Although the topic has been the focus of countless poems, photographs and childhood memories, I would like to bring something to your attention: the sweetness of an October evening in London, circa 6pm. It was on yesterday’s commute home from Putney to Canary Wharf – I know, I know, it’s madness – that I first noticed it: the trees scorched with yellow and bronze, the sunlight melting to a soft amber. Autumn has come.
In London, autumn doesn’t come with the same prelude as at home, where the sky is so big and the trees so numerous that the transition from season to season becomes a show in itself. Instead, there’ll come an October day when it hits you.
Yesterday was that day. I might even have uttered something about it feeling like Christmas, but don’t worry, we’ll keep that thought on hold for a couple of a months.
In the kitchen, October is a ripe, golden month. A month of produce burnished with ochre and brimming with flavour – the type of food that cries out to be softened with bacon fat. Just like this pasta with butternut squash and pancetta.
It’s actually made with fregula, a Sardinian pasta that’s really like a more nuttier type of couscous. Mixed with meltingly soft butternut squash and crisp pancetta, these tiny pearls of pasta become a dish of autumnal sublimity.
Fregula with pancetta and squash
300g fregula (orzo pasta would be a good substitute)
1 butternut squash
2 sprigs rosemary
1 small onion
large handful grated parmesan
– Peel and chop the butternut squash into tiny cubes. Drizzle on some olive oil and season. Cook at 200 degrees for 20 minutes (or until soft and a little crispy).
– Meanwhile, finely chop the onion and rosemary. Fry these in the butter and a splash of olive oil, along with the pancetta. It might seem like a lot of butter, but trust me, it’ll imbue the dish with even more nuttiness. Cook until the bacon is crispy and the butter lightly browned.
– Cook the pasta in salted water – freg will take around 7 minutes, as will orzo.
– Now it’s time to combine everything. Add the pasta, squash and parmesan to the pancetta pan and give everything a good stir. Season and serve.