Markethouse squash options beyond pumpkin and acorn

October 27, 2012 9:37:08 PM PDT
For most chefs, the path to successful squash is high-heat roasting, which always renders that firm flesh soft and pliable. At Markethouse, inside the Doubletree Hotel in Streeterville, Chef Scott Walton loves to work with squash this time of year, and it's rarely something predictable. From tiny sweet lightning squash, to heirloom varieties of butternut or even the enormous red kuri variety, which is used in a dish of autumn risotto.

"It's a nice balance. It's mild. It keeps its texture so we use it a couple different ways in the dish," said Walton.

Both butternut and red kuri are roasted and blended with vegetable stock, then used as a thickener in the risotto. Separately, tiny balls of raw red kuri are poached and sauteed along with chanterelle mushrooms and lobster. That saute is then added to the risotto near the end of cooking, resulting in a seasonal one-two punch.

"And that's actually what we use in the dish to finish it. Rather than some people using cream or butter to finish it to smooth out the risotto we actually use the squash puree, he said.

In River North, the menu at Sushisamba Rio leans heavily toward Japan and South America. Gyoza, or dumplings, are stuffed with fatty wagyu beef, but are balanced by a puree of kabocha squash.

"We use kobe, or wagyu beef in the gyoza, and the squash actually cuts some of the fat that coats your tongue; that's the purpose of serving the kabocha with it," said chef Lee Guidry.

Guidry roasts the kabocha until it's fork-tender. He then adds the flesh to a blender, along with sugar, salt and butter, eventually plating the individual gyoza over tiny pools of the pureed squash. In this case, the vegetable serves more as an accent than anything else.

"Kabocha has a stronger flavor, but it's still sweet, and actually when we puree it, it kind of lightens up and gets a little fluffy," he said.

So squash is a lot more versatile than you might think. From the red kuri, used in that risotto, to the kabocha, used as a little bit of a foil here underneath the gyoza, to eventually, a cheesecake here at Sushisamba; lots more options than just soup this time of year.

611 N. Fairbanks Ct. (in Doubletree Hotel)

504 N. Wells St.