At ease, Easter: Roasted squash, mint and almond salad with lemon polenta

If we made seasonal look books for food as well as fashion, my major players for the coming weeks would be everything featured in this recipe.

Polenta left at almost a mashed-potato-consistency is the perfect transitional piece from stodgy winter food into summer dinners when the focus moves away from carbs. Roasted squash brings some bright pops of colour to what is known by the British farming industry as the hungry gap- when there’s not much else available now but root vegetables until the first broad beans of summer.

Radishes, cucumber and chopped mint provide a hint of summertime, whilst plying rocket leaves with olive oil and toasted almonds gives a final still-quite-chilly-out-there richness to what can be turned into a much lighter salad by June.

I landed on roasted squash and polenta after thinking about vegan and gluten free alternatives to a traditional Easter lunch. This recipe is designed so it can be cooked alone, totally meat free, or made for anyone with vegans to stay and served alongside meat. The combination of polenta, squash and mint dressing means you won’t be looking for anything else on your plate unless you want it there.

n.b. I’ve listed the polenta ingredients in cup measurements as it’s easier to scale up and down without having to use scales in case you don’t have any.

Roasted squash, mint and almond salad with lemon polenta
Makes two portions

300g Crown Prince squash or butternut squash, peeled and chopped into bite-size chunks
Olive oil
Salt and pepper
20g flaked almonds
1/2 cucumber, sliced
5-6 radishes, ends cut off and sliced
2 handfuls rocket

For the polenta
Scant cup dry polenta1 cup water
1/2 cup almond or soy milk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
Juice 1/2 lemon
Salt, pepper

For the mint dressing
1 large handful of mint, chopped down small
Olive oil
Juice 1/2 lemon
Salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 200°C. Place the squash chunks in a large roasting tray, followed by a good drizzle of olive oil to cover them all, and salt and pepper. Mix with your hands so all the pieces have seasoning and oil on them, and then bake for 20 minutes, stirring once or twice to ensure nothing sticks to the pan.

While the squash bakes you can prepare the polenta. In a saucepan, pour in the polenta grains, water, and almond or soy milk, and allow to heat through until it thickens, using a whisk to stir constantly. This could take anything up to 10 minutes so just be patient and keep whisking. Once you can see the bottom of the pan by stirring the thick mixture, turn off the heat and add the oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper, and then pour into a heat-proof dish to cool a little. You can either serve the polenta soft, like a mash, or allow to cool and then grill in the oven so it gets a crispier top.

Once the squash is ready, take out of the oven and set to one side- it doesn’t need to be piping hot for this salad, just a nice warmth. Toast the almonds on a medium heat in a frying pan until they go a tan brown colour, and then combine the cucumber, radishes, rockets and almonds in a large bowl, tipping in the squash to mix through.

Prepare the mint dressing by adding all the ingredients in a jar and stirring- I would only use enough olive oil to cover all the chopped mint as it doesn’t need to be too oily.

When you’re ready to plate up, add the mint dressing to the salad and stir though, then spoon out the polenta and salad mixture so everything is flavoured with the fragrant mint and lemon.

Words: Ava Szajna-Hopgood

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