According to Jamie's book, butternut squash is in the top ten of vegetables bought in Britain, beating off presumably harsh competition from its rivals in the vegetable aisles (or even in the tinned section). I am surprised at its high profile, because it is not a vegetable anyone I know ate much of until a few years ago, but then it is a vegetable that surely everyone likes and it is much easier to deal with (and less stringy) than its sister, pumpkin. It seems to work cooked in all sorts of ways: roasted, mashed, in risotto, as a stuffing or sauce for pasta, in soup. If the great British public really are eating a lot of butternut squash, then they have good taste. On this subject, we saw a Tesco advert on television the other night, alerting viewers to their incredibly generous half-price offer on selected fruit and vegetables to encourage their shoppers to get their five a day. Yesterday, Simon noticed a Tesco advert in a tabloid newspaper that someone had left on the train seat, this time announcing a half price reduction on diet coke, beer, Maryland cookies and other such delicacies. So the half-price deals constitute a really convincing attempt to improve the nation's health - or not.
Tesco rant over, back to Jamie's squash dish, which begins like so many of his squash recipes (and a quick flick through his earlier books indicates he roasted squash in spices way back in his Naked Chef days...) with the squash being sliced into chunks and tossed with bashed up coriander seeds and dried chilli (only this time there is fresh thyme too). The squash is then covered in foil and cooked for 45 minutes until tender, when the foil is removed and the squash returned to the oven while a glass of Chardonnay is combined with grated Parmesan, nutmeg, and single cream; this mixture is then poured over the squash and put back in the oven for 10 minutes.
I didn't doubt that a creamy squash side dish would be good, and I was proved right. I served it with lamb chops that I had rubbed in the spicy Cajun marinade Jamie suggests in his second book - for anyone who hasn't spotted the double page of marinades and rubs in that book, they are brilliant for jazzing up pork or lamb chops - and it was a nice combo. I also made celeriac mash but in retrospect that was too much, really; it was just that a celeriac getting onto its last legs was looking reproachfully at me and I do like celeriac a lot, despite its profoundly ugly exterior.
We ate this dinner on Wednesday evening, not last night - last night we had the pickings from our trip to Edinburgh to feast on. We nearly didn't - I booked the trains on Wednesday on impulse, seeing a cheap deal on single tickets, and misremembered the time of the train from Newcastle. As we sat on the Metro in what we thought was plenty of time to get to the station and collect our tickets, mooch around WHSmith, get a coffee and some cash, and then get on the train, I checked the train time and realized it left twenty minutes earlier than I had remembered. Oops. Luckily, the fact that we are always desperately early for trains meant that we (just) had enough time to pick up the tickets from the Fast Ticket machine, get cash and leap on the train, which was delightfully quiet. I am not going to turn into Victor Meldrew on this blog, but a brief question: why is it that the trainline.com offered me a choice of facing direction of travel or not, and I chose to face on both journeys, only to find when we got on the train that we were going backwards? Anyway ranting aside, Edinburgh was lovely: very clear blue skies, cold in a nice sort of way, and we went to Valvona and Crolla. I probably don't need to introduce it but I will anyway: it is the oldest delicatessen in Scotland, was founded in 1934 by Italian immigrants, and has gone from strength to strength ever since, attracting the attention of many a famous foodie. According to Nigel Slater in the Observer, 'Valvona & Crolla in Edinburgh is everything I want a food shop to be. Sometimes I wish the Continis would let me move in.' I wouldn't mind moving next door, frankly, either. The delicatessen is amazing, small but high-ceilinged with shelves right up to the ceiling packed with the kind of food you want to buy. There are loads of types of pasta and rice, sauces, olive oils, vinegars, plus a fantastic meat counter, cheese counter, lots of fresh breads, and wines. Plus a cafe/bar at the back of the shop - called the Caffe Bar - which is light and airy and very unpretentious, but has a great fixed menu and specials. We shared a selection of breads and a plate of air-dried bresaola with rocket, Parmesan and lemon to start, then Simon had orechiette with spicy sausage and greens, and I had ravioli stuffed with pumpkin and served with walnut pesto; it was all delicious. We also had a really smooth Italian Merlot and espressos to wake us up and send us back into the street. It was absolutely lovely and not particularly expensive and I would love to be able to pop in there on a regular basis; equally I would love to have that deli locally, or even just a bit closer than a 90 minute train journey away. In the shop, we bought: parma ham; speck; smoked pancetta; more parma ham, in the form of a knuckle; salame; bresaola; a Fonteluna sausage; baby Stilton; brie de Meaux; parmesan (of course); extra virgin olive oil; sourdough bread; some espresso cups; some of the Merlot we had with lunch, and a book for me. We staggered back onto the train with all our wares after another look round the shops (somewhat weighed down by our purchases...) and tucked into some of them last night, and they were really good. The salame surprised me most: I like salame but have never had particularly good salame (whereas I have with parma ham...) and this was divine. Mmm. Foodie heaven, as I said to Simon on the way home; I feel a renewed enthusiasm for Italian antipasti fuelled by our lunch today, when we had some more. On the other hand it is probably a good thing that I don't live next door to that sort of place, or I wouldn't be able to stop buying and eating it, and it isn't all that cheap...