When it comes to fall festivities, winter squash gets the shaft. Whether it's pumpkin pies, pumpkin lattes, pumpkin rolls or pumpkin cupcakes, winter squash takes a backseat to the pumpkin craze. But many Charlotte eateries make good use of the wide variety of squash grown in the Charlotte area: They may fool you by calling it "pumpkin" on their menu, but the sweet starchy vegetable on your plate is usually not the big orange gourd you carve into jack-o'-lanterns. If you like butternut squash, then you will love these lesser-known varieties of winter squash. Branch out this fall and try pumpkin's not-so-distant cousin, available at a restaurant near you. (But hurry: These dishes will only be available while winter squash is in season, through the fall.)
Roasted N.C. Sea Scallops with Melted Squash, Candied Squash Seeds and Apple Sorghum Gastrique
Found at Zink American Kitchen
Chef Thomas Marlow chose two winter squashes local to the Charlotte area to create a dish with plenty of texture. He starts with sweet dumpling squash, which is yellow with green and orange markings. The squash is roasted in a wood-burning stove with shallots, herbs, crusted red pepper, salt and crushed cinnamon stick, resulting in a slightly spicy flavor balanced by the natural sweetness of the squash. Red kuri squash is roasted, then combined with mirepoix (carrots, celery, and onion) and Arkansas black apples, covered in local apple cider, and then blended to create a sweet, starchy puree. The sweet dumpling squash is chopped finely, then combined with the red kuri puree to create a bed for scallops and topped with sweet and spicy pumpkin seeds and apple cider reduction.
"All the squashes have so much natural flavor," Marlow says. "They don't need a crutch to make them taste sweet."
Roasted Squash Salad, Spiced Pumpkin Seeds, Country Ham and Sorghum Vinaigrette
Found at Harvest Moon Grille
Chef Patty Greene likes to use squash in her salads because they add warmth. "The Golden Nugget has more of a squash flavor and the Buttercup Squash is firmer," she says. "We roast them, then toss them with oil, salt and pepper. ... So, it's a slightly warm salad."
The combination yields a subtle sweet and salty flavor, not unlike adding butter and salt to a sweet potato. The squash is layered over crema, topped with house-smoked country ham and roasted pumpkin seeds, then dressed with a sorghum (molasses) vinaigrette.
"Their flavor is very intense, which is due to them being locally grown with no additives, so you get the true essence of the squash," Greene adds.
Fois Gras Ravioli, Golden Raisin and Pistachio Conserve, Roasted Pumpkin Coulis
Found at 5Church
Chef Jamie Lynch, inspired by a dish he made at a French restaurant in New York, put fois gras ravioli with kabocha squash coulis on the menu at 5Church. Lynch describes this dish as "more funky American; more down home."
"Kabocha squash is dark green and kind of like a cross breed between a mini pumpkin and an acorn squash," he says. He chose to roast the squash instead of boiling it because roasting allows the natural sugars to caramelize. The caramelized squash paired with the salty foi gras creates a classic taste contrast, with creative ingredients.