You know what I like about this dish? It’s the contrasts, the surprises you get when you take a mouthful. Like the way the squash dissolves into a sweet caramel mush in your mouth, whereas the fig is slightly crunchy, almost vegetable like as it bursts between your teeth.
Throw in the salty cheese, a citrussy-sharp, sweet and slightly hot glaze and you have a melange of tastes and textures that really ought to collide messily. But they don’t. Sure, they clamour for attention, but all that taste and texture walks a finely balanced pathway, never straying.
The salt matches the sweet, and both are cut with a gentle acidity and backed up with some heat. These flavours play on the different textures. It’s a main course bursting with rich fruit and a sweet dressing. Crumbly and salty, but also rich and smooth.
The inspiration, and many of the unexpected combinations, came from Yottam Ottolenghi writing in last Saturday’s Guardian. No stranger to enticing and unexpected flavour combos he’d created a recipe for a roasted sweet potato and fresh fig salad.
What an interesting set of ingredients. Sweet potato and figs. Could that work? I didn’t have any sweet potato, so I used squash. And I decided to bake the figs as I prefer fresh figs to be cooked rather than raw.
And I couldn’t resist tweaking the seasonings to make it burst with even more flavours. So I added a wee bit of chilli for heat, some lime and lemon to spritz everything up. But it still needed something else to bring everything together.
The cheese is the master stroke here (thanks Yottam ol’ pal). The thing that makes everything else work. The crumbly salty Turkish sheeps’ cheese played off the rich figs, sweet squash and the zingy citrus, helped bring the hot, sweet and limey dressing into the dish. It just worked. Brilliantly.
Roasted butternut squash, figs and cheese
Serves two as a light supper or three to four as a starter
The beauty of this is that it tastes just as good at room temperature as it does out of the oven, although you lose the play of cool crumbly cheese and soft hot vegetable flesh. To make it even more pleasing on the eye and tongue, you could add some fresh coriander and/or mint.
1 butternut squash
100g goats cheese
Pepper and sea salt
Half a lemon
60ml balsamic vinegar
30g caster sugar
A couple of slivers of hot chilli pepper
Half a lime
Heat the oven up to 220oC
Peel the squash, deseed it and cut it into wedges. Toss the wedges in oil, salt and pepper. Put them in an oven proof dish, the point of the wedge facing up. Quarter the figs and add them to the dish. Squeeze over the juice from the half a lemon.
Put the dish in the oven and cook for 35-40 minutes. The corners of the butternut squash should just be starting to turn black.
Put the balsamic vinegar, sugar, chilli and the juice of the lime in a pan and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and leave the mixture to simmer slowly for three or four minutes, stirring slowly. When the mixture thickens slightly turn the heat off. As the mixture cools it will thicken more.