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November, 2011

Ingredient Challenge: Winter Hard Squash

By Dennis Linden

The most colorful display in the retail produce department at this time of the year is definitely the winter squash section
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Chef Roy Hendrickson, executive chef at the Shorebreak Hotel’s Zimzala Restaurant & Bar in Huntington Beach, CA

The most colorful display in the retail produce department at this time of the year is definitely the winter squash section. Every shade and combination of shades in the rainbow can be found painted on an array of shapes and sizes that lends a circus-like feel to the entire produce isle. Next trip to the market, observe the phenomena – there is something playful about a bin of colorful winter squash that evokes a smile! The flavors are as varied as the color scheme that ranges from a creamy sweetness to squash with more textured, nutty overtones as well as variations of both savory and sweet pumpkins.

Chef Roy Hendrickson, executive chef at the Shorebreak Hotel’s Zimzala Restaurant & Bar in Huntington Beach, CA, chose the Jarrahdale pumpkin, aka Queensland Blue squash, to give his tagliatelle-style pasta a pleasantly sweet hint of pumpkin. The pasta is complemented perfectly by the chef’s elegantly simple sage butter sauce as well as the earthy flavor of sautéed wild mushrooms. Consider this one for your holiday menu – the recipe is actually quite easy to prepare and, once you have experienced just how tasty homemade noodles can be, you will never go back to store bought pasta.

While Chef Roy’s recipe includes pasta machine settings, this dish can be accomplished just as easily with a rolling pin and sharp knife. That by-hand process will be covered in more detail later in this feature; suffice it to say that not having a pasta machine is no excuse to try this wonderful recipe. Also, if you have trouble sourcing the Jarrahdale pumpkin, Chef Roy suggests using a Blue or Red Kuri, Kabocha Squash or any other dense, hard squash or pumpkin that has a creamy, not stringy, texture. Each variety will, of course, infuse its own unique flavor into the pasta; so experiment – there is a world of squash-flavored noodles out there to discover and enjoy!

The Jarrahdale pumpkin, named after the Australian town where the variety was developed, has a teal-gray skin encasing a bright orange interior. It is very similar in taste to a regular pumpkin, though a little sweeter and prized for its creamy texture. The small pie pumpkin, so prevalent at retail this month, would come closest to replicating the sweetness of the Jarrahdale, though it is a bit more watery. Not finding the Jarrahdale available locally, I decided to use Kabocha squash in my taste test prep of this dish. Kabocha, also known as a Japanese pumpkin, has a wonderfully rich flavor that is reminiscent of a pumpkin/sweet potato mix; its texture has mashed potato creaminess to it. Chef Roy did caution that the Kabocha would require a little more milk, as the variety does tend to be a little dry. He was right; add an extra cup of whole milk to the recipe if you use Kabocha. Overall, the variety was a good choice as I would definitely describe the results as comfort food noodles! While there is an initial lightness on the palate, these noodles add up quickly in richness. Accompanying the pasta with a smear of the purée completes the taste experience, presenting a little of the pasta’s flavor ingredient in a more concentrated form.

The flavors of this dish are really something special. Make a double batch, as the noodles will keep for about a week in the refrigerator. There is nothing like the taste of leftover pasta sautéed; except maybe leftover home-made pasta sautéed! It makes for a quick and tasty lunch, which I can be attested to first-hand or I guess second-hand, being leftovers! Simply delicious nonetheless. Easy-to-assemble no machine pasta: Follow Chef Roy’s instructions in making the pasta dough ball. Once the dough has been kneaded thoroughly and chilled, cut the loaf into quarters; it is much easier to roll out each quarter separately. On a well-floured surface, shape each quarter into a small, oblong brick and then roll this shape out into a very thin rectangle about 9 inches wide. You might have to further divide this dough into halves again in order to achieve the proper thinness while keeping it small enough to flip over easily. Work both sides equally, dusting each side with flour and rolling equally. Definitely think thin since the noodles will tend to puff up a bit during the boiling process. My first batch looked thin enough going into the pot, but came out way too cracker thick to be called pasta. That’s why “do-overs” were invented and I did!

When the proper thickness is achieved, dust with flour and simply roll up the dough, from side to side, into a tight cigar-like cylinder. Then cross slice the tube in sections one-third of an inch wide. Uncoil these 9-inch long ribbons of noodle, laying them out flat to dry for about 15 minutes before dropping them in a pot of rolling boiling water. Hand-made pasta without the fuss and clean up muss of a machine! To include this recipe in your holiday fare, the dough can be prepared several days ahead of time so that part of the preparation is done. Fresh pasta and pasta dough apparently can be frozen for convenience, but this recipe is so easy I see no point and the flavor of fresh homemade has to be better than frozen homemade. Winter squashes are often harvested before they have fully matured. If you can penetrate the skin with your thumbnail it is a sure sign that the squash is not mature enough to use yet. However, just place it in a cool, dark place for three weeks and the squash will harden. Like wine, winter squash improves with age and will store up to two months as its flavor improves; squash loses water by natural dehydration over time causing its taste to become much more concentrated. In fact, winter squash should be stored as you would good red wine, between 50 and 60 degrees and out of sunlight.

