We’ve all got our favourite dishes when this time of year comes around – soups and roasts, and braising and slow cooking go well with sweaters and thick socks, don’t you agree? And with so much amazing produce coming in the from the harvest, it can be a bit of a challenge to figure out where to start cooking.
Lucky for us, this month’s talented quartet of Alberta chefs have shared inspired recipes highlighting sweet potatoes, squash, pears, and more, all perfect to grace your harvest feast table, and brighten our plates and spirits as the days grow just a little bit shorter.
Two heads are better than one, right? That’s certainly the case for Jordan Marzano and Ryan Pauls, co-head chefs of Edmonton’s Boxer. “Our food is a mirror of who we are as people,” explains Chef Jordan. “This really allows us to explore our creativity and show our customers how different people can see the same things and create something completely different.”
Smoked olives and beetroot carpaccio are among the flavours you’ll find on the menu, but it’s the pork cassoulet that wins the hearts of both chefs. “It’s a unique combination of textures and flavours: soft to crunchy, with a dash of saltiness finished with acidity,” says Chef Ryan.
“Everyone loves pasta,” he continues. “It can take some prep time, but it’s always a fan favourite.” Enter Browned Butter and Sage Sweet Potato Gnocchi. “The beautiful part about gnocchi is there’s so many ways to change it around and put your own twist on it.”
“You want to be careful not to overwork your dough,” advises Chef Jordan. “It can make the texture of your gnocchi very chewy and not as pleasant to eat.” Brown your butter just enough to get a nutty aroma – you don’t want to burn it. Pine nuts can be substituted with toasted walnuts or eliminate nuts altogether and try pumpkin seeds.
Inspired by the food that is prepared around him all the time, catering chef Dan Blunt is all about taking it in – and then taking it apart. “I’m processing the method, how it could be made in a different way, was it too over the top, or did it lack something obvious?” he explains.
It’s easy to get carried away when the word ‘harvest’ is attached to ‘dinner’. “Don’t overwhelm yourself with too many dishes, and consider the time to cook each one,” advises Chef Dan. If you’re at the market buying ingredients, talk to the farmers about their offerings. The stories they share can end up making great dinner conversation.
Here, Chef Dan puts a new twist on a fave side dish. “We have all heard of potato gratin, but what about a cauliflower gratin? And to make it just a bit different, why not a cauliflower with a roasted butternut squash gratin?” Don’t worry about being exact on everything, he adds. “Lead with your instinct. Want to add more cheese? Add more cheese!”
Chef Chris Joyce of Calgary’s Flores & Pine has a laid-back approach to cooking, and looks for inspiration from his team. “I’m pretty much all over the place when it comes to cooking,” he explains. “I usually sit on an idea for a couple of months, talk about it with my colleagues, and then see it hit the plate.”
Currently, he doesn’t play favourites on the menu, but the change of season may change his tune. “Right now, I really love cooking on the wood fire and the rotisserie, and I’m looking forward to seeing what I do with those for the fall menu.”
Risotto is a dish that can’t be rushed, and that suits Chef Chris just fine. “It’s a labour of love. It takes 45 minutes of you stirring it and making sure every single grain is cooked the same way. Using squash lets me know that summer is over and to start focusing on fall and winter vegetables and slow cooking.
There’s nothing fancy about the method with this Coal Roasted Delicata Squash Risotto. “It’s just cooking,” Chef Chris adds. “Have fun, and don’t stress out.”
“I was raised in a small farming town in Ontario and grew up in a home where cooking from scratch was simply a way of life,” says Brett van Allen, Executive Chef for The Harvest Room at Edmonton’s Fairmont Hotel MacDonald. “The strongest influencers in my culinary career are my mother and grandmother.”
His career has taken him far afield, and Chef Brett maintains that local produce is the most important component to any dish. “Supporting our local farmers and producers is more than just about incredible flavours, it is also about sustainability and celebrating our local communities.” The Alberta trout with curried carrot and buckwheat risotto on the Harvest Room menu reminds him of farm-to-table ingredients of his hometown.
His Sweet Potato and Caramelized Pear Flower Tart is a perfect example of simple ingredients coming together to create what he calls a ‘stunning, rustic showstopper.’ Here’s a few tips to recreate it: “Start in the middle and work your way to the outside. Take your time – it’s all about enjoying your time in the kitchen!” Keep the uniform thickness of the sweet potato slices, and be sure they’re covered with a good coating of oil, salt, and pepper!