An ordinary evening, late autumn. Afternoons are rainy, Christmas lights still far away. The yellow leaves pile up on the ground under the trees, mingling with the relentless rain, a mushy carpet for busy steps. Evenings like these require a comforting savoury butternut squash pie: I want it ready, so that I just need to reheat it in the oven, enough to crisp the breadcrumbs and melt the mozzarella, making it soft, buttery, a hug.
I am privileged.
I do not have an office job that keeps me away from home for more than eight hours a day, plus I don’t have children to manage, juggling in between homework, swimming lessons and seasonal bugs. It is just Tommaso and I, and two loving dogs, Noa and Teo. My job keeps me in the kitchen most of the day, or at my desk, which is still a few steps from my kitchen.
Yet. Yet, I have a hard time organising my day.
I am happy to come back home after my swimming lesson and go directly to visit my mum, as I know there’s a hot dinner waiting for me. I abandon my dripping bag, heavy with wet towels, by the entrance door and sit down at the table with my parents and Tommaso, a fork in my hand, a content heart and a relaxed mind. This is when I feel like a daughter again, no responsibilities, just finish the food I put on your plate.
There are days when we have a large choice of warm dishes – the leftovers from a cooking class, or something I photographed for a client or developed for the blog – and days when, like everyone, I assemble ingredients rather than cooking. A well-stocked pantry helps, just as carving out pockets of time during the week to plan forward. Sometimes, while I’m writing or photographing, I boil some potatoes, I roast a whole pumpkin to use in a pie, in a risotto or with some pasta, or I soak the chickpeas for the next day.
Sometimes, at night, all I want to do is cooking, again, just for us, something simple, impromptu, just for the sake of it. Other times, though, especially when the day has been heavy, badly organised or demanding, finding a ready-made savoury butternut squash pie waiting for me puts a smile on my face. It is like someone is taking care of me, making my day easier, even if that someone is still me, in a different moment, with better organisational skills.
Savoury butternut squash pie
A few days ago, for the umpteenth time, I had dinner at my parents’ and my mum served her famous potato cheese savoury pie, the one that, as soon as it arrives on the table, creates immediately a winter atmosphere: a fireplace, thick woollen socks and clementine peels left on the tablecloth at the end of the dinner. I wanted to make it again, making it more autumnal, replacing part of the potatoes with the pulp of roasted butternut squash.
Compared to the recipe I usually make, I also increased the amount of butter. Well, let’s say I almost tripled it. Mashing the potatoes and squash into the butter, watching it melt, making the pie glossy and full-bodied, I realised that this was exactly the quantity it needs.
Make it in advance, warm it up for dinner and serve it with a radicchio salad: everything will be easier for a little while.
Savoury butternut squash pie
For the oven baked butternut squash
- ½ butternut squash, about 600 g (1.3 lb)
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- ½ teaspoon salt
- a few rounds of freshly ground black pepper
For the savoury butternut squash pie
- 1 kg potatoes
- 125 g (4 1/3 oz) butter, plus more to dot the pie crust
- 100 g (1 cup) Parmigiano Reggiano, grated
- 2 teaspoons salt
- freshly ground black pepper
- 2 eggs
- 140 g (5 oz) cooked ham, in thin slices
- 250 g (8 3/4 oz) fresh mozzarella
- 2 tablespoons breadcrumbs
- Preheat the oven to 200°C (390°F).
- Begin by roasting the butternut squash. You will only need half, about 600 g (1.3 lb). Cut it open, remove the seeds with a spoon and place the butternut squash on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Season the butternut squash with olive oil, salt and pepper, rub the surface of the butternut squash with your fingers to distribute the seasonings.
- Roast it for about 45 minutes, until the butternut squash is golden, almost caramelized on the edges, with a pulp so soft that it can be scoop out with a spoon.
- Remove it from the oven and set it aside.
- While the butternut squash is roasting in the oven, cook the potatoes. Rinse them and arrange them in a pot that can comfortably fit them in one layer. Cover the potatoes with water. Put the pot on medium flame, cover with a lit and bring to a boil. Cook the potatoes until you can easily pierce them with a knife. Drain them and run the potatoes under cold water. Peel them.
- Mash the potatoes in a bowl with a potato ricer. Scoop the butternut squash pulp into the bowl. Mix the potatoes and the butternut squash while they are still hot with the butter, eggs, grated Parmigiano Reggiano, salt and pepper. Use a fork to make a creamy, smooth texture.
- Grease a 26 cm (9 incround baking dish or oven-safe pot. Spoon half of the mashed butternut squash and potatoes on the bottom and flatten the surface with a spatula.
- Cover the mashed squash and potatoes with the prosciutto cotto and scatter the surface with pieces of mozzarella. Top with the rest of the mashed potatoes and squash, then flatten the surface with a spatula. Dust the surface with breadcrumbs, then dot with slivers of butter.
- Bake until golden and crisp, about 40 to 45 minutes, and serve warm. It can be served even the day after, quickly warmed up in the oven.
Serve the savoury butternut squash pie with…
Should I listen to my hunger, or to my cravings for comfort food, I would eat this savoury butternut squash pie still hot from the pan, with a spoon: a bite of crisp breadcrumb crust, then one with stringy mozzarella, then again some soft potato and squash mash, buttery and tasty for all the Parmigiano Reggiano I’ve grated inside.
But it would be a shame, as I would lose that inviting contrast between the hot squash pie and a salad of crisp red radicchio, cold, slightly bitter and acidulous. If not radicchio, a fennel salad would work as well, perhaps with the first seasonal oranges. And to close the meal, why not, a coffee and cardamom crème brûlée, which you can prepare in advance, just like the pie.
- Fennel and orange salad. A fennel and blood orange salad is my winter go-to side dish, especially when the main course is either grilled fish or pork chops. When I forget that I have a meal to prepare, though, this salad welcomes other ingredients and becomes a main.
- Coffee crème brûlée. An innocent, harmless dessert that becomes an explosion of hotness and sensuality when it meets the irreversible action of a gas torch. Its surface is transformed into a thin layer of hot, bright, crisp and caramelised glass, while under the cream is cold, smooth and compact.
- I’ve written about my mum’s potato cheese savoury pie for Food52.
- I’m planning to try also Heidi Swanson’s farro and roasted butternut squash salad.
- Speaking of pie and squash, this weekend we’re invited to a Friendsgiving lunch and I’m bringing ZoeBakes’ Caramel Apple Pumpkin Pie.