What’s cooking today: Hasselback butternut with honeyed harissa and a cashew crumb

Tony Jackman’s Hasselback butternut with honeyed harissa and a toasted cashew crumb, served on a steak platter by Mervyn Gers Ceramics. (Photo: Tony Jackman)

Over Christmas, friends and fellow cookbook authors including Jane Griffiths and Erica Platter were posting photos on Instagram of the hasselback butternut they’d cooked. It got my creative cooking juices flowing.

There’s a bit of work involved in this. You could buy the harissa paste – you could – but come on, I’ve made it easy for you to whizz up your own, literally. It needed crunch, advised Erica Platter, whose Durban Curry books I treasure, so I devised a simple crumb of toasted crushed cashews with breadcrumbs and parsley, salt and pepper. But I wanted some sweetness too, so I stirred some of my harissa paste into my baste of honey, butter and red wine vinegar. That baste turned out to be a flavour bomb; I was as chuffed as a magpie that’s found the Crown Jewels.

I also stirred some harissa paste into the couscous that I served with it.

There’s plenty to do, including pre-cooking the butternut halves to soften them so that you can cut the hasselback ridges into them, but this dish is worth the effort. So, start by turning on the oven while you peel, deseed and halve the butternut/s, then make your harissa paste while the oven heats up for the precooking of the butternut halves.

For the harissa:


2 large, very ripe red peppers

½ tsp cumin seeds

½ tsp coriander seeds

½ tsp caraway seeds

45 ml extra virgin olive oil

1 small red onion, chopped

3 fat garlic cloves, chopped

3 red chillies, seeded and chopped

45 ml tomato paste

2 Tbsp lemon juice

½ tsp salt


The red peppers after having been blackened on an open flame, and then peeled. (Photo: Tony Jackman)

Blacken the red peppers on a gas flame, turning them with tongs as needed, or use a blowtorch. You could do it on open braai flames too. Leave them to cool, then remove the skin and seeds. Put the flesh into a food processor.

In a dry pan, toast the cumin, coriander and caraway seeds, then grind to a fine powder. Add this to the processor.

Add olive oil to the same pan and fry the chopped onion and garlic for a couple of minutes, then add the chopped chillies and cook very gently for about 10 minutes. Add this to the processor.

Add the tomato paste, lemon juice and salt, and blitz. It doesn’t have to be perfectly smooth. You’ll have enough harissa for you to refrigerate much of it for later use.

For the crumb:


½ cup cashews

3 Tbsp crispy breadcrumbs (toast them in a dry pan if you need to)

2 Tbsp parsley, finely chopped

Salt to taste

Black pepper to taste


Toast the cashews in a dry pan. Crush them and pour into a small bowl. Stir in the breadcrumbs and parsley and season with a little salt and pepper.

For the butternut:


1 whole medium or large butternut

Olive oil to coat the butternut halves

¼ cup honey

3 Tbsp butter

2 Tbsp red wine vinegar

1 tsp ground black pepper

4 Tbsp harissa paste

Salt to taste


Oil the halved butternuts all over and roast in an oiled oven pan in a preheated 220℃ oven for 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. Using a sharp knife (I use a paring knife, which gives you more control), slice slits about halfway through while being careful not to accidentally cut all the way through. Tiny intervals look best.

Put the butter, honey and red wine vinegar into a small pan and heat until it’s all combined. Stir in salt, pepper and 4 Tbsp of your harissa paste.

Baste this on the butternut halves and roast in a 220℃ oven for 50 minutes to an hour.

For the couscous:


1 cup couscous

250 ml vegetable stock

3 Tbsp butter

4 Tbsp harissa paste


Pour 1 cup of couscous into a bowl. Bring 1 cup/250 ml vegetable stock to a boil. Let the butter melt into the stock and pour it onto the couscous. Leave it to stand for 5 minutes, then loosen the couscous with a fork. Stir half of the harissa paste into the couscous.

Spoon couscous onto two plates (this recipe being for two, so multiply as needed) and place a half butternut on each. Scatter the crumb over. DM/TGIFood 

To enquire about Tony Jackman’s book, foodSTUFF (Human & Rousseau) please email him at [email protected] 

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