When ever I think of squash it always reminds me of a trip I went on when I was working at the River Cafe. We were in Chianti Ruffina and staying at Selvapiana.
The owner was an amazing man called Francesco Giuntini Antinori, who would entertain you with the most delicious food and of course his wonderful wine and best of all himself.
He had such a brilliant character and would tell the most wonderful stories in his perfect English with such detail and humour.
I remember one evening just after a tasting of his latest vintage of Chianti, we walked through the court yard of his estate and a came across a table full of various sized squash, the biggest I had ever seen. Francesco gave as a detailed account of each variety and what their culinary destiny was going to be.
Rose Gray was so excited about this and asked if we could take one back to the restaurant. Well Francesco being the perfect, generous host lets us pick which squash we would like to take back. As you can imagine we didn't take the smallest one!
When we were checking in to Pisa airport the next day we all had hand luggage and an enormous pumpkin, the size of a suitcase.
When we got to Italian security there was no "what is that?" More "what would you do with it?"
One of the two people on duty suggested a gnocchi the other a filling for a ravioli.
There was no eye contact and probably a lot of recipes were discussed as we passed through.
When I was boarding the BA flight with the huge squash in my arms, the air stewardess asked what is that? I explained it was a squash that had been grown lovingly for cooking and we were taking it back to our restaurant to turn it into some delicious dishes.
The air stewardess laughed and said it was obviously for Halloween. I didn't say anything, nervous that it could be thrown off - what a let down for Francesco! By this point I was very protective for my new squash friend.
As the squash was rather large, after many attempts it didn't fit in to overhead storage. So a rather frustrated air stewardess said we will have to put it on a seat.
The flight was completely full apart from a seat in club class, so I was asked by the air stewardess to bring this enormous squash through the cabin. We got to about the third row from the front of the plane and there was a seat on the isle. I quickly placed the huge squash on the seat and instinctively put the seat belt around it. I glanced across and a rather elderly but beautiful Italian lady looked at the squash and me and smiled in a very comforting way.
We made delicious gnocchi, ravioli and risotto for a few weeks!
Serve four people
250g of Carnoroli rice (best quality)
1 kg of onion squash or butternut
1,5 litres of chicken or vegetable stock
1 small onion ( finely chopped)
2 sticks celery ( finely chopped)
1 tsp of fresh rosemary chopped finely
100g grated parmesan cheese
75g of unsalted butter
4 tbsp olive oil
1 clove of garlic (crushed to a smooth paste with sea salt)
For the vegetable stock
1 carrot (peeled and chopped)
1 stick of celery (chopped)
1 leek (cut into 2 cm pieces)
1 stem of fresh parsley
1 stem of fresh sage
1 tsp of sea salt
3 pieces of dried porcini mushroom
2 liters of water
(If you want to make chicken stock just add a chicken carcass to the above recipe)
Place all ingredients into a pan and bring to the boil. Simmer for 30 minutes then start using for making the risotto.
Peel the squash and chop into roughly 2cm pieces.
In a pot of boiling salted water, cook the squash for about 10 mins until it is soft enough to put a sharp knife through, drain and keep to one side.
In a straight sided pan add 2 tblsp of olive oil and gently fry the celery and onion for 2 minutes, with no colour.
Add the rice and stir continually for 5 minutes so the rice gets hot and goes slightly translucent.
Start adding the stock a ladle at a time and stir continually. After 15 minutes of cooking add the cooked squash. Keep stirring and make sure the risotto seems very wet but the rice still has a lovely bite. Add the crushed garlic with salt, then add the butter and parmesan. Check the seasoning and stir vigoursly so the risotto is really creamy. Serve in hot pasta bowls with extra parmesan and freshly ground black pepper.