Nigel slater’s butternut squash recipes life and style the guardian how to cook bacon in the oven with brown sugar

From time to time I pick up a butternut squash, its flesh a glowing beacon amid the black-greens of kale, cavolo nero and crinkly leaved cabbages that take over the bottom of the fridge during the hungry gap of march. Most of them have travelled quite a way to get here, but there is cheer in their apricot flesh and the sweetness feels like luxury against the good-for-you frugality of the season’s roots and cabbages. But their sweetness can cloy.

The marshmallow note of squashes, and particularly the butternut, needs taming with something savoury. Mushrooms, ginger, bacon (cooked crisp to contrast with the squishy flesh of the squash), salami, duck fat or soy will all do. As will parmesan and aged or salted ricotta. Miso too. Such flavours balance rather than bully, calming the butternut’s one-note sugar hit.

The new season’s vegetables are here already, broad beans from italy and tiny artichokes the size of an egg, their dull green leaves flushed with violet (my butternuts came from italy, too), and our own asparagus isn’t far away now.Pieces squash


the next few weeks will see the vegetable stalls unfurling, their colours brightening, the mood changing. Until then, there’s always the dear, sweet butternut. Roast butternut soup with mushrooms and ginger

Rather than the usual, velvet-textured pumpkin soup, I have kept the pieces of squash in large pieces, served in a broth red with paprika and hot with shredded ginger. You end up with a textural soup of late winter-spring colours and deep bosky notes, a pleasing change from the usual deep orange, silky soup. Serves 6.

Set the oven at 200C/gas mark 6. Peel the butternut, halve it lengthways and discard the seeds and fibres. (there is no real necessity to peel a butternut, but mine had very hard skin.) cut the flesh into large chunks, then place in a single layer on a baking sheet or roasting tin. Peel the shallots, halve them, then tuck them among the squash.

Mix the olive oil and the paprikas then spoon over the squash, slide the dish into the oven and bake for about an hour or until the squash is patchily browned but thoroughly soft and tender.Pieces squash

Warm the vegetable stock in a large saucepan. Add the squash to the stock, place over a moderate heat (use a few spoonfuls of the stock to deglaze the roasting tin if there are any interesting bits of roasted squash and shallot left), then season with salt and a little pepper and bring to the boil. Partially cover the pan with a lid and simmer for 20 minutes until the squash is falling to pieces. Crush a few pieces of the squash into the liquid with a fork to thicken it slightly.

Slice the mushrooms thinly, then fry them in the olive oil in a shallow pan until golden. Peel the ginger and shred it into very fine matchsticks then add it to the mushrooms and continue cooking for a minute or two. When all is golden and sizzling, remove from the heat.

In theory, there is little need to peel the butternut, but I do here. The skin, however tender, seems at odds with the gentle texture of the tart filling.

Make the pastry: cut the butter into small dice and rub into the flour with your fingertips until it has the texture of soft, fresh breadcrumbs.Pieces squash alternatively, reduce to fine crumbs in a food processor. Add the egg yolks, the parmesan and the water, a tablespoon at a time, stopping when you have a firm, even textured dough. Set the oven at 200C/gas mark 6.

Peel the butternut, halve lengthways, discard the fibres and seeds then cut the flesh into short wedges. Place the pieces of squash in a steamer basket and cook over boiling water for 8-10 minutes until soft. Cut the bacon into pieces the size of a postage stamp then fry in the oil in a shallow pan until crisp. Remove from heat.

Make the filling: beat the eggs, cream and milk, season then add the chopped parsley. Place the tart tin on a baking tray and line with the pastry, making certain you have pushed the dough deep into the corners and that there are no tears or cracks. Chill for 20 minutes in the fridge. Line the pastry case with greaseproof paper and baking beans, then bake for 15-20 minutes, remove the beans and return the pastry case to the oven for 5-7 minutes or until the pastry is biscuit coloured and dry to the touch.200C mark

Lower the heat to 180C/gas mark 4. Place the pieces of butternut in the pastry shell then scatter over the crisped bacon. Pour in the custard and dust the surface with the grated parmesan. Bake for 25 minutes until the custard is just set. Remove from the oven and leave to cool until just warm (when tarts such as this are at their most delicious).