Some of the most creative ideas came from a chef that perused the local farmer's markets, who then came up with two fall dishes that really speak to the season.
Chef Chris Pandel tends not to cook the predictable. Take pumpkin for example. He wouldn't dare put a boring soup or pie on his menu at The Bristol in Bucktown. Instead, he works with rare varieties, such as the Queensland Blue pumpkin, and makes an autumn salad.
"We treat the pumpkin and squash as if they were fresh summer fruit, so we use them in raw preparations and pickles and things like that to keep them refreshing and not so much on the heavy spices and the thick heavy purees," said Pandel.
Since the Queensland tastes like cucumber, Pandel treats it as such. He starts with Belgian endive, fresh basil, mint and celery leaves, and then shaves in the raw pumpkin with a mandolin. Some pecorino romano cheese and toasted pumpkin seeds add salt and crunch; pomegranate seeds and crushed amaretti cookies provide sweetness, and the entire salad is coated and tossed in a light, homemade yogurt vinaigrette.
"We shaved it raw as we possibly could and added some bitterness with the endive; pomegranates just fell into season, the amaretti cookies are a classic with pairing with squash, so it just kind of fell together," Pandel said.
Another obscure, heirloom squash is called the Long of Naples. Pandel poaches, purees and forms it into tiny dumplings containing bone marrow and herbs. They're sauteed with hen-of-the-woods mushrooms, then plated alongside grilled hanger steak, which gets a few miniature cubes of Long Island squash scattered over the top. A smattering of sage pesto arrives on the side.
Pandel says with a little creativity -- and a few heirloom pumpkins -- the familiar October fruit can be so much more than just soup or pie.
"We found a way to make it versatile, I think that if people are willing to push the envelope just a little bit and experiment from home they will find that is a very versatile fruit," said Pandel.
Pandel's menu changes pretty frequently, but both dishes should be on the menu for at least another week or so.
2152 N. Damen Ave.
Shaved and grated raw Queensland Blue pumpkin
Toasted pumpkin seed and pine nut
Torn mint and basil
House made yogurt vinaigrette
Hangar Steak, Marrow and Pumpkin Dumpling
Marrow and pumpkin dumpling
Lightly pickled pumpkin