Bill’s has always been about seasonal food. The restaurant chain’s founder, Bill Collison, is a grower’s son and has always strived to match his menu to the changing seasons. Even when Bill’s occupied a building the size of a small shed in Lewes, Sussex, and was a greengrocers, he’d avoid food waste by turning unsold, ripe tomatoes into tomato soup to sell the next day. And so Bill’s was born.
Although the Bill’s of today – with more than 80 branches across the UK – is a long way from the original branches in Lewes and Brighton Bill himself is still very much involved in the business. He may not be able to hand decorate the incredible pavlovas in the display counter (anyone else remember those?) but he works hard to keep his restaurants true to their roots.
I met Bill last week at an event where, along with one of his head chefs Joe Lollors, he talked us through his favourite vegetables to use at this time of year, gave us some suggestions for how to prepare them and treated us to a three course meal cooked by Joe and his colleagues.
So what are Bill’s favourite autumn vegetables? Number one is beetroot and I have to say that I agree wholeheartedly with him – beetroot is just amazing. He also loves squash, cavolo nero and clementines.
We were then served a gorgeous meal using these favourite seasonal ingredients. We started with beetroot and goats cheese arancini, then enjoyed butternut squash and four cheese lasagne, roasted roots pie, cavolo nero with shallots and leafy winter salad. Dessert was brandy snap cones with cream cheese, clementines, pistachio and mint.
This autumn Bill’s, in collaboration with the Alexandra Rose Charity, will donate 1kg of fresh vegetables to low-income families for every person that orders the Roasted Butternut Squash & Lentil Salad starter from the new seasonal autumn menu, until the end of October.
Bill’s has kindly agreed to let me share the recipe for the butternut squash lasagne. It really tasted incredible and I’ll definitely be making it at home.
Here’s how to make butternut squash and four cheese lasagne:
- 1kg butternut squash, peeled and sliced lengthways
- 400g baby spinach
- 10g sage leaves, chopped
- 20g flat leaf parsley, chopped
- 200g semi dried cherry tomatoes
- 2 x 125g mozzarella cheese, torn into pieces
- 200g feta cheese, crumbled
- 200g ricotta cheese
- 300g fresh lasagne sheets
- 1 batch béchamel sauce (see below)
- 100g freshly grated vegetarian Parmesan-style cheese
- 5g sage leaves, for garnish
- Salt and pepper
- Oil for greasing
- 1 litre whole milk
- 1 white onion, cut in half
- 2 bay leaves
- 100g butter
- 100g flour
- 2g nutmeg
- Salt and pepper
- Preheat the oven to 180°C.
- First, make the béchamel sauce. Melt the butter in a saucepan on a medium heat. Add the bay leaves and onion. When butter is melted add the flour little by little while whisking, making sure it doesn't burn. When combined and smooth, start adding the milk a little at a time while whisking. Continue to whisk and cook for a few more minutes. Add the nutmeg, spinach, salt and pepper, and remove from heat. Remove onions and bay leaves before use.
- Mix the chopped parsley and sage into the béchamel sauce. Blanch the baby spinach in boiling water and drain.
- Grease an ovenproof tray (approx 25cm x 35cm) with oil. Spread a quarter of the béchamel sauce on to the base and add a layer of butternut squash. Add a third of the spinach. Top with a third of the mozzarella, ricotta and feta. Add a third of the tomatoes. Cover with a third of the lasagne sheets. Be careful they don't overlap too much as they will not cook properly. Repeat these steps twice more. Finish off with béchamel sauce and the Parmesan. Scatter the sage leaves across the top.
- Bake in the oven at 180°C for approx 45 minutes or until the butternut squash is tender. If the lasagne is getting too dark cover with foil until done.