My cooking is changing as much as my life is. I am discovering that what I cook and what I eat are reflection of my personal zeitgeist. As my own relationship with the planet, mother earth, nature, the people around me, my gender identity all change, so too does how I express myself through cooking.
I find myself drifting towards veganism and find myself moving further and further away from processed anything. This is as much about health and wellness, as it is a commitment to reduce my own footprint, to be grateful for what I have. We are collectively living like drunken sailors, with entire movements within cooking built upon macho wanton excess, displayed in books and on TV through an emphasis on eating fats and meat with abandon.
I grew up with a sibling who was a vegetarian, and the little bit of food that I was exposed to that was consistent with that school of thinking was pretty awful stuff. Thankfully, people realise that veganism and vegetarianism need not be pale shadows of an omnivorous diet, that “hamburgers” made of plant protein are not a triumph of science or the culinary arts, but a kind of negation of honesty in the kitchen. Enough of the politics.
This dish came to me because of the beautiful bright orange colour of the squash I used. Zucca moscata di Porlezza is a beautiful, squat squash that looks a bit like a partially flattened pumpkin, only with a light beige, green-tinged rind. It comes from Sicily, and the interior has a spaghetti-like structure when cooked—not stringy, more ropy, not soft and mushy, but textured. This makes it ideal for this kind of preparation, though one often finds it made into soup.
- 1 kg of orange or red squash, seed and thread removed
- Olive oil to brush, plus a bit for the finished dish
- 200 g Fresh “crescenza” goat cheese, cut into dice
- 1 cup of toasted whole hazelnuts, rubbed to remove skins, and then crushed and coarsely chopped
- Salt and pepper to taste
- A generous pinch of freshly ground nutmeg
- A generous pinch of freshly ground cinnamon
- A generous pinch of piment d’espellette, hot pepper
- 1 tablespoon of clean-flavoured honey
- 2-3 tablespoons of dried, unsweetened cranberries
- 1 tablespoon of finely minced flat leaf parsley
Preheat the oven to 180°C. Prepare the squash by cleaning it. Lightly brush with olive oil. Place in the middle of the oven and cook until done, about 1 hour. For the last 20 minutes, toss the hazelnuts into the pan—if using other nuts, make it 15 minutes. Remove from the oven, place the nuts in a towel, rub to remove skins, and then crush and set aside.
Spoon the squash in generous pieces off of the skin and into the serving dish. Drizzle lightly with olive oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper and check the balance before adding the remaining ingredients.
Add the spices and honey, toss to coat. Stir in the cranberries and let cool slightly to warm. Lightly mix in the goat cheese. Sprinkle the nuts over top, sprinkle over the parsley, and serve it forth. Enjoy. Serves 4 as a starter.
For the goat cheese I used what we call in Italy “crescenza” which has a firmer texture than spreadable goat cheese, more like ricotta. Nowadays you can find sheep’s milk or goat’s milk ricotta, which would be nice. I choose this style because it holds together better than just melting and becoming a “sauce”. If you cannot get piment d’espellete, you can use equal parts of cayenne and smoked paprika, which will give a nice balance of heat and smokiness. If you do not have hazelnuts, walnuts, almonds, pecans, or pistachios would make excellent alternates, just thinking that pistachios and almonds are sweeter, whereas the others are more tannic, so you might balance the sweetness by replacing the cranberries with something less sweet like gooseberries.