I love all the seasons. Spring is my favourite because of the sense of nature’s renewal and the first hint of warmth in the wind, but autumn runs it a close second because of the luscious, warming food that comes out of our kitchen as the evenings draw in and the temperature drops.
I called this blog Love and Fishes because we love fish and eat a lot of it; on that reasoning I could have easily called it Love and Squashes – we eat a LOT of winter squash! It’s such a versatile, delicious vegetable, and it delivers in every dish. It works especially well in this Middle-Eastern inspired dish which I have been refining for a few years now. It’s perfect now, for me at least. If you’re not much into spice then you can reduce the amount of harissa used from 4 teaspoons to 2, but I think you’ll love it just as it is.
This dish becomes heavenly when made with home-made vegetable stock, for both the tagine itself and – particularly – when used to make the couscous.
RECIPE – serves 4
2 tbsp olive oil
150g chestnut mushrooms, sliced
150g large flat mushrooms, sliced
2 preserved lemons, rind only, thinly sliced
2 small red onions, cut into thin wedges
350g butternut squash, deseeded and cubed
1 red pepper, deseeded and cubed
2 cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
4 tsp harissa paste
400g can chopped tomatoes
250ml vegetable stock
1 tbsp cornflour, mixed to a paste with 2 tbsp water
small bunch of fresh coriander, leaves and stems chopped
450ml vegetable stock
Heat the oven to 200°C/ fan 180°C/ Gas 6.
Tip your cubed squash onto a roasting tray and drizzle a couple of tablespoons of olive or rapeseed oil over it together with a good pinch of sea salt. Using your hands, ensure that every surface of every piece of squash has a fine film of oil, then spread the pieces out evenly across the roasting tray. Do not crowd your tray, leave a little space between each piece of vegetable and in a single layer, otherwise some pieces will steam rather than roast. Roasting drives out some of the moisture in the vegetable, intensifying the flavour in a way that steaming does not. The oil coating protects the vegetable from the dry heat and delays caramelisation until the vegetable is soft, the caramelisation also adds an essential layer of extra flavour. Roast for between 45 and 60 minutes, then set aside until needed.
Heat 1 tbsp of the oil in a large frying pan or wok, add the mushrooms and sauté until all the liquor bubbles off the mushrooms. Transfer to a plate and set aside.
Heat the remaining 1 tbsp of the oil in the pan, add the onions, pepper, garlic and half the preserved lemon and sauté for 2 or 3 mins. Add the harissa, stir for a minute, then add the tomatoes and stock. Bring to the boil and simmer for 15 mins or until the onions and pepper are tender. Toward the end of the 15 minutes, make up the cornflour paste and stir it into the sauce, turn the heat up and boil for a few minutes until thickened, stirring frequently.
Stir in the coriander stems, mushrooms and roasted squash cubes together with the remaining preserved lemon and simmer uncovered for a further 5 mins. Check and adjust the seasoning. Stir in the coriander leaves and serve spooned over couscous.
To make the couscous: heat the vegetable stock in a saucepan and measure out the dry couscous into a large pan. Season the stock then, when it has reached the boil, pour it over the couscous. Stir vigorously, cover the pan and set aside. After ten minutes, remove the lid, fluff up the hydrated couscous with a fork and serve.