One of my favorite soapbox items to preach to students is the dwindling variety of foodstuffs we consume in these United States. It comes down to corn, wheat, potatoes, rice, three kinds of meat and about a dozen vegetables and fruits. Most of the blame can be placed directly on consumers. The old supply-and-demand adage truly applies.
This disheartening situation can become an awful quandary for the ultra-talented, underappreciated sector of our population known as Chefs (no, using your crock-pot once a week doesn’t qualify). If restaurant guests aren’t familiar with foods, it’s unlikely they’ll order them, especially at the higher-price points exotic foods demand. The challenge is in making the commonplace uncommon.
Consider winter squashes — not the summer variety with long green bodies or the yellow ones with skinny crooked necks, but the hard, weird-shaped kinds y’all see in the grocery store of an interesting variety of shapes and sizes with strange and mysterious names such as kabocha, calabaza, butternut, acorn and spaghetti.
Fear not, shoemakers, they are actually delicious if prepared properly; as a bonus, most can be used interchangeably with great success. The most popular is the butternut, and the most common preparation is soup. This can be a fantastic treat, but it’s kind of tired — I’m yawning at the thought.
Happily, I have some other ideas for this terrific winter bounty. A wonderful, soul-warming option is butternut squash risotto. This can be a fun challenge because you have the opportunity to show your culinary chops by using the squash two different ways, first as a purée mixed into the rice with stock about halfway through simmering. Second, use the squash in a small dice folded into the rice along with butter and cheese at the very end. You can also try the pumpkin curry recipe I gave you a while ago, or instead of sweet potato in the ravioli recipe from a few weeks ago.
As an empathetic soul, I understand that hard, winter squashes can be a tad difficult to process because they are … well, hard. It’s challenging to cut through them; then peeling is nearly impossible.
Hence I have a few Cheffed-Up tips: First, use a large sharp chef’s knife to cut the squash. The easiest way is to slowly rock it while applying pressure to the knife.
As far as peeling, the easiest way is to par cook them — or not peel them at all. Try this easy preparation: Cut off the ends, stand it on end and cut down the center. Next, scoop out the seeds, cut into wedges and drizzle with olive oil, salt and sprinkle with this outstanding Moroccan Spice recipe, then simply roast the squash. Yum! Or come join me at one of my Farmers Market classes for more details.
Chef Bill’s Moroccan Rub
- 1 Tbsp. cumin, whole
- 1 Tbsp. ginger, ground
- 1/2 Tbsp. kosher salt
- 3/4 Tbsp. black pepper, whole
- 1/2 Tbsp. cinnamon, ground
- 1/2 Tbsp. coriander, whole
- 1/2 Tbsp. cayenne
- 1/2 Tbsp. allspice, whole
- 1/4 Tbsp. cloves, ground
- Toast whole spices for a couple minutes or until fragrant.
- Grind in a spice grinder.
- Mix all ingredients, adjust salt and cayenne to taste.
Until we cook again,
Contact Chef Bill Thompson, owner of Amelia Island Culinary Academy in Fernandina Beach, at firstname.lastname@example.org to find inspiration and get you Cheffed Up!