Cotna Eco Retreat

Winter Squashes

Sunset on Halloween is also the start of the pagan festival of Samhain, and according to tradition is the night when the veil between this world and the next is thinnest, when the souls of the dead roam the earth. Traditionally pumpkins and turnips, known as jack-o’-lanterns or will-o’-the-wisp, have been used over the centuries to represent supernatural beings and to keep harmful spirits out of the home, or maybe just to frighten people. Pumpkins and squashes are members of a large family called cucurbitaceae, and for several thousand years have been cultivated in the Americas – the name squash actually comes from the Native Indian, askutasquash.

At Cotna Eco retreat we love to grow and eat squashes, all kinds of varieties like Blue Hubbard with its sweet nutty flesh; the beautiful Turks Turban that looks more like a stunning piece of ceramic artwork than food; Butternut squashes that climb in our Polytunnels like those Mediterranean gourds you see on holiday, hanging in Greek tavernas. Now is a great time to eat these earthy sweet foods that can sustain us through winter – winter squashes are rich in vitamin A, which helps absorb protein. Samhain celebrates the darker half of year that we have now entered, so what better way to enjoy those dark evenings than cook up rich orange soups, spicy stews and roasts where the sugars concentrate into thick sticky juices – or even sweets like pumpkin cheesecake or brulee. This year at Cotna we have even discovered a whole new experience with the Spaghetti squashes that we have grown for the first time. I have been happily experimenting with cooking them up into curry and Thai noodle like soup – very exciting J Sadly we didn’t even dare enter our Cinderella coach squash at the Barley Sheaf weigh-in as it didn’t approach Andy Redall’s 85lb giant – so we’ll just have to eat it instead!

Coconut Squash Curry

½ Spaghetti squash

2 tsp mustard seeds

1 thumb sized piece of fresh ginger, chopped

2 -3 garlic cloves, chopped

1 green chilli, chopped

1tsp turmeric powder

Salt to taste

Small onion, thinly sliced

2-3 tbsp oil (preferably coconut oil)

2-3 tomatoes, finely chopped

3-4 tbsp coconut, preferably fresh grated (or dessicated). You could replace dry coconut with a tin of coconut milk if you want a more saucy curry

Heat oven to gas 7/220c/425F. Cut spaghetti squash in half lengthways. Place face down on a baking tray and bake for 40 mins. When you remove, scrape with a fork and the flesh will come out in spaghetti-like threads.

Melt oil in frying pan. Add mustard seeds and cook till they pop. Add coriander seeds, fry 20 seconds then add ginger & garlic, then green chilli. Cook for a minute, then add onion. Cook until soft then add turmeric powder. Cook for 20 secs then add chopped tomatoes. Cook for about 5 mins, stirring often to allow tomato to break down. Once you have a good paste add spaghetti squash. Cook for 5 mins then turn off heat & add coconut.

Squash Kale & Sage Pasta

Squash & sage are a great flavour combination and so easy to cook up in this rich pasta dish brightened up with .

½ butternut squash

2 cloves garlic

6-8 shallots halved, or a smallish onion roughly sliced

2-3 tbsp olive oil

1 tsp crunch seasalt

Handful of sage leaves

4-5 leaves of kale sliced – cavolo nero if possible


Grated parmesan cheese

Juice of 1 lemon

Heat oven to gas 7/220c/425F. Roast the squash garlic & onions in olive oil with salt for 30 – 40 mins, until soft & caramelised. Add sage after 15 mins, & kale after 20 mins. Cook up pasta for 10 mins in plenty of salted boiling water. Mix roasted veg & pasta together. Add lemon juice & plenty of parmesan.

Pumpkin Brulee

I haven’t tried this but it looks fab! By Fern Verrow, a biodynamic farm

1 small pumpkin (for about 240g puree)

3 egg yolks

250ml double cream

120g light brown sugar

2 tbsp rum

¾ tsp nutmeg, freshly grated

¼ tsp cinnamon

¼ tsp ground mace

4 tbsp caster sugar

A pinch of salt

1 Peel and core the pumpkin, then cut it into small pieces. Roast at 180C/350F/gas mark 4 for about 20 minutes, covered with foil, until the pumpkin is fudgy in texture. Allow to cool a little, then mash or blend into a fine puree.

2 Set the oven to 150C/300F/gas mark 2. In a pan, gently warm the cream with the spices and rum for 2 minutes. Do not let the cream get too hot. Remove from the heat.

3 Put the egg yolks in a bowl and beat. Add the brown sugar, salt and cream, then beat until smooth and the sugar has dissolved. Stir in the squash and mix thoroughly.

4 Spoon into ramekins and put these into a deep-sided baking dish in the middle of the oven. Carefully pour boiling water into the dish to make a bain-marie, so that it reaches two-thirds up the sides of the ramekins. Bake for 30 minutes, or until set, with a gentle wobble.

4 Allow to cool completely before covering in clingfilm and putting in the fridge for at least 3 hours.

5 To brulee the puddings, sprinkle 1 tbsp caster sugar evenly on to each ramekin dish and put under a hot grill until caramel brown.

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