Welcome back to Hey Chef, a series where we ask pros around the country for tips on how to use ingredients we love. Today: winter squash.
Winter squashes are some of the most versatile vegetables when it comes to rich, warming comfort dishes; there's so much to do with them beyond the purées and soups we often turn to out of habit. Here, the pros help us use the acorn, butternut, and spaghetti squashes we love so much in new ways.
With the Greenmarket at the doorstep of New York City's Union Square Café, executive chef and partner Carmen Quagliata explores and develops his passion for his native Italian cuisine in one of the city's most beloved, iconic restaurants.
I've done some kooky salads with the butternut squash. Thin-julienne it, almost like a slaw, with some vinegar, mint, and scallions, then put it on top of a roasted pork shoulder. It's very simple, but really delicious as a salad or slaw garnish in a dish where you also have butternut squash in other ways, like a purée or in polenta. We also take the scraps and juice them; they give you this sweet, orange juice that we'll boil to thicken up, then add some butter and Meyer lemon to it for dishes with seared scallops or lobster. The flavors go great with seafood.
A Sweet and Savory Side
I really like to roast off butternut and acorn squash, cut them into wedges, wrap them in country ham, and then serve each little wedge with a little crispy sage. You've got the saltiness of the ham complementing the sweetness of those two types of squash. We use it as a side dish, and it goes great with any poultry or pork dish.
Amanda Cohen has received numerous accolades for her vegetarian cooking at New York's Dirt Candy, including a glowing two-star review in the New York Times, a Michelin Bib Gourmand nod (hers is one of only two vegetarian restaurants recognized by the guide), and a Top 10 best vegetarian restaurant in America from Food & Wine. Cohen is also author of the award-winning Dirt Candy: A Cookbook.
I always think we get stuck with letting seasons go. I love grilling squash—it's really delicious. If you have a grill, fire it up and fuck the squash up. You can parboil or roast the squash first, but we usually just halve it, brush up some olive oil, sprinkle it with salt, and throw it on the grill. It gets this really smoked or grilled sweetness and it's one of those ingredients that you can cook forever and it's just going to get better because it doesn't burn easily. And then you have this vegetable with so much flavor that you can blend into a grilled butternut squash soup—how much better than your regular butternut squash soup is that?!
Savor the Skins
Chef Kyle Itani is a yonsei—fourth-generation Japanese American—who has honed his culinary skills on both the West and East coasts at Yoshi's in San Francisco and Oakland, New York City's Meatball Shop, and a stage tour in Japan. In 2012, Itani struck out on his own and debuted Hopscotch in Oakland's Uptown District to popular acclaim.
A lot of people don't know you can actually eat a lot of squash skins. I wouldn't do the whole skin, but bits of skin add texture and extra flavor to dishes. My favorite way to eat acorn squash is to tempura-fry it. I peel the outside with a peeler but don't try to get into the little groves—when you fry the squash the skin softens, giving it a cool texture. Also, after I've peeled an entire squash and made a purée, I'll then take the peels and fry them with no batter or anything, then turn them out and salt them. They're like really great chips, so you can serve them on top of a dish for squash two ways, like roasted or in a soup and then fried on top.
Marcie Turney is one of Philadelphia's most prominent chefs, whose restaurants include Lolita, Barbuzzo, Jamonera, and Little Nona's. She also has a signature line of chocolates, Marcie Blaine Artisinal Chocolates, and was a 2014 James Beard "Outstanding Restaurateur" nominee.
Butternut squash is probably the most versatile squash out there, and if you can get a "long neck" butternut with around 18 inches of neck with solid flesh, you've got the key. On the menu at Little Nonna's right now we have a butternut squash rigatoni. It reminds me of a carbonara pasta dish. We peel an entire butternut squash, then cut the neck into half-inch cubes, saving all scraps, and roast them. We then remove the seeds from the bulb, rinse them, toss them with extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper, and roast them for a snack or salad topping.
All of the scraps and flesh are reserved for the "squash carbonara" portion of the recipe. We render guanciale scraps (ours are from our local 1732 Meats), then sauté the squash scraps with sage, thyme, shallots, and garlic in the guanciale fat. Then we add chicken stock and simmer until tender, then add a touch of cream and purée until smooth in a blender. At the end we add spicy fennel sausage, the roasted butternut cubes, sage, and Parmesan to rigatoni. The result is that same rich, pasta-coating emulsion that you get from the yolks and cheese in a carbonara.
Or a Noodle-Free Pasta
Jeff Mahin is a chef/partner at Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises and the creative force behind Stella Barra Pizzeria (Santa Monica, Hollywood, Chicago, DC opening winter 2014), Summer House Santa Monica (Chicago, DC opening winter 2014), and M Street Kitchen (Santa Monica). Mahin has accumulated several industry accolades including Zagat's "30 under 30," Forbes "30-under-30" list of hospitality industry up-and-comers and Restaurant Hospitality's "13 to watch in 2013."
We have a lot of gluten-free people in our restaurants, so we do a gluten-free spin of pasta with spaghetti squash. Cut it in half lengthwise and rub it with butter, brown sugar, chili flakes, and salt, then put it face-down in the oven at 325°F until it's tender all the way through. Once it's tender, remove it and let it cool. Then when it's cool enough to handle, carefully remove the strands of spaghetti squash with a fork so that they look like long strings of spaghetti.
Then take a little bit of water and some grated Parmesan and put them in a pan—about two ounces of water and two to three tablespoons of Parmesan for one squash—and put it together to make quasi-Parmesan stock. In another pan, sauté two tablespoons of butter, a sage leaf, and two to three tablespoons of crumbled walnuts. Add your one to two cups of spaghetti squash and start sautéing like you would pasta. Add a small amount of broth to deglaze the pan. Finish it with some finely grated Parmesan cheese and it will come together like pasta. Season it with salt and serve it. It's this amazing roasted pasta dish, with no pasta.
Butternut Squash Risotto
Julian Medina is renowned in New York for the ways he teases Mexican and Latin flavors at his Toloache restaurants. Richard Sandoval met a young Medina in Mexico City years ago and, impressed with his energy and vision, invited him to relocate to New York to work in one of his restaurants. Medina quickly became his protégé, and it wasn't long before Medina started building an empire of his own. His latest opening is Tacuba in Astoria, Queens.
I love making butternut squash risotto. Start cooking the risotto rice with saffron, then sauté some onions and garlic with butternut squash and treat it like you're going to make soup or puree; add cinnamon, cumin, nutmeg, some agave nectar to sweeten it a little, some salt and pepper, and then blend it all together with a little water or stock. When the risotto is a little bit al dente, just before it pulls together, add the slightly loose purée into the risotto. The risotto becomes really creamy because of the squash.
And for Dessert
Mehdi Brunet-Benkritly grew up in French-speaking Quebec, where he would later work at renowned Montreal restaurants including Toqué and Au Pied de Cochon. Brunet-Benkritly now serves as the executive chef/partner at Fedora and the recently opened Bar Sardine in New York City.
We have a dessert I love, a spiced pumpkin or squash pot de crème with caramel whipped cream and pistachio cookie crumbles. The texture is perfect, because squash is so custardy when you roast it down so it's got a smooth texture. It's just cream, milk, sugar, and eggs, so it's a gluten-free dessert, which is cool nowadays. We gently cook the squash in little jars with a little cinnamon, allspice, cloves, and curry—curry works really well with it, and it's a fun way to incorporate curry into a dessert. It's great with graham-crust-type things.
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