I love this time of year. It has started to get a little cooler but is not yet so cold that I don't want to leave the house. It is getting darker but not yet so dark that all of the time not spent at work during the week is spent in the dark. We seem to have had a mild October so far but that doesn't stop the need for warmer and heartier food, it just alters the way that food needs to appears on the table. It isn't yet time for stews, soups, and pies (although Monday was so wet and cold that I found myself buying a steak and ale pie from the butcher for dinner) but the scarf around my neck and the slow drift of leaves onto the pavement suggests the time has come to move away from summer and towards the shorter days to come.
With this is mind I pulled out 'roast figs sugar snow,' Diana Henry's ode to winter cookery from countries where they really know how to make it through the cold and dark months. Often this means comfort in the form of heartwarming stodge. I have nothing against the comforting properties of a tartiflette but we're not quite there yet so I turned to a roast squash salad with lentils and goat's cheese for tonight's dinner which turned out to just be a pleasurable nudge towards winter and the promise of a new season's cooking.
ROAST SQUASH SALAD WITH LENTILS AND GOAT'S CHEESE from roast figs sugar snow by Diana Henry
1.5kg butternut squash
salt and pepper
250g goat's cheese, broken into small pieces
For the lentils:
275g Puy lentils
1/2 a small onion, finely chopped
1 small stick of celery, very finely chopped
1/2 tbsp olive oil
1 1/2 tbsp finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
For the dressing:
1/2 tbsp white wine vinegar
A smidgeon of dijon mustard (I used 1/2 tsp)
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Good pinch of caster sugar
Preheat the oven to 180°C. Halve the squash and scoop out the seeds and fibres. Peel and cube into rougly 2cm chunks. Put the squash into a roasting tin, dot with the butter, drizzle over the olive oil and season well. Roast for 15-20 minutes until the squash is tender. Turn it occasionally so it doesn't dry out or scorch.
While the squash is cooking rinse the lentils and put them in a pan, cover them with cold water and bring them to the boil. Cook the lentils until they are tender which can take anything from 15 - 30 minutes so check them frequently as you don't want them to start falling apart.
While the lentils are cooking sauté the onion and celery in the butter and oil until they are soft but not coloured.
Make the dressing by mixing together all of the ingredients, season.
When the lentils are cooked, add them to the pan with the onion and celery and stir. Add two thirds of the dressing and the chopped parsley and season well.
To serve put a mound of lentils onto each plate and top with the roast squash. Dot with the goat's cheese and drizzle with the remaining dressing.