I absolutely love Gem Squash and was very disappointed on arriving in NZ many moons ago only to discover that they weren’t grown here. On the very odd occasion in our early years here I came across them in fruit and veggie shops, but you couldn’t rely on them being around in season, which is mid January to April/May depending on the climate. So I get really excited every time I find these little gems (pun intended). I remember storing the seeds and trying to grow my own, but wasn’t very successful.
I recently discovered that they are now being grown for the New Zealand market on a farm near Napier, a beautiful little town on the east coast of the north island so the price may come down as availability and demand increases. Another bonus is that my son adores them and will happily wolf down a whole one if I’ve prepared enough.
Now I know that some people may not have a clue what I’m talking about, but if you happen to see a small, round, green, hard ball a little bigger than a tennis ball or grapefruit in the veggie section of your supermarket, they just may be gem squashes. I even had a green grocer ask me once what to do with it as he didn’t know how to cook it…ah bless! Most South African expats will know exactly what I mean, but if you haven’t yet tried them, now is the time!
They are slowly becoming more mainstream and I see that even Simon Gault, a well known Kiwi chef, has trialled them in his garden and can’t compliment them enough so there you are – now it’s your turn to try them. The outer skin/shell is very hard, so be careful when you cut them in half, which you will need to do in order to scoop out the seeds. The bright yellow inner flesh brings sunshine to any plate and they can be stuffed with savoury mince, covered with a sprinkling of cheese and baked in the oven. Or filled with a tomato-ricotta and Italian herb mixture; or another option could be bacon and fried rice, but one of my favourites is to keep it simple. Boil until the flesh is soft, add a blob of butter and a sprinkling of salt and freshly ground pepper and it’s ready – may be a little strange if it’s your first taste but as it is part of the squash family, it won’t be too far from what you’d expect.
I sometimes fill them with peas as the shape makes a natural bowl. Something I’ll share with you another time is to cook them and then scoop out the flesh. Add all manner of delicious ingredients to it and bake it in the oven.
1 squash per 2 people (unless you are like my son and will eat a whole one)
cooked peas (optional)
salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Carefully halve the gem squash and scoop out the seeds, taking care not to remove too much of the surrounding flesh.
- Place the halved gems into a large pot and cover with water. Bring to the boil. Turn the heat down to a gentle simmer and leave for about 10 – 15 minutes depending on how many you’re cooking at a time. Check occasionally by prodding the flesh with a fork.
- When cooked, discard the water. Fill with the cooked peas and place a tiny knob of butter on the top. It melts.
- Sprinkle with the salt and freshly ground black pepper and serve hot.