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Embrace Squash Season With Five Chefs’ Fall Recipes

Maybe it’s the fall produce at the farmers market or the pumpkin-spice lattes at Starbucks, but we’re suckers for fall flavors. We tracked down a few good chefs to help us celebrate them.

A vacherin is a French dessert, usually made with a meringue crust, fruit, and crème Chantilly. But in Adour pastry chef Fabrice Bendano’s contemporary (if labor-intensive) version, he uses two ice creams—one sweet, one nutty—instead of the crème Chantilly. Fruit comes in the form of a chunky pear marmalade made with two different pears. “You can cook with the William—it’s sweet and gives a nice flavor to the marmalade,” says Bendano. “The Nashi pear is rich and it’s expensive, so the best way to eat it is as is.”

Chestnuts will come into season in mid-October. You can find chestnut purée in specialty stores, but you can make your own by cooking roasted, hulled chestnuts in a saucepan with a two-to-one ratio of water and sugar, then blending the mixture in a food processor.

Autumn Vacherin
Serves 12

For the pear marmalade:

2 medium grapefruits (totaling 11 ounces), peeled, pith removed, and cut into segments
1 pound William pears, peeled and sliced
7 tablespoons lemon juice
3 ounces (about 1⁄3 cup) sugar
1 pound Nashi pears, diced, plus 1 extra pear for garnish
In a saucepan, combine the grapefruit with the pears, lemon juice, and sugar and cook over medium heat until the fruit breaks down and the texture becomes similar to that of marmalade—it should take about 1 hour. Allow the marmalade to cool before stirring in the Nashi pears.
For the chestnut ice cream:

1 quart milk
½ cup sugar
8 egg yolks
15 ounces chestnut cream (about 2 cups), available at specialty gourmet stores
2 tablespoons rum

Make a crème anglaise: Heat the milk in a saucepan set over medium heat until just boiling. In a separate bowl combine the sugar and egg yolks and slowly add to the hot milk, stirring constantly.

Spoon the chestnut cream into a mixing bowl, pour the crème anglaise over the top, and mix. After the mixture has cooled, add the rum and process it in an ice-cream machine according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
For the maple-syrup ice cream with caramelized pecans:

Make the ice cream:

4 cups plus 3 tablespoons milk
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon cream
3 egg yolks
½ cup powdered milk
¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons maple syrup
¼ cup plus 3 tablespoons sugar
Make a crème anglaise: Mix the milk and cream in a saucepan and heat until just boiling. Keep hot. In a separate bowl combine the yolks and powdered milk and slowly add the mixture to the hot milk, stirring constantly.

In another saucepan, mix the maple syrup with sugar and add the crème anglaise. Heat the mixture to about 185 degrees. Let the mixture cool, then process in an ice-cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
Candy the pecans:

1⁄3 cup water
1 cup sugar
7 ounces pecans, chopped
Pinch salt
In a saucepan, combine the water and sugar and cook over high heat until it reaches 250 degrees and the sugar has dissolved. Stir in the pecans and salt and allow to lightly caramelize. Remove from the heat. After the pecans have cooled, chop them into smaller pieces and stir into ice cream.

Make the meringues:

4 egg whites
½ cup granulated sugar
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon confectioner’s sugar

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees.

Whip the egg whites until they begin to form stiff peaks. Add the granulated sugar and keep whipping until sugar dissolves. Slowly stir in the confectioner’s sugar with a spatula. Spoon the mixture into a pastry bag and pipe small rounds onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper; use the spatula to push the rounds into discs. Bake for about an hour, or until the meringue is crisp and dry.

For the chestnut foam:

2 cups minus 3 tablespoons milk
2 tablespoons plus 1½ teaspoons chestnut purée
1 cup plus 3 tablespoons chestnut cream
2 teaspoons rum
Mix the milk, chestnut purée, and chestnut cream in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Add the rum and blend with a hand blender until foamy. Use immediately to top the ice cream.

To assemble