Monday, 9 September 2013

Butternut squash "cake"

Kitty has started at nursery. Finally!!! It's not just the relief of being able to pack her off every morning to make the most enormous mess that someone else has to clear up, it's the re-plugging back into society that, for me, is the biggest weight off my mind.

When you have a small child who is NEET - not in education, employment or training - you can feel a bit like you've slipped through the cracks of society a bit. Nobody knows or cares where you are, no-one expects you to show up anywhere. There's no signing in or joining in necessary.

You don't really have a child when your child is really small, more like a very strange pet. And it's very easy to look in despair and dismay at the range of uninspiring activities on offer locally and fail at the first, second and third hurdle of making friends and, after a short time, to disappear.

But when they go to nursery - aha!! School. Lunchboxes. Pegs. Storytime. Playgrounds. Suddenly it's all familiar again. I can do this, I know this. I am now "Kitty's Mummy" - it's brilliant. Your child ceases to be this sort of blob and starts to be a person with a nametag and a personality that others want to talk to you about.

The first days that Kitty was at nursery I would automatically stop talking about her after a few sentences, because you are so used to people not giving a flying shit about what she's like or what she's scared of, or not scared of and so on. But the people who work at the nursery kept saying "go on, yes, and what else?"

And so I talked and talked and talked and talked about what she was like and the teacher's eyes didn't glaze over and she didn't interrupt. It was amazing.

I had assumed that Kitty, being a robust and outgoing sort, would be shoving me out of the door every morning, but in fact for the first few days she was reasonably droopy and needed a lot of coaxing during the second part of the morning (which does seem rather long in fact - 0930 - 1300??). But that was last week. Today I left her at 0945, and went home to do that thing with Sam where you hold a baby and shift your weight from foot to foot, staring out of the window, until it feels like your back is going to give out. I was anxiously holding my phone, waiting for the "she's crying so hard she's been sick" phonecall and none came. I went to get her at 12.50 and she saw me and ran to me and said "Oh Mummy I've missed you so much!" (wtf? who taught her to say THAT?) she was smiling suspiciously widely. Then she went to hide in the teepee and wouldn't come out to go home. I had to bribe her hard with Smarties.

Anyway so I'm absolutely delighted.

They also have a bake sale every Friday at the end of the morning, which I am totally delirious about. Not so that I can be some ghastly goody two-shoes and show everyone else up by making something every week (... or is it...) but because I am not doing very much new savoury cooking at the moment and we really do not in this house need any cakes or biscuits or sweeties hanging about because some of us are still packing quite a lot of babyweight.

But this is the most terrific excuse to make a lot of biscuity nursery treats and then get them out of the house so that they can bloody make someone else fat. I have gone mad and ordered 2kgs of icing sugar, extra fairy cake cases, food colouring and sweet shortcrust pastry in honour of this. I am, as you might be able to tell, excited.

Before we embark on that particular journey, though, I do have this savoury thing to tell you about, which is a thing of my very own invention, which I'm very pleased with.

I absolutely love a butternut squash lasagne I found in P-Mid's Celebrate a few months ago but I don't want to eat a lot of pasta because of the aforementioned babyweight. So I wanted to do it without the lasagne sheets.

"Use the butternut squash in slices in place of the pasta" said my husband, although I will pretend to everyone it was my idea.

Anyway so what you do is make a sort of butternut squash, spinach and cheese layered cake thing. It is brilliant and delicious and I love it.

Here is how

Esther's butternut squash "cake"
For two easily, with leftovers

1 butternut squash
10 sage leaves
1 small onion
200g (raw weight) of baby spinach
flour, butter and milk for a white sauce
a large handful of whatever assorted cheeses you have in your fridge
salt and pepper
mild olive oil

Set your oven to 180C

1 Peel and slice your butternut squash into rounds or half-moons of the thickness of a £1 coin (have a quick look at a coin because you think it's thicker than it is). Slice up the onion into similarly elegant rounds.

2 Arrange the squash and the onion on a baking sheet, drizzle with quite a lot of oil - about 5 tbs I'd say, then season with salt and pepper and shove in the oven for 30 mins.

3 Now source from somewhere a dish in which to cook this. I used a 7in cake tin from John Lewis with a loose bottom, but I doubt you have one of those. Have a poke about in your cupboards for something suitable.

4 Cook or steam your spinach whichever way you know how.

5 Make your white sauce. If you don't know how to make a white sauce, please refer to the "How to make a white sauce" section of this blog. There's no shame in not knowing how.

You want a very stiff, thick white sauce, so when you make your roux, have it quite dry. Go easy on the milk. Shove in a lot of cheese. You want in total only about 300 ml of white sauce. But this is not an exact thing so don't worry too much - the important thing is that the sauce is thick and reasonably stiff so that when you slice your "cake" is doesn't just run out everywhere.

Add your cheese to the white sauce and muddle it round until it melts. This can take a while.

6 Assemble your cake the most practical way you can see how: layer of squash (add in with the squash all the onion and sage bits), layer of spinach, layer of cheese, robustly seasoning between layers - ideally you finish up with a layer of cheese sauce uppermost but this is MY recipe and I say, don't worry too much.

7 Put the whole thing back in the oven for about 25 mins at 180. If you HAVE used a cake tin with a loose base, put it on a baking sheet or in a tray to go in the oven because it will leak.

This is as rich and filling as a lasagne so a little goes a long way. Eat with a cold, sharp cucumber salad or something like that. 


  1. 1. This sounds really good. Oh, man.
    2. D'you think you even have to cook the spinach before layering? I think the further half-hour in the oven may take care of that for you. Or... dunno; would it just get all leathery?

  2. Not MY recipe but I should think that raw spinach would be harder to wrangle into the layers what with it being all woofy and badly behaved. Cooked spinach much more obedient.


  3. That does sound delicious. I love "more like a very strange pet".

  4. oh my days, that looks shit hot! just gonna go and take a peek at your 'how to make white sauce' page first though...

  5. God that sounds divine. All my favourites in one dish. Thanks! When my daughter first went to nursery I had to
    Pick her up early as shed been crying so hard she'd passed out on a bean bag. (Bad mother, bad mother). That night I heard her saying in her tossy and turny sleep, "mummy's coming soon, mummy's coming soon". I still feel bad as I waft her off to school each day...

  6. Elizabeth Medovnik10 September 2013 at 22:51

    I just went to look at a pound coin and it is thinner than I thought! I'm quite jealous that Kitty has started nursery as I was just thinking that it would be great if Mimi was starting now rather than next term. I really need some time to myself and I don't even have a baby to look after.

    My mum told me that she'd failed me as a mother when she realised that at 17 I not only couldn't make a roux sauce but had actually never heard of them. She did home economics at school and her mother cooked and she just assumed I would somehow absorb this information even though she'd sent me to a school that was more concerned with encouraging girls to go into engineering and she'd switched to M&S oven-ready meals when she'd gone back to work. I still have no interest in cooking and just read your blog because I enjoy it!

  7. That sounds delicious! I've got a very similar recipe (Diana Henry if I remember rightly) which uses pasta but I never thought of doing it without. Great idea.

    "a very strange pet" made me laugh too!


  8. Brilliant! Just had this for dinner, DELICIOUS!

  9. Just made a gluten free version of this by substituting the white sauce for 250g mascarpone loosened with a little milk. Also had no sage so used some marjoram and tiny bit of rosemary. Was utterly delicious, so thanks.

  10. It seems a lot complaint, but actually you are enjoying being a mother. The butternut squash lasagne sound really nice, I think I will like it. But guess I like tomato more than spinach. :)

  11. I am 14 weeks pregnant, excited but terrified. I also love food and cooking. Your blog is the best thing I have read in amongst the mire of preparatory parental advice because it is so honest and makes my fear ok. Thank you. And for the recipes.

  12. Really yummy, also had leftovers cold for lunch at my desk today and was possibly even nicer cold! And yes, I had to check a pound coin too.

  13. I made this for dinner, it was genius and my husband has requested that we just make everything you cook, forever. Also, oh my god, as leftovers the next day....miam miam.