Since our house move and the shift towards a more elemental existence (eating huge amounts of seasonal vegetables), I've begun to approach food preparation differently. The first glut was the lettuce, then came the cabbage, the cauliflower, followed by the runner beans. What I can't do with a tomato is nobody's business.
Never having had such vast quantities of fresh food at my fingertips, I would be found at the local supermarket doing one of two things: I was either buying something exquisite but limp and expensive from a far-flung country or I was buying what the supermarket flung in my face at the end aisles. The former would inevitably be disappointing because most vegetables don't travel well. Consequently, their taste is impaired, probably their nutritional value too and not only that, their constant availability gives the illusion that their appearance on the shelves is somehow effortless. Of course, you can compensate for their deterioration by adding things, smothering them in over-complicated sauces and feign authenticity.
The second option was to buy the seasonal vegetables, often at a reduced price due to increased supply. This was no bad thing at all and something I still do when it's a crop we don't have ourselves. However, having witnessed how quickly vegetables deteriorate without swift and proper storage, I am more trusting of our own produce. I know exactly when it was harvested and that nothing has been added to preserve its condition.
Yesterday, we harvested our crop of butternut squash. I say 'crop' but it was only one squash. Not what you might class as a glut. We think that it was overwhelmed by the sweetcorn and didn't thrive too well. Anyway, I wondered what to do with it. Clearly, it deserved special treatment. Usually, I just roast them and they're delicious but this particular one was a little stunted and wasn't going to go far between five people. I had a flick through the recipe books and stumbled upon the idea of making pasties. I happened to have a large quantity of homemade pastry in the fridge so it seemed sensible. I added grated cheddar to the pastry, chopped celery, onions, potatoes and carrots into tiny pieces, crumbled some blue cheese and made up a small quantity of onion gravy to moisten the mixture. I made four huge pasties and although I was a bit worried that they would burst open, they turned out perfectly. The children didn't detect the blue cheese, ate the vegetables without complaining and tell me, why don't we add cheese to all pastry? Delicious!
The inspiration for this combination didn't come from any of the fancier books on my shelf. It came from one aimed at vegetarian students. In other words, for people who haven't really cooked for themselves before. My point is that sometimes, the simple things are the best. Take away the complications and sophistications of over-travelled ingredients and recipes and you're left with the best, the cheapest and the tastiest. And it gives you the chance to get creative and to stop banging out the same old tried and tested menus week after week which, in my experience, is what would happen on my weekly trip around the supermarket aisles.
How can one little squash give me so much pleasure? Size isn't everything you know. It's elemental.