It’s harvest season, and with it come the fruits of the genus Cucurbita (which includes squash, pumpkins, and gourds). They’re packed with vitamin C, sure to give you a boost in the cooler months.
They can be smooth or bumpy, slim or rotund, and come in familiar fall hues of orange, gold, and scarlet, and cooler shades of green, blue, and white. And, for as many colour and shape combinations there are dishes that showcase these autumn faves.
In this month’s Chef’s Tips you’ll find local pumpkin experts and Alberta chefs sharing their favourite squash and pumpkin dishes, inspired by their loved ones and the people they’ve met along their journeys.
Sprawling across 80 acres in Parkland County, Alberta, family-owned and operated Somerset Farms is the place to procure pumpkins. “Pumpkins are our passion,” says main grower, Kate de Windt. “This year we grew 49 different varieties and 15,000 pumpkins.” Along with their u-pick pumpkins, the farm also offers private fire pit rentals, picnic areas, and outdoor events.
A former marine and freshwater biologist from Ontario, here in land-locked Alberta de Windt maintains a large vegetable garden at home, and enjoys growing, harvesting, and preserving food for her family. “Pumpkins and winter squash are one of the easiest vegetables to store and can last 4-12 months once harvested from the garden.”
Store them in a cool place (10-15ºC) with good air circulation, like a cool spot in your basement. No basement? No problem. De Windt adds, “I love to cook a couple of pumpkins at a time and then freeze any additional puree in 1 cup portions for later use.”
Adding pumpkin to your menu staples is a great way to make vegetables appealing to even the pickiest of eaters. “From the time our kids were really little I tried to incorporate vegetables into every meal,” explains de Windt. “Pumpkin pancakes were one of the easiest ways I found to add them into our breakfast routine.”
Find Kate de Windt's recipe for Pumpkin Pancakes here.
Chef and owner Scott Downey of Edmonton’s Butternut Tree is inspired by the diversity of culture and cuisine that is found throughout the world, as well as local ingredients and techniques. “With our nation's diversity being such a melting pot, through exploring our agriculture and wilderness we begin to find more pieces to our culinary vocabulary,” he explains.
His time in New York cooking at Daniel, under Chef Daniel Boulud, is much of what shaped the chef Downey is today. His recipe for stuffed winter squash is an ode to Boulud, “This is a farmhouse classic from the south of France. It's a recipe that has stood the test of time as it is multigenerational but also something that has been forgotten in the old world of culinary techniques,” says Downey.
Choose your pumpkin or squash by weight, advises Downey, to ensure quality flavour, texture, and nutrients. “If it's heavy (in comparison to the others offered) then most likely it has more water weight and is [fresher].”
Lastly, when it comes to this recipe, Downey says to keep things simple, but be open to experimenting. “This is a traditional recipe with the foundation of what we have on the farm, and nothing goes to waste! It's a great Sunday meal or side dish to enhance your holiday meal.”
Find Chef Scott Downey's recipe for Fall Stuffed Pumpkin or Squash here.
Rafael Castillo’s goal as executive chef at Calgary’s Fonda Fora is to create Mexican dishes using local ingredients. “I want to take advantage of where we are and all of the resources we have and apply new techniques to find interesting ways to showcase Mexican culture,” he says.
For the last 14 years, Castillo has worked throughout Mexico, the United States, and Canada. Much of his inspiration comes from his love of both Mexican and Asian cuisine, the seasonality of local ingredients, and what is current in the culinary scene. “I like to visit a lot of restaurants and see the different techniques and products being used.”
When selecting squash and pumpkins, Castillo recommends looking for those that are firm and brightly coloured. “A great tip is to char them — it’s one of the few types of vegetables that can handle a char to that degree, and it is delicious.”
His recipe for mussels and sikil p’aak (Mayan words meaning ‘pumpkin seeds’ and ‘tomatoes’ respectively) tostada highlights the seafood found in Yucatan, in Mexico, combined with a local dish from his hometown, and fond memories of his grandfather. “Every Sunday he loved to have a beer and either sardines or smoked mussels. He was my inspiration behind many of the elements of this dish.”
Find Chef Rafael Castillo's recipe for Mussels and Sikil P'aak Tostada here.
Ryan Roque has been a professional chef for 22 years. His formative years were spent growing up in his parents’ restaurant; later he apprenticed at the Banff Springs Hotel, where he made many lifelong friends and met his future wife. Now, he is a chef instructor at ATCO Blue Flame Kitchen in Calgary. “Here at the Blue Flame Kitchen we strive to help home cooks make meals from scratch, and have some fun along the way.”
Roque’s mother is Italian, and together with her, his Nonna, and his aunts, he developed an appreciation for cooking. “That’s where I realized how much joy food can bring and unite family and friends,” he explains.
Choosing the perfect squash for recipes is like choosing any other vegetable, says Roque. Look for firm unblemished flesh with a uniform colour and try to buy local whenever possible. And don’t forget the squash blossoms! “They can be hard to find but if you know someone growing squash they will probably have a lot to get rid of!
You just want to use the outside of the blossom and they can be frozen to use later.”
His recipe for pitelli (zucchini fritters) is from his mother’s side. As a youth, he watched his Nonna make them, and when she passed, Roque’s zia (aunt) Teresa showed him how it was done. “I’ve been making them ever since,” he says. “I’m a strong believer in making sure those treasured family recipes get passed down through the generations to keep the link to our past.”
Find Chef Ryan Roque's recipe for Pitelli here.