By Jacky Runice
As the final chestnut-colored leaves are wind torn from their branches, we seek solace in squash, first in decor to brighten an otherwise gray day and then in the oven. Think bright orange pumpkins and buttercup squash with its sweet potato-like flesh, saffron-tinged spaghetti squash’s unlikely strands and old, reliable butternut, the cylindrical vegetable that offers a bounty of good eating. After slicing through dense, tough shells, local chefs are making magic with winter’s first gift – colorful, healthy squash.
Quay Restaurant & Bar
465 E. Illinois St.
Chicago, IL 60611
Get out of the chill and into the late fall menu created by Executive Chef Dan Marquis at Quay in Streeterville. Chef Marquis owns and operates a 20-acre farm in Sheffield, Illinois called Mill Roads Farm and you’ll find his own fresh-grown herbs, microgreens, squash and more on the plate. Chef Marquis says, “I chose to grow red kuri squash for this year’s fall and winter menu at Quay for several reasons. Red kuri is far superior in flavor to, say, butternut or acorn squash varieties that are more common. It lends itself well to a number of spices and develops an incredible sweet and nutty flavor when roasted.” Try pan-seared walleye atop ethereal pillows of lemon ricotta gnocchi accompanied by red kuri squash puree, shaved pecorino, toasted pine nuts, sage and parsley pistou. You might spy red kuri in some of his soups, sauces, desserts and other purees, too. “This squash is more firm when making purees which helps in the plating as well as creating a beautiful creamy texture for our dishes here at Quay.”
4471 Lawn Ave.
Western Springs, IL 60558
Nathan Sears, Chef de Cuisine of Vie, says, “We hit fall squashes hard” so diners will eye them as enhancements on the plate as well as highlights of a meal. “Right now, we have a great pumpkin pie and coconut milk soup topped with Gunthorp Farm duck confit and pastrami, calamondin and sage salsa verde, plus marinated carrots. The soup is solid,” the kitchen whiz explains. Taste buds will also sing with Sears’ gnudi appetizer, otherwise known as ricotta gnocchi, with braised spaghetti squash, pickled cherry bomb peppers and fried kale. With sturdy food like this, you’ll be saying, “Winter, bring it on!”
2118 N. Damen
Chicago, IL 60642
Troy Graves, Chef/Partner of Red Door, is laser focused on using the freshest and finest seasonal ingredients that can also be found locally. He’s incorporating some of his favorite harvest ingredients into dishes such as pumpkin squash, Brussels sprouts and kale, as well as root veggies such as turnips and rutabaga. “Most people buy baby pumpkins for decoration,” the top toque says, “I have been serving them for many years during the season.” Graves offers a gorgeous late fall dish gushing with flavor and comfort – lobster stuffed baby pumpkin with chanterelles, kale and Cognac cream.
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MANA Food Bar
1742 W. Division St.
Chicago, IL 60622
One might expect that the Executive Chef/Owner of vegetarian eatery would know her way around a pumpkin and Jill Barron of MANA Food Bar does not disappoint. Her remarkable new dish, pumpkin and jalapeno tamales with a pumpkin seed mole, elevates Halloween’s favorite vegetable to star status. Another stellar option is her butternut squash ravioli with garlic, olive oil, arugula and walnuts. Vegetarian dining is seldom as surprising as it is at this Wicker Park restaurant where it’s a snap to go meat free.
Hash House A Go Go
1212 N. State Parkway
Chicago, IL 60610
When you dissect the name, you get “old-style food” and “something new.” Expect midwestern farm fare in generous portions tweaked with bold flavors. Even a lowly squash gets a makeover. How does this grab you: roasted butternut squash stuffed with risotto and crowned with cornmeal-crusted shrimp, fresh asparagus and sun-dried tomato olive oil? Chef Anthony Vidal says “Squash is a very versatile vegetable – not only is it inexpensive, but you can use it in a variety of ways. It can be fried, sauteed or even roasted, made into soups and added to stews to give flavor. The opportunities are endless.”
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Jacky Runice has been a columnist with the Daily Herald Chicago since grunge music and flannel was the new black. Her fingers and gray matter have been busy as travel editor of Reunions Magazine; penning a column that was syndicated around the nation via Tribune Media Services. Her work can be found at Examiner.com.