September 25, 2013 |

Fall favorite squash: great for autumn pizza menus

By Jeffrey Freehof

Fall favorite squash: great for autumn pizza menusSquashed dreams is not quite what it sounds like. It’s October, and that means the winter squash are plentiful and without a doubt something you should be taking advantage of. All kinds of gourds, big and small, are in abundance and ready for your creativity.

I’ve always loved butternut squash, but let’s not forget about pumpkins, acorn, hubbard and spaghetti squash. For years I’ve used butternut as a perfect side dish. I boil it until tender, then drain it. While it’s still hot, I then mash it up with butter, a little bit of brown sugar, cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg with salt and pepper. I’ll admit that I sweeten mine just enough that you wouldn’t be quite sure if you were eating a side dish or mistakenly got a serving of pie filling, but it is one of my favorite comfort foods, especially in the fall.

Butternut squash has so many other incredible values in the culinary world and can be taken in so many different directions with different flavor profiles. It can be substituted with almost any other winter squash, but we’ll focus our recipe ideas on butternut simply because it can more commonly be found already peeled (which isn’t the easiest vegetable to peel) and even diced for ease of use. Butternut squash is so versatile it can be used in so many dishes. For example, it makes a fantastic soup, a wonderful ravioli filling and amazing pizza topping.

Since Thanksgiving is only a month away, I wanted to share a pizza that I created over a decade ago that is so unique that I just offer in the fall. I call it the “Great Thanksgiving” Pizza. For the crust, I’d make a special batch of dough just for this pizza. I make my regular pizza dough, but I add some chicken base, onion powder, celery salt and ground sage. This would give the pizza crust the flavor of stuffing.

For the sauce, I simply take some jellied cranberry sauce and puree it to make it smooth and spreadable. There are four basic ingredients other than the sauce and cheese: diced turkey, roasted butternut squash, caramelized onions and cranberry raisins. I’d blend some cheddar cheese with my mozzarella/provolone blend for this special pie. The sharpness of the cheddar really enhanced the flavor of this gorgeous pizza. The cranberry raisins are best if you soak them in hot water for five minutes to soften them up. The other enhancement to the four main toppings is that you want to toss them in just a little bit of garlic butter with a hint of sage. This pizza will knock your customers’ socks off, so give it a try!

This might be the perfect time to try your hand at homemade ravioli. Since you don’t want too wet of a filling, I would suggest oven roasting the squash for the ravioli until fork tender. Mash it up with a touch of salt and pepper. You could add just a sprinkle of cinnamon or even some sage, depending on what direction you want to go in with your sauce.

There are two different sauce preparations that I like for my pumpkin or butternut ravioli. The first is a nutmeg and cinnamon cream sauce, which is simply some chicken or vegetable stock, some heavy cream and a dash of nutmeg and cinnamon. The other method is to make a sage brown butter by simply heating up some butter at a medium high heat with some sage leaves in it. Be careful! It’s very easy to go from brown butter to burnt butter. Adding some bacon or pancetta, onions and perhaps some sliced porcini mushrooms makes for an incredible dish. If you don’t want to mess with ravioli, then toss some chunks of roasted squash with some linguini instead!

If you want a soup that is so simple and amazing, you’ve got to try this curried pumpkin soup: whisk together 1¾ cups of pureed pumpkin (or 1 can pumpkin) 2 cups of chicken or vegetable stock and 2 cups half and half. That’s your soup, and now you just have to season it to taste with 1½ tablespoons curry, some salt, pepper, ½ teaspoon of garlic and onion powder, and 1½ tablespoon brown sugar. If you ever want to serve this at an event in a unique way, you can hollow out a pumpkin, clean it out then put the soup in the pumpkin to serve it. Another option is to hollow out some gourds and use them as individual bowls to serve your soup in.

Another squash idea that lends itself to our restaurants perfectly is spaghetti squash. As I am the personal chef for CBS sportscaster Jim Nantz each year during the Masters golf tournament, he has declared the spaghetti squash I prepare for him one of his favorites since he likes to eat in a very healthy fashion. I cut the football-sized squash in half lengthwise, scoop out the seeds and then place the squash cut side down in a baking pan with an inch or so of water, cover it with foil and then bake it at 350 F for 45 minutes or so until the squash is soft enough to scoop the stringy squash out of its shell. Once you finish this process, you realize why it’s called spaghetti squash. I like to drizzle some olive oil over the squash with freshly ground sea salt and black pepper, along with some freshly chopped garlic then toss it all together with some roasted tomatoes. That makes for a perfect side dish or a main course if so desired. Keep in mind this is also a naturally gluten-free spaghetti.

I encourage you to take advantage of recipes that squash lends itself to. Both butternut and pumpkins make excellent pie. Pumpkin cheesecake is one of my top selling desserts in the fall so get a move on, and see how squash can enhance your menu this fall.

Jeff Freehof owns The Garlic Clove in Evans, Georgia. He is a frequent contributor to Pizza Today and a speaker at the Pizza Expo family of trade shows.