Baked Butternut Squash & Roast Red Pepper Sauce

Cooking time
Serves6-8 people
Baked Butternut Squash & Roast Red Pepper Sauce

Christmas spice and all things nice makes this vegetarian showstopper extra special. Cinnamon, cardamom, cumin, cloves and golden saffron all add their magic to the rice stuffing that fills these meltingly sweet butternut squashes.


  • A pinch of saffron powder
  • 2 x 2 kg butternut squash
  • 4 red peppers
  • 2 leeks
  • 100g butter
  • A thumb of ginger
  • 1 orange
  • 50g dried dates
  • 50g dried apricots
  • 100g white basmati rice
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 8 cardamom pods
  • 4 cloves
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 100g kale
  • 35g flaked almonds
  • 35g walnut halves
  • A handful of flat leaf parsley
  • 1 lemon

Prep: 1 hr | Cook: 1 hr 15 mins

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1. Heat your oven to 200°C/Fan 180°C/Gas 6.Fill and boil your kettle. Tip the saffron powder into a heatproof jug and add 300ml hot water from the kettle. Stir to mix, then set aside.
2. Slice the squashes in half lengthways (don’t peel them). Scoop out the seeds and discard them. Place the squashes, cut-side down, on a baking tray lined with baking paper. Roast for 25 mins till they're starting to become tender. After 25 mins, take out of the oven and set aside for 10 mins to cool.
3. When the squashes are in the oven, halve the peppers, scoop out the seeds and white pith, and place them, cut-side-down, on a baking tray. Slide them into the oven on a shelf below the squash. Roast for 30-40 mins, till charred and soft.
4. While the squashes and peppers roast, trim the roots and any woody greens off the leeks. Slice a cross into the top of each leek and open them out to rinse out any dirt. Finely slice them.
5. Dice the butter and add it to a deep frying pan or wok. Set over a medium heat. Once the butter has melted, add the leeks. Season with a little salt and pepper. Cook and stir for 8-10 mins till the leeks are soft and golden.
6. While the leeks fry, peel and finely grate the ginger into a bowl. Finely grate the zest from the orange into the ginger and squeeze in the juice. Finely chop the dates and dried apricots and stir them in. Set aside. When the leeks are soft, tip the rice into the pan. Cook and stir for 2 mins.
7. Drop in 1 cinnamon stick, 8 cardamom pods and 4 cloves. Add 2 tsp ground cumin. Pour in the saffron stock. Stir to mix, then cover and simmer for 15-20 mins till all the stock has been absorbed.
8. While the rice cooks, bring a pan of water to the boil. Slice the stems out of the kale leaves, keeping the leaves as whole as possible. Drop them into the boiling water. Blanch for 2 mins. Drain and plunge into a bowl or pan of ice cold water. Drain again and gently squeeze dry. Set aside.
9. Set a separate dry frying pan over a medium heat. Tip in the flaked almonds and walnut halves. Toast for 4-5 mins, shaking the pan every so often, till the nuts have browned a little. Tip into a bowl and set aside to cool.
10. Roughly chop the cooled nuts. Finely chop the parsley stalks and leaves. The squashes should have finished roasting by now, so take them out of the oven and leave to cool, then scoop out the squash flesh, leaving a 1cm-thick border. Finely chop the squash flesh and set aside. Turn the oven down to 180°C/Fan 160°C/Gas 4.
11. When the rice has absorbed all the stock, take the pan off the heat and fish out the cinnamon stick, cardamom pods and cloves (if you can find them). Stir in the chopped squash, the nuts and parsley. Taste and add a pinch more salt and pepper, if you think it needs it.
12. The peppers should be charred and black by now, so scoop the peppers into a bowl, cover with a plate and leave for at least 30 mins to cool them.
13. Lay the squash halves, cut-side up, on a board. Line them with the kale leaves. Spoon in the rice stuffing, pushing it in firmly – you probably won’t need all of it. Spoon any leftover stuffing into a greased baking dish and press it down firmly. Carefully put the squash halves together. Tie them up with kitchen string or twine. Place in a baking dish. Slide them into the oven, placing the dish of extra stuffing alongside or on the shelf below, and bake for 30 mins till soft and the skin has darkened.
14. While the squashes roast, strip the charred skins from the peppers. Roughly chop the peppers and place them in a blender with 100ml extra virgin olive oil and the juice from half the lemon. Season with a pinch of salt and pepper and blitz to make a smooth sauce. Taste and adjust the seasoning.
15. Take the squashes out of the oven and rest for 10 mins. Pour the pepper sauce into a pan, cover and gently heat for a few mins till warmed through. Serve the roast squash carved into thick slices, with the roast pepper sauce.
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