Autumn crawled in. Until a few days ago I would wake up in the morning and open wide the windows to let the crisp morning air in, I would walk barefoot in the house and choose wisely the lightest clothes in the wardrobe.
Then one morning it silently came in. I recognized its shadow in the cold bedroom air, which pushes you under the blankets looking for a hug and some human warmth. My dog Noa used to sleep on the ground, tucking her head underneath the bed to escape any single ray of light, while now she curls up on the rug, a happy furry white cloud.
Now you wake up, open the window and you are freezed, hanging in the balance, undecided whether to remain there to admire the mist slowly thinning out or getting into a warmer pullover and brewing some tea or coffee. In the evening, after a long working day, I carve out a few moments to spend outside, to soak in the last light and warmth. The air is already crisp and thin, but it’s my favourite way to reconnect with Nature.
Colours change suddenly: it’s not the foliage which is telling a new story about a late Autumn, it’s the light, warmer and smooth. I rummage the wardrobe in search of colours and fabrics which can suit this new smoothness, a thicker cotton, my favourite wool cardigan, a red-purple warm hug.
Autumn brought also a new self-awareness: I wish to have a better care of myself, so after more than two years I decided it was time to sign up again for an annual gym membership, which will accompany me to burn out porcini risotto, Christmas cookies, Carnival fritters, Easter chocolate up to gelato during next summer.
Even my pantry is welcoming the news season as every year.
Plums stepped in. I am constantly buying those thin-skinned plums with a sweet ripe green pulp, which already outclassed nectarines and watermelon in my personal hit list. At the market mushrooms and porcini show up next to calamint and mint bunches. Apples and pears, quintessentially autumnal, team up in cakes and muffins, something which will sooth even the most dramatic Monday morning.
During my cooking classes we enjoy the warmth in the kitchen given by the pots muttering on the stove or by the oven, where a cake is baking. Hearty classic recipes are back on the menu after a season of panzanella, pappa al pomodoro and refreshing salads: apple roasted pork loin is a crowd pleaser, while butternut squash is the new key ingredient, starring in risotti, fresh pasta, soups and side dishes.
I was wondering how long I’d wait until I would published the first recipe with butternut squash. It has already made itself at home in my kitchen and it’s spreading its mellow sweetness from appetizers to desserts.
I usually begin the season with a risotto: during one of the last cooking classes I made a pumpkin risotto, finishing it with a handful of grated pecorino and some brown butter and crispy sage. I am usually generous in sharing the food, but that time I almost served stingy ladlefuls to my guests as to save some of the risotto for me. After the risotti, butternut squash ends up in the oven, sliced or diced, with potatoes, the last eggplants or on its own, seasoned with extra virgin olive oil and Mediterranean fresh herbs or sprinkled with far away spices as cinnamon, sumac and nutmeg.
A few years ago butternut squash conquered my heart – and my stomach – with desserts, too. I made moist bundt cakes for breakfast, creme brulées, pies and jams, too. Today I want to talk about this jam.
Butternut squash jam with sliced almond
My butternut squash jam has the same colour of autumn leaves, it is sensuous and silky. You will be tempted to slather this jam on a slice of fresh bread, better if a wholewheat or brown bread. As soon as you will notice that the jam is flecked with sliced almond, though, you will be tempted to finish the jar with a spoon, as the almonds add a subtle crunch to an otherwise smooth jam.
- 1 kg of acorn squash, butternut squash or Mantovana squash, peeled and seeded
- Juice of 1 lemon
- 300 ml of water
- 1 vanilla bean, split open
- 300 g of caster sugar
- 40 g sliced almonds
- Cut the squash into slices, peel it and dice it. You will need 1 kilo of squash pulp. Put it in a pot and cook it over low heat with lemon juice and 300 ml of water for about 35 minutes, until it softens. Stir often to prevent it sticking on the bottom. Depending on the texture of the squash you might need more or less water, more or less cooking time.
- Reduce the squash in a velvety puree with an immersion blender.
- Add 300 g of sugar and the split open vanilla bean and simmer the jam for about 10 minutes to thicken it.
- When the jam is almost ready add the sliced almonds and cook for 5 more minutes.
- Spoon the jam into sterilized jars, close them tightly and boil the jars for 30 minutes to preserve the jam for months.
How to use butternut squash jam?
The quick answer is slathered on bread, for breakfast or as an afternoon break, served with a steaming cup of cinnamon tea. Now that we are slowly moving into autumn, though, this jam can also be the filling for an Italian crostata, which would remind the American pumpkin pie, or for a light sponge cake to be sliced and served on a lazy Sunday on the couch.
These are just a few ideas to use pumpkin in sweet recipes. There will surely be occasion to talk again about savory recipes as the pumpkin season is still long, thankfully
- From the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, an old style pumpkin pie.
- This looks like an unusual combination, chocolate soufflé with candied squash, from the New York Times.
- An interesting article on The Guardian, The recipe for turning a roast squash into four different meals. Read it till the end and you’ll find wholesome(ish) loaf, squash, apple and ginger cake.