wednesday 9 September 2009

Salad of Griddled Baby Butternut with Lemon, Garlic, Feta and Mint: plus a Cooksister!

Salad of Griddled Baby Butternut with Lemon,
 Garlic, Feta and Mint
There are two things I want to write about in this post: one is a delicious, garlicky, lemony dish of chargrilled baby-butternut-squash slices, and the other is Jeanne Horak, arguably the Net's best-known South African food blogger. I've been scratching my head for 20 minutes trying to find a way to knit these two topics into a coherent opening paragraph, and I think I have cracked it.

What do this vegetable and Jeanne have in common? Well, they're both young, fresh and unusual, they're both South African, each one has added a particular deliciousness to my day. Jeanne, I apologise for comparing you to a vegetable (a word that doesn't have good connotations when applied to a human), but I know you won't mind at all. In fact, I think, given your love of fine, snappingly fresh ingredients, you'd be quite pleased to be compared to an infant butternut in the prime of its youth.

Jeanne Horak, who lives in London, is a talented cook, food writer and photographer, not to mention a great champion of South African food bloggers. Her blog, Cooksister, has won many awards, and in February 2009 was listed in The Times, UK, as one of the Top Ten Food Blogs for the Home Cook. What's more, she's drawn up a comprehensive directory of South African food blogs.

We met last year, when Jeanne contacted me to say that she and her husband were nipping into South Africa for a few weeks, and it was jolly good to meet her, and the other Johannesburg food bloggers she'd lined up for a Sunday breakfast. Anyway, the reason I mention this is because Jeanne has generously featured my Scrumptious blog on her South African food bloggers' page - click here to read more about me and my food philosophy.

Now, the very tiny baby butternut squashes. I came across these perky little beauties, each the length of a middle finger, at my local veggie shop today, and was intrigued by their lovely pale-cream and green variegated skin. Thinking they'd probably taste similar to baby marrows (courgettes) or pattypan squashes, and would be perfect for a stir-fry, I bought them.

But, after slicing off a piece and tasting it, I was intrigued to note that the flesh was a little denser and sweeter than that of a baby marrow, with a nutty note, and not at all watery or spongy. So I decided to char-grill them and dress them, still warm, with olive oil, garlic, lemon juice, feta cheese, fresh mint and parsley. And, oh my goodness, they were faintingly good: cooked in a very hot ridged grill pan, they developed a slight sweetness at the edges, but were still tender-crisp and full of flavour. The dressing contains a lot of crushed fresh garlic, but it is strained before it's poured over the cooked butternut.

If you can't find these, you can use courgettes or pattypan squashes instead, although the final result will be somewhat more watery. This just won't work with mature, yellow-fleshed, hard-skinned butternuts.

Salad of Grilled Baby Butternut with Lemon, Feta and Mint

10 baby (really tiny) butternut squashes
some olive oil for rubbing
the juice of a lemon

For the dressing:
4 cloves fresh garlic, peeled
the juice of a large lemon (about 3 T; 45 ml)
130 ml fruity olive oil
a pinch of salt
freshly milled black pepper

To top:
3 Tbsp (45 ml) fresh, finely chopped mint
3 Tbsp (45 ml) fresh, finely chopped parsley
crumbled feta cheese

salt and freshly milled black pepper

Heat a ridged griddle pan on a hot plate for 7-10 minutes, or until very, very hot. Wipe each little butternut squash to remove any furry bits. Cut the squashes, lengthways (that is, from top to bottom, stalks and all), into four 'leaves'.

Using your fingers, rub each slice, top and bottom, with a little olive oil. Place the slices on the griddle, in batches, and cook until dark-gold lines appear on the underside, and the edges of each slice begin to darken. Add more olive oil, if necessary. Flip the slices over. When they are nicely striped on both sides, remove them from the pan and put aside on a plate.

When all the slices have been browned, pile them back into the griddle pan, turn the heat down to medium-low, wait for a few minutes for the pan to cool slightly, and squeeze over the juice of one lemon, plus a tablespoon of water. Cover the griddle pan with a circle of greaseproof paper, or a saucepan lid of the right size. Leave the slices to steam gently until they are just cooked: that is, tender-crisp, but not raw, and certainly not mushy.

In the meantime, make the dressing. Finely chop the garlic, or smash it to pieces with a mortar and pestle. Add the olive oil, salt, pepper and lemon juice, and whisk well to combine. Let the mixture sit and infuse for ten minutes while you finish cooking the butternut slices.

Lift the cooked baby butternut slices from the pan, arrange on a big platter and allow to cool for five minutes. Strain the garlicky dressing, through a metal sieve, over warm slices, pressing down on the garlic mush with the back of a spoon. Scatter the chopped mint and parsley over the dish, and toss gently to combine. Crumble the feta cheese over the salad, and set aside, at room temperature, for an hour or two so the flavours can mingle. You can make this up to 8 hours in advance, but don't put it in the fridge.

Serves 6-8, as a side salad.
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Homemade Heaven said...

I love butternut and Jeanne, so you have my vote on this straight up!

Jeanne said...

Oooh, I'm blushing up a storm!! Not sure I recognise this wonderful person that you so eloquently describe :) Thanks ever so much for your kind words!

As for the recipe - awwww, baby butternut... Now there's something you don't see over here. In fact, you don't get those lovely sweet little baby gemsquash either - now you've reminded me how mch I miss them. They were just so easy to cook! Love what you've done with yours - mmmm!

Nina Timm said...

Love the way you treated those little babies!!!!