One of the best things about cooking is how easily most mistakes can be rectified. A good sauce can cover up a multitude of sins and, in many cases, is the reason a dish tastes so good. They provide a way to add flavour to food without having to do too much extra cooking; they can save a piece of meat that has been a little overcooked by reintroducing moisture; and of course they can make or break the balance of a dish.
This recipe is based on one of the five “mother” sauces of French cooking – the béchamel. White sauces like this are cooked by making a roux from flour and butter and then adding milk to thin it down to the desired consistency. Personally, I like the cheat’s version where you whisk the flour into the milk so it is no longer clumpy, add the butter and then heat the sauce until it thickens. The cheat’s method is incredibly useful for a basic béchamel with no added frills as it avoids any problems of the roux burning. A true béchamel presents an extra chance for flavour – you can infuse the milk with herbs, spices and other tastes before you add it, giving another dimension to the dish.
The béchamel sauce did not actually originate in France. It was bought over in the early 1500s from Tuscany, Italy. Known as the Salsa Colla (or “glue sauce”) because of its gummy consistency, the sauce was altered from its base components of flour, butter and milk by adding stock and cream. This action not only added a lot of flavour, but changed the sauce from a béchamel to a velouté – one of the other five base sauces. The three other sauces that I haven’t mentioned yet are the espagnole – a brown roux based sauce with dark veal stock instead of milk, the hollandaise – made by emulsifying butter and egg yolks with a little vinegar and the sauce tomate – a basic tomato sauce. The velouté is like a cross between the béchamel and the espagnole, a light roux is made and then stock is added to thin it down. The sauce is then thickened again using cream and egg yolks to give a velvety mouth feel.
In the recipe below, I use a Mornay sauce – a term I only learnt when researching for this post. This sauce is almost identical to the béchamel except it includes grated cheese, traditionally gruyère, which is melted into the base white sauce. The Mornay is used in most recipes for macaroni and cheese – although in my recipe, I am pretty sure that there is more cheese than anything else – and in the same vein, I am using it here inside the crumble to add moisture and flavour instead of pouring it over the top of the finished product.
This recipe is a great dinner to prep ahead of time and also keeps well in the fridge which is ideal as leftovers mean less cooking the next day! You can tailor the vegetables in the base to your favourites or even just change them every now and then to keep the food interesting. I love this and I hope you do too.
Butternut Squash and Sweet Potato Crumble
Prep time: 45 minutes
Cook time: 45-60 minutes
Cost per portion: around 75p
200g butternut squash – cut into small cubes (around one or two centimetres)
200g sweet potato – cut into small cubes (a lot of supermarkets sell prebagged mixes of butternut squash and sweet potato; if you prefer, you can just use one of these instead of cutting your own veg. It saves a lot of time)
1 medium onion
100-150g grated cheddar cheese
Salt and pepper
For the crumble
35g porridge oats
60g grated fresh parmesan
3 grinds of pepper
Melt 25g of butter in a pan.
Finely dice the onion and fry it in the butter for a few minutes until it turns translucent.
Add the sweet potato and butternut squash and pan roast for around ten minutes. Stir it every few minutes to ensure the vegetables are evenly heated and the ones at the base don’t burn.
Pour the vegetables into an oven proof dish.
Put the milk and flour in a pan (you can use the one which the veg was cooked in to avoid extra washing up).
Use a whisk to mix them together to avoid any lumps of flour.
Add the remaining 25g of butter to the sauce mix and gently heat whilst whisking continuously.
After a few minutes, the sauce will begin to thicken as the flour cooks.
Once the sauce has thickened up and is beginning to bubble, remove it from the heat and stir through the grated cheese, pepper and a little salt (to taste). You want to let the latent heat of the sauce melt the cheese as melting it over the stove will cause the cheese to go stringy.
When you can no longer see anymore cheese in the pan, pour the sauce over the vegetables and stir them together in the oven dish.
For the crumble, rub the butter into the flour.
Stir through the rest of the ingredients and then pour the crumble over the vegetable mix.
Preheat the oven to gas mark 6 (200°C).
Bake the crumble for 45 minutes or up to an hour for an extra crispy crumble. If the crumble starts to turn too dark, cover the top with foil and continue to cook.
This crumble is stunningly good and can be prepared ahead of time. Just pop it in the oven an hour before you wish to eat and relax!
If you liked this, you should definitely check out my recipe for macaroni and cheese or if you are looking for something a bit more on the sweet side, why not treat yourself to a delicious honey cake?
Have a good one and I will be back next week for a delicious bread recipe.