Squash is particularly delicious in the winter months when the days are cold.

It's earthy flavour, combined with the fennel and barley, makes it the perfect seasonal addition to the Christmas dinner table.


  • 2 x 800g (roughly) Small onion squash
  • 2 Fennel bulbs
  • 2tbsp Extra virgin olive oil
  • A handful of fennel tops if available
  • 125g Pearl barley
  • 100g Cheddar cheese, grated
  • 25g Butter
  • 1 Garlic clove, peeled and grated
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper


  • STEP 1

    Heat the oven to 180°C/350°F/gas mark 4. Use a sharp, heavy knife to cut the base off each squash, so they sit upright. Cut off the tops in one, clean round, about 3cm or so below the stalk, and set aside. Use a metal spoon to scoop out the seeds and the fibrous matter, leaving a fairly neat hollow.

  • STEP 2

    Trim the fennel, and remove the tougher outer leaf if you need to. Cut the bulbs in half, then cut each half into 3 or 4 wedges.

  • STEP 3

    Place the squash in a large roasting tray. Scatter the fennel wedges around them and try to squeeze in the squash tops, too. Drizzle the olive oil all over, including inside the squash. Season with salt and pepper and scatter over a few fennel tops, if you have them. Place the tray in the oven and cook for 45–60 minutes, or until both the squash and the fennel are nice and tender.

  • STEP 4

    Meanwhile, place the barley in a pan and cover it with water. Place on a medium heat and simmer gently for 25–30 minutes, until the barley is soft but retains some bite. Drain and place in a large bowl.

  • STEP 5

    When the fennel and squash are cooked, remove them from the oven. Add the fennel to the barley, then add the cheese, butter, garlic, salt and pepper to taste. Tumble everything together and spoon the barley mixture equally into the two roasted squash. Return to the oven for 8–10 minutes. Serve straight away with their lids, sour cream and a green salad.

Recipe from Gill Meller, a chef who teaches cookery at Park Farm in Dorset, HQ of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage. His latest book is Time: a Year and a Day in the Kitchen (Quadrille, £25). gillmeller.com