Squash Meets Fig, Feta, Honey & Lentils
Pumpkin seeds. Figs.
Sea salt. Pepper. Olive oil.
Feta cheese. Truffle honey. Rocket.
Beluga lentils. Caramelised Williams pear.
These ingredients are pure poetry - my own personal dedication to the dying days of summer. Their combination is a work of art and create a harmonious synergy on the palate. Just like figs are little works of art, and they're in season right now...
„Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loin coverings." (1 Gen 3,7).
The fig tree was the first tree that was named in the bible. The fig leaf has been a symbol for the covering of Adam and Eve's nakedness in art and culture ever since. That's also why the fig has been an allegory of fertility...
The days are getting shorter, the nights colder - autumn is near. Today was a sunny day though, and I wandered to Genuss Region Österreich's Harvest Festival on Vienna's Heldenplatz. There was a delightful number of regional products on offer, like apricots from Wachau - jam as well as schnaps, pumpkin seed cake, Jauntaler Hadn and the yummy Had'n-Busserl (buckwheat biscuits), grey, white and blue poppy seeds from Waldviertel, mountain and Räs cheeses from Bregenzerwald, creamy Dirndl honey, Krautinger turnip from Wildschönau (and the schnaps they make), Vulkanland ham from Styria, herbs from Südburgenland, Uhudler, cider, Sturm, pumpkinseed oil, char from Ausseerland and many more.
One of the market stalls presented a huge variety of pumpkins - from white, green, to turquoise, yellow, orange to almost black. There were as many shapes as they were colours. I grabbed some Hokkaido squash and was already thinking about dinner while I was walking home. First I thought about the colours: orange, purple, green, black and white. That's what my creation ended up looking like: Hokkaido squash with figs, sheep's cheese and truffle honey from the oven over beluga lentils, served with rocket. Topped with caramelised pears and hearty pumpkin seeds.
Before we start cooking, here are some interesting facts about the ingredients:
Hokkaido squash is one of the most popular types of pumpkin around. The name is derived from the Japanese island of Hokkaido. Pumpkins count among the biggest berries in the world. One significant characteristic of berries are seeds enclosed in the pulp, like in raspberries, cucumbers, zucchini and melons.
The amazing thing about Hokkaido is that you can eat it without peeling it. Besides the edible peel on some varieties, pumpkins are also very low on calories but rich in minerals like calcium, phosphorus, iron and potassium, which regulates the body's fluid balance. As you can see in the colour of the pumpkin's flesh, it contains tons of beta-carotene, which in turn is a precursor to vitamin A. Vitamin A is essential for our eyesight. Pumpkins also have folic acid, and that's beneficial for the structure of our skin and nails.
The fig is one of the oldest fruits in the world. It is believed that the fig tree, which belongs to the mulberry family, originally comes from the Middle East. In ancient times, figs were an important basic staple. Today, they are chiefly grown in Spain, Algeria, Greece, Turkey, Portugal and Italy. The popular Calymirna variety mostly stems from California.
Figs contain a ton of healthy ingredients. Their healing properties have been well known for a long time. They don't just pack plenty of fructose and fibre, but also iron, potassium and calcium as well as vitamin B1. Figs contain a lot of water - almost 80%. Aside from that, a ripe fig is around 1,3% protein, 0,5% fat, 12,9% carbohydrates, around 4,5% fibre and 0,7% minerals. They are considered to have blood-purifying, diuretic and digestive properties.
The concentration of ingredients is higher in dried figs than in fresh ones, so their effect and energy content is higher as well. They contain enzymes that promote digestion and substances that kill bad bacteria. Figs also decrease stress and strengthen heart and circulation as well as counteracting tiredness, lack of motivation, poor performance and supporting mental focus. They contain zinc and are therefore mood enhancers.
Also good to know: figs are the most alkaline foods you can eat and are therefore they are ideal for neutralising acidic dishes. This is primarily important for people who eat a lot of meat and sausauges and not enough fruit and vegetables. Fresh figs should be stored side by side in the fridge. Unfortunately they don't keep very long even when cooled. So eat them right away. With their skins. If you'd rather peel them, halve them and scoop out the soft pulp.
Lentils come in many colours: yellow, green, white, red and also black - like the Beluga lentil.
Those are named after the caviar due to their similar appearance: black, small and glistening. Their fine taste is considered high-class, just like caviar, so they are called caviar lentils sometimes. Beluga lentils have a nutty aroma, a bit like chestnuts.
Lentils are legumes and they contain very high quality protein - a great source for vegetarians.
A few lentil varieties are brown and French green lentils, Puy lentils, red lentils, yellow lentils and Beluga lentils.
The protein content of legumes is 20% or more. Compared to other nutrients, their calorie content is relatively low. In addition, legumes are an important source of zinc, magnesium, iron, vitamin B1 and other B-vitamins and they support our digestion. One portion alone covers a third of the recommended daily fibre intake. Also, legumes contain important secondary plant substances like saponins, polyphenols and others.
Rocket leaves look like dandelions. Mustard oils give them their slightly spicy, nutty and aromatic taste. They also protect our bodies from infections and other diseases and contain beta-carotene as well as folic acid.
Rocket tastes quite nice in combination with warm dishes, but even so, you shouldn't heat it up. It's easily perishable. For best storage, put it into the vegetable drawer of your fridge, wrapped in some moist kitchen towels. This ensures it stays fresh for 2-3 days.
You can learn more about the pear hier.
Hokkaido Squash with Figs, Sheep's Cheese and Truffle Honey
- 1 Hokkaido squash (around 800g)
- 3 figs
- 150g sheep's cheese
- 200g Beluga lentils
- 1 TBSP (truffle) honey
- handful of rocket
- sea salt and pepper
- 1-2 Williams pears
- olive oil
- 20g butter (for the pear)
- 1 TBSP dark balsamic vinegar
- 1 TBSP sugar
- 2 TBSP pumpkin seeds
- Preheat oven to 180°C (fan) or 200°C (upper/lower). Wash and halve the squash, scoop out the seeds with a spoon and cut into wedges, around 2cm thick. Keep the skin on. If the wedges are too big, halve those as well. Quarter the figs and cube the sheep's cheese.
- Bring lightly salted water to the boil for the lentils and cook them according to the package instructions (around 25-30 minutes). Put the squash wedges in an ovenproof form along with the figs and season with salt and pepper. Drizzle with olive oil and honey and bake on the middle shelf of the oven for 25 minutes until golden. Add the cheese around 10-15 minutes before the end of the baking time.
- Wash and quarter the pears, remove the core and finely slice. Heat up the butter in a small pan and steam the pear wedges over a medium heat. After 4 minutes, add sugar and let them caramelise. After a further 5 minutes, deglaze with water, let it cook until the water has evaporated and then add balsamic vinegar. Lightly salt the pear wedges.
- Wash and shake dry the rocket leaves. Enhance the cooked beluga lentils with a little olive oil and season with salt. Arrange them on a plate and top with squash, figs and cheese from the oven. Carefully fold in the rocket and drizzle with a little balsamic vinegar. Garnish with caramelised pears and pumpkin seeds. Serve.