Parmesan topped butternut squash with sage

Parmesan Topped Butternut Squash with Sage

Gavin Wren Main Dishes, Recipes, Vegetables, Vegetarian

The Back Story

I’m sitting here in a frozen state of nervous anxiety today. I’m not frozen with nerves or anxiety, but I’m frozen, I’m nervous and I’m anxious, three experiences that are mingling amongst themselves to make me feel utterly unable to focus on any single thing that I attempt to do.

I’m frozen because I decided it would be a good idea to get up today and go to Hampton Court Park to take a photo of Hampton Court Palace at sunrise. I would say I decided to get up early to do this, however since I normally extract myself from my bed at 6am and sunrise is after 7am, I was actually mooching around waiting for the allotted hour and the opening of the park.

Parmesan topped butternut squash with sage

And it was utterly freezing, in fact, it was below freezing. Frosty crunchy grass and frosted glassy puddles were crackling under my feet. If it’s below zero and I’m moving around I can happily exist in that temperature. However, trying to do an outdoor shot like this, which involve setting up and then waiting around for a while until the light changes itself into a desirable presentation of the physical world, is absolutely horrendous, as my body’s core temperature seems to nosedive. Why I subjected myself to this, I do not know, it just seemed like a good idea. It’s now been three and half hours since I got back and my fingers are cold, my legs iced to the bone and a chill inhabits my spine. I spent 10 minutes sitting up against the radiator, however the cold has entered such deep recesses of my existence that I suspect only sustained application of an open fire, hot food, a blanket and a good book might coddle my entirety back to luke, who was apparently warm.

Parmesan topped butternut squash with sage

Upon my return I made my single, daily, earnestly longed for, hot strong coffee, which had the rather unappealing side-effect of making me jittery. I truly love coffee, but over recent weeks, more often than not, it’s started to make me feel awful. When I pour the grounds from the bag into my Aeropress I can feel a slight sense of trepidation, because when COFFEE GOES BAD for me, the ensuing jittery anxiety can last a couple of hours and destroy any good feeling I may have nurtured that morning. It happened today, a solid dose of light headed, jittery anxiety, which is just beginning to abate now.

Finally, the nervousness is there because there are some big changes going on in my life, which I’m having to face up to. But this morning, I’m being forced to face them and I don’t like it, because it’s frankly quite painful. That makes me nervous.

Hampton Court Home Park Long Water Sunrise

The Food

After all of that, some hot, hearty homemade food sounds like a potential one-shot cure to all my ailments (of course, food doesn’t solve any of my problems, but it’s a nice distraction in the meantime).

When I first made a whole roasted butternut squash for my ‘WILL IT ROAST’ video I hadn’t even considered what to do with the finished product, although knew something would crop up. Seeing as it was food, I simply guessed that it would just get eaten, as most mouth-ready food in my general vicinity seems to succumb to the same fate. I was partially correct, because half of it did get eaten quite promptly whilst still hot, but the other half sat in the fridge for a few days.

Parmesan topped butternut squash with sage

Whilst pondering this half-squash loitering in the fridge, I thought back to what I said in the video about simple ways to accompany this baked vegetable, such as “sage butter”. I said this off the back of the sumptuous Italian dish of pumpkin ravioli with sage butter. It’s a pretty simple dish, which like many foods Italian benefits from the uncomplicated combination of well matched ingredients. Just lightly browned butter with sage.

So I took this idea and applied it to the squash, added some rustic barley and a hint of garlic to make this a more substantial meal and topped with a good load of paremesan shavings. I used shavings instead of grated parmesan because I was too lazy to clean the cheese grater and a potato peeler is much more simple to wash up. However, this chance happening was actually a masterstroke, because these larger slithers of parmesan mean you get a much crisper, clearer hit of the cheese when one of the slices is on your forkload. If you grated it, it would mingle in and add it’s flavour to the dish, but by having these larger, separate pieces, it really livens the dish up with parmesan highlights, so I would highly recommend sticking to using the shavings, rather than trying to go for the grater instead.

I’ve now made this a couple of times and I’m over the moon with it. If you can find time to cook the squash and barley ahead of time so it’s all ready at meal time, it becomes an incredibly simple dish to throw together. Enjoy.

Parmesan topped butternut squash with sage

Parmesan Topped Butternut Squash with Sage


Serves 2-3

Uses a baking tray, a small and a large saucepan.

PDF recipe card to download or print


1 medium butternut squash, around 1kg, washed.
Olive oil
90g pearl barley (uncooked weight)
15g butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 clove garlic, bashed once under a knife, skin removed.
10 sage leaves + extra to serve
50g Parmesan or pecorino, shaved with a potato peeler to serve


Preheat the oven to gas mark 6, 400ºF, 204ºC, 184ºC fan. For more info about oven temperatures, read my free guide, here.

Rub the squash with a small drizzle of olive oil, so that the skin has a light coating all over. Lay it down in a baking tray and cook in the oven for 90 minutes, turning once halfway through.

Rinse the barley under cold water, then add to a pan with plenty of water. Bring to the boil, then leave to simmer for 70 minutes.

When both are cooked, remove them from the heat, drain the barley and set them aside to cool.

Get ahead!
You can cook the barley and squash well in advance, even the day before. Simply cook them, allow them to cool, then cover them and leave in the fridge until you’re ready to use them. Once you’ve done this, the final preparation of the meal is just a quick, 15 minute make before it’s on the table.

Melt the butter in a large pan over a low heat with the olive oil. Add the flattened garlic clove and leave to infuse with the oil and butter for at least 3 minutes. You can leave this longer, as long as the garlic isn’t cooking and going brown, nor should the butter.

Cut the squash into bite sized chunks, removing the seeds as you go.

Chop the 10 sage leaves roughly, then chop a few extra for serving.

Turn the heat up to medium – high. Remove the garlic clove and discard, unless you want a garlicky surprise in your meal. Add the sage to the pan and stir until well mixed, then add the squash to the pan and mix it in, getting it coated in the garlicky butter and oil. Leave for a few minutes then stir again. Add the barley and mix it all together, leave for a further few minutes before mixing again.

Once it’s all heated through, serve onto plates, top with the parmesan shavings, then scatter with the reserved chopped sage.

Parmesan topped butternut squash with sage

My unique perspective on food, once a month.

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