Chef Roy Hendrickson certainly met the Ingredient Challenge with a dish worthy of a vintage libation to toast the versatility of this very iconic crop that symbolizes the fall season. There is no doubt that this recipe will require yet another “do-over” – next time for my own holiday table!

Happy forks (and Thanksgiving)!

Jarrahdale Pumpkin Tagliatelle with Sage and Brown Butter, Pumpkin Purée, Golden Chanterelles and Toasted Pumpkin Seeds
Jarrahdale Pumpkin Tagliatelle with Sage and Brown Butter, Pumpkin Purée, Golden Chanterelles and Toasted Pumpkin Seeds

For the purée:
1 small Jarrahdale Pumpkin** seeded and cut into 1 inch cubes, about six cups. (Reserve seeds)
4 cups Whole Milk
1 tablespoon Kosher Salt Micro-plane
1 teaspoon of Fresh Nutmeg

**substitute Kabocha, Pie pumpkin or any other meaty Winter Squash variety

Method:
Place the pumpkin cubes into a medium pot and cover with whole milk, add 1 tablespoon of kosher salt and simmer until the pumpkin is fork tender. Drain the pumpkin, reserving the milk, and place the pumpkin in a blender and add 2 ounces of the cooking milk. Micro-plane 1 teaspoon of fresh nutmeg, add to mixture and purée until smooth. Transfer the purée to a clean container, chill and reserve.

For the pasta:
6 large Egg Yolks
1 teaspoon Kosher Salt
1 ounce Whole Milk
1 cup Jarrahdale Pumpkin Purée
1 cup Semolina Flour
4 cups All-Purpose Flour

Method:
Place the yolks, salt, whole milk, and purée into a food processer and process for 10-15 seconds. Then add semolina flour and gradually add the all-purpose flour until the dough comes away from the sides of the bowl. (Note: the flour portion should be done on pulsing mode to ensure the dough is even.) Place the dough onto a well flour dusted work surface and knead for one to two minutes until smooth. Cover with plastic and refrigerate for half an hour.

To make the pasta shape you will need:
1 bench scraper, 1 rolling pin, and manual pasta roller/machine with fettuccine / tagliatelle attachment, semolina for dusting.

Note:
If you do not have a pasta machine you will need a kitchen knife and a yard stick for cutting the noodles once rolled out by hand.

Method:
Roll the pasta out with a rolling pin until it is a ¼” thick, then cut it into 3”x 9” strips with the bench scraper. Once the strips are completed start rolling them out on the machine one at a time, starting on the #1 thickness setting and continue up until the #5 setting or more if you like thinner noodles. Once all strips have been rolled out to desired thickness, lay the strips out on a flour dusted counter to dry for 5 to ten minutes; this will make for easier cutting. Then simply cut them on the cutting attachment.

For the pumpkin seeds:
Rinse the seeds to remove any residual pumpkin meat, and simmer the seeds in salted boiling water (2 cups of water for every half cup of seeds) for ten minutes. Drain the seeds and let dry, then toss with a neutral oil to coat and toast in a 400 degrees F oven for 10-15 minutes. Pull seeds from oven, toss with Kosher salt and cool on a sheet pan.

To assemble the dish you will need:
1 large Sauté Pan
1 small Stockpot (11 quart)
2 Sauce Pans (2 quart)
12 ounce Unsalted Butter
1 pound Chanterelle Mushrooms
2 ounces Fresh Sage Leaves
4 tablespoons Dark Brown Sugar
Salt, to taste
1 teaspoon Sherry Vinegar
Pumpkin Seeds
Mâche (garnish)

Method:
Fill the stock pot with water and bring to a rolling boil with 2 tablespoons of salt. While you are waiting for the water, slowly heat the remaining purée in one of the saucepans until hot. Preheat the other saucepot until hot, add 2 tablespoons of grape seed oil (or other high smoking point oil) and sear the chanterelles briefly until a nice golden brown is achieved. Then, add 4 oz. of the butter, 2 oz. of water and cook to coat the mushrooms. Season the mushrooms with salt and sherry vinegar. Once the water is at a rolling boil, add the pasta, stir and cook for three to four minutes until al dente. In the meanwhile, heat the remaining butter in the large sauté pan over medium high heat. Once it begins to brown, add the fresh sage leaves and brown sugar. Then, add the cooked pasta to the sauté pan, toss to coat with the sauce and season to taste with Kosher salt. Now you are ready to plate (see picture), garnish with toasted pumpkin seeds and some mâche (for color).