Squash takes over

By the time November rolls around, many restaurant kitchens are elbow-deep in squash. And it’s a good thing. With brightly hued summer fruits and vegetables in scarce supply, these hard-shelled edible gourds—which come in a bounty of shapes and sizes—add rich autumn color and flavor across the menu.

Justin Cucci, chef-owner of restaurants Root Down and Linger, both in Denver, Colorado, starts putting squash dishes on his menus early in November.

“Fall offers the most interesting Colorado produce, and squashes and pumpkins top the list,” he comments. One of Cucci’s favorite applications is Butternut Squash Gnocchi with Sage Pesto, enhanced with a brown butter sauce, wild mushrooms, crunchy pumpkin seeds and pecorino cheese. It offers a pleasing balance of flavors—the sweet nuttiness of the squash, heady, herbaceous sage, rich butter, earthy mushrooms and salty pecorino cheese—to create a successful seasonal dish, he explains. November also brings a Spaghetti Squash Salad with pomegranate seeds, baby arugula and champagne vinaigrette to Root Down’s menu.

“Our produce is about 70 percent organic,” Cucci  notes. “We have a great relationship with Grow Organics, a supplier here, so we start with what’s available in Colorado and then branch out.” That company aggregates produce from small local farmers, provides seasonal alerts on what’s available and delivers five days a week. And since there are a lot of greenhouses in the state, there’s good supply through the winter. Denver is also fairly close to Mexico and California, so Cucci can fill in with organic produce from those areas, but rarely goes further afield.

“If we can’t get something from within a few hours of here, we say why bother. We won’t import mangos from India just to make a menu item work,” he explains. Instead of falling in love with the exact ingredients of a dish, the kitchen is flexible enough to adapt by substituting other produce.

Cucci is finding that today’s high demand for organic is boosting availability. “More purveyors are supplying organic produce—even the larger distributors. We also work with FreshPoint [Sysco] and Yancy’s,” he reports. In fact, Cucci sources from 48 purveyors to make sure he gets the highest quality ingredients at the best prices. “We leverage our two restaurants so we can price our menu competitively with Denver restaurants that don’t focus on organic and sustainable,” he adds.

Today's top stories

1
Despite consumer interest in healthful fare, some health-focused fast casuals are closing units. Nearly 60% of consumers place a large importance on fast casuals offering healthy options, according...
2
Over the past five years, this column has kept me current on topics ranging from culinary techniques to HR policies to pest control. As a culinary and hospitality educator, one of the things I really...
3
Hot on the heels of DRU, Domino’s delivery robot , the pizza brand is poised to try the next big thing in delivery: drones. Domino’s franchisee Domino’s Pizza Enterprises Ltd. has partnered with an...
4
The nation’s first surtax on sugared soft drinks has significantly cut consumption of the beverages and pushed consumers to drink more water, as advocates had promised, according to a just-released...
5
Despite recent efforts to simplify drive-thru menu boards, 59% of consumers say the rosters of options are difficult to read, especially when cars are lined up to order. That’s one of the findings of...
6
Romano’s Macaroni Grill has named a former Noodles & Company executive its new vice president of marketing. Holly Wagstaff-Bellomo, who had served as vice president of marketing at Noodles &...
7
The struggling Cosi fast-casual chain said it has fired CEO and President RJ Dourney and accepted the resignation of CFO Miguel Rossy-Donovan. The franchisor says Rossy-Donovan will continue in his...
8
Punch Bowl Social has brought on chef Hugh Acheson as culinary partner of the eatertainment concept, which has been working to build out its culinary team. Acheson, who runs four restaurants in...
9
Starbucks bumped up the number of postings for tech positions just three months after it announced plans to hire 100 tech workers. Now, most of those 100 positions have been filled, and the coffee...
10
The Virginia Department of Health said it has traced a “cluster” of hepatitis A cases to frozen Egyptian strawberries used by Virginia units of the Tropical Smoothie Cafe chain. Tropical Smoothie...