roasted butternut squash saladA few years ago I bought a rather trashy but adorable pink leather slouch bag. What I loved most about it was that the bag was covered with enormous pink fish scale sequins that dangled, clattered and caught the light in a rather flashy way. (I have never made any claims to taste except in things concerning food . . . ) After a few weeks, it became quite apparent that there were several others who were as entranced by my bag as I was. They would sidle up to me in public; by bus stops, on the tube, at the library. I would see their hands twitching, fists clenched and a look of such pleading on their faces; silently asking whether they could actually touch the bag and its glorious sequins. What these fashionistas also had in common was that they were all girls, about the age of five. But like me, they thought the bag was exquisite and their excitement at something so pink and sparkly was rather delightful. Most of these little girls were dumbstruck; speechless at such beauty, much to the amusement of their fond parents. I only mention it because that feeling of twitchiness and longing is the one that overwhelms me when at the sight of beautiful pumpkins and squashes piled up in the market. It's their eye-catching plump shapes and glorious autumnal colours that envelops me in an urge to stop my chatter and rush back into the kitchen with my vegetable swag. While I do love to make soups, and have made a soup from the ingredients below, I decided to deconstruct my usual soup recipe to see if it would work as a salad. Oh hell, yes! (I do love it when an idea comes together, which isn't always the case with some of food experiments.) We had the salad with some simply grilled pork chops and the combination of the pork with roast squash, blue cheese and plums was the perfect autumn salad. I also entered this into The Guardian newspaper's regular Readers' Recipe Swap for the theme of Autumn Salads and I was rather pleased to say that it was published in the Cook Section, as chosen by Allegra McEvedy of Leon fame; now that's a girl who knows her salads; (to this day her Magic Mackerel recipe is one of my favourites). Although, so far as I know, she has been strangely silent on the subject of pink sequined bags. Still . . . you can't have everything. Serves 4 (as a side dish) Skill level: Easy ingredients: 500g butternut pumpkin, diced 1 x garlic clove, finely chopped 3 tbsp olive oil 1 x fresh thyme sprig 1 tsp ground cumin ½ tsp Aleppo pepper or chilli flakes (or to taste) ½ tsp ground ginger ½ tsp ground nutmeg ½ tsp smoked paprika salt and freshly ground black pepper a small handful of green leaves (I used baby rainbow chard) 3 x plums, halved and pitted 50g blue cheese, coarsely crumbled 25g toasted hazelnuts, roughly chopped dressing reserved olive oil 1 tsp hazelnut (or walnut) oil 1 tbsp sherry vinegar salt and freshly ground black pepper directions: Pre-heat oven to 150C / Gas Mark 2. Combine the squash, garlic, oil, thyme and spices in a bowl. Season to taste and tip into a roasting tin. Bake for about 30 to 40 minutes until the squash has caramelised and softened. Set aside to cool, reserving the cooking oil. Drizzle the halved plums with spiced cooking oil and grill for 5 minutes, until lightly golden and glistening. Quarter and set aside. Scrape up the spiced cooking oil and make up to about 2 tbsp of olive oil. Whisk in the nut oil and sherry vinegar. Check the seasoning. To serve, divide the green leaves between 4 plates. Toss the roasted squash with the dressing and divide up. Arrange a few chopped plums on top and scatter with hazelnuts and diced blue cheese.