Baked butternut squash, figs and cheese

Roast squash and figs with cheese

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.

A few slivers of chilli
Slivers of chilli for heat

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.

Roast butternut squash and figs ready for the oven
Ready to roast

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.

Tinned cheese
Tinned cheese!

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
3 figs
100g goats cheese
Oil
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.

Roast squash and figs with cheese
A slightly obscene looking salad

7 Responses to “Baked butternut squash, figs and cheese”

  1. The Grubworm

    @Paul – it’s great, salty crumbly goats and sheep cheese (like a bit-less-solid feta) in brine in a tin. You can find it at pretty much any Turkish or other eastern med grocer. It’s perfect for salads, pastries etc.

  2. Susan

    What a stunner of a dish! Absolutely up my alley flavour-wise too. I must try this.

  3. s

    bloody brill, A! this is just gorgeous. i would never have thought of pairing squash with roasted fig and then salty cheese. love love love.

  4. The Grubworm

    @Susan – thanks! If you do try it, I would love to know how it goes :)

    @Shayma – cor, thanks! It was a new one on me when I first read about it, and the improvisation really worked. Can you guys get Ottolenghi’s cookbooks over there? They are full of interesting and fresh combos.

  5. Ziu

    I’ve tried that same recipe from the Guardian and was really disappointed by the dressing. Far too sweet! With sweet potatoes? Ended up adding loads of lemon juice. Second time round, however, I’ve used pomegranate molasses dressing from Food Stories. Worked a treat!

    I was curious about the tinned goats/sheep cheese which they stock at my local corner shop! I think I’ll definitely give it a go after this! Thanks for sharing.

  6. The Grubworm

    @Ziu – that’s interesting, and I bet the pomegranate molasses was very good indeed. I think the key to dish is the cheese – definitely give it a go – which is pretty salty (similar to feta but softer). This balances out the sweetness for me. Also roasting the figs added a little savoury flavour to them as well which also helped balance out the sweetness.

    I’m going to give it a go with the pomegranate molasses now and see how it tastes. Thanks for the tip :)

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