Rhapsody offers diverse tastes of seasonal squash

October 28, 2011 (CHICAGO)

For years, we've been told that those two - acorn and butternut - plus maybe spaghetti squash, were the only options in the fall and winter. But, if you look around local menus, you'll see a wealth of squash options. And, as we discovered at one restaurant, they can be quite versatile

Who needs pumpkin and acorn squashes when there are more varieties than ever this time of year? At Rhapsody, connected to Orchestra Hall in the Loop, chef Dean Zanella loves to expand his squash repertoire with red kuris, kabochas, delicatas and turbans.

"You get different depths of flavor. Certain squashes can be a little meatier. Butternut squash are great they tend to be the sweetest and actually have the highest water content so they're really good for soup," said Zanella.

Zanella combines butternut, red kuri and turban squash for a simple autumn soup. He first roasts them until the flesh is soft. Meanwhile, he cooks onions, celery and carrots - along with fresh thyme - until the vegetables have softened. He adds the three different squashes, then some chicken stock.

From that point, it's just a matter of pureeing with an immersion blender and serving; garnishing with some pumpkin seeds and sage.

"They're pretty readily available in the stores. I mean, everywhere. I always recommend going to the markets because I know those farmers take care of them and they're gonna pick them when they're ripe, as of picking them when they're green and shipping them," Zanella said.

Zanella also makes his own raviolis, stuffing them with a heady mixture of roasted hubbard and kabocha squash, along with some Italian secret weapons.

"Initially, to keep the moisture out I put bread crumbs in. I changed it and use amaretti cookies which are very dry, have a bit of bitterness which offsets the sweetness. I put a little bit of mascarpone cheese in there to richen it up. Even a little bit of brown sugar in there from time to time if the squash is not so ripe," he said.

The season for these squashes runs for several weeks, if not months. Zanella says if chefs are truly committed to working within the seasons, you can get pretty creative with these extra hard-skinned vegetables.

"I've seen everything from butternut squash tart dessert to butternut squash ice cream. Pumpkin ice cream...you can do anything with them," he said.

The universal approach to working with any hearty squash seems to be high-heat roasting, which renders that interior flesh soft and pliable.

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