This is a favourite Ottolenghi recipe, particularly when I am cooking for a crowd. It can all be prepared ahead, avoiding any last minute panic. I tend to omit the sliced almonds from the garnish in the original recipe, as I don’t think they add a great deal (and I don’t generally keep them in the cupboard). I compensate by toasting the seeds, which gives them a lovely crunch – it is a good idea not to add them until you’re about to serve the dish so that they don’t soften.
The aubergine is most quickly prepared over a gas hob, which produces the best, smokiest taste. I am still mourning the excellent gas cooker that I inherited from my mother (which outlasted her by 20 years) and, even more, its eye-level grill. I am now confined to an electric hob, so don’t have this option. However, I comfort myself with the thought that it must make a terrible mess of your hob (if Ottolenghi’s suggestion to protect it with foil first is anything to go by). And the aubergine can also be done under the grill or, I have discovered, in the oven. The pomegranate molasses is important to the flavour of the sauce. We were given a bottle by an Iranian friend, but you can now buy it in some supermarkets, as well as in middle-eastern food shops. The aubergine sauce is also delicious on its own as a dip, or served with roast lamb.
I find that 1 large butternut squash will serve about 10 people as part of a buffet or as a side dish (rather than the 2-4 people suggested in Ottolenghi’s cookbook – which once resulted in spectacular over-catering!). As a main course, served with, say, kale and quinoa salad I reckon it would feed 6. I served it with Chicken baked with fennel and Spiced chickpeas with fresh vegetable salad, both recipes from Jerusalem by Ottolenghi and Tamimi, with Orange and Almond cake to follow.
1 large butternut squash
4 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp pumpkin seeds
1 tbsp sunflower seeds
1 tbsp sesame seeds
1 tsp nigella seeds
a good handful of basil leaves
1 medium aubergine
150g Greek yoghurt, at room temperature
2 tbsp olive oil
1.5 tsp pomegranate molasses
3 tbsp lemon juice
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 tbsp coarsely chopped flat-leaf parsley
Preheat the oven to 220 C/Gas 7. Trim the tops and bottoms of the squash and cut it in half lengthwise. Peel the squash (the original recipe keeps the skin on, but I prefer it peeled, particularly if people are going to be eating it with a fork) and scrape out all the seeds with a spoon. Cut each half into wedges about 2-3 cm wide and 6cm long: I cut each squash half in half again lengthwise and got three or four long wedges from each piece, which I then cut across into four. If serving as the centrepiece of a meal I would probably leave the pieces a little larger.
Arrange in a large roasting tin, drizzle with olive oil, turning them to ensure the pieces are coated and season with salt and pepper. Roast for 25-30 minutes (and see below about cooking the aubergine) until the squash is tender and starting to brown at the edges. Leave to cool.
To prepare the sauce, prick the aubergine and put it under a hot grill, unless you have a gas hob in which case you can put the aubergine directly on the gas flame, turning it occasionally with metal tongs. You want the aubergine to be shrivelled and the skin to look flaky and cracking. This should take 12-15 mins over gas, and Ottolenghi says 1 hour under a hot grill. However, I am reluctant to run my grill for an hour to cook one aubergine and have found that you can get a pretty good result by putting the aubergine directly on the top shelf of the oven, as near to the top element as possible, while you’re cooking the squash (and don’t forget to prick it or you will end up with exploded aubergine all over the inside of your oven). Turn the aubergine once or twice, and it will probably need another 10-15 minutes after the squash has come out – a lot easier and cheaper than having the grill on for an hour.
When the aubergine is cool enough to handle, cut it in half and scoop out the flesh, avoiding the burnt skin. Drain in a colander for 10 minutes before chopping roughly to a puree on a large chopping board. Scoop into a bowl and mix in all the other ingredients, except the parsley. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Stir in the parsley when you’re nearly ready to serve, reserving a small scatter of leaves for garnish. The sauce is best at room temperature, so if you have made it ahead and kept it in the fridge (covered tightly so that the fridge doesn’t smell of garlic), get it out a couple of hours ahead to come to temperature.
Toast the seeds briefly (no more than 3 minutes) in a dry frying pan over medium hot heat, stirring once or twice.
When you are ready to serve, arrange the roasted squash on a platter, scatter with the seeds and whole basil leaves, and serve the aubergine sauce alongside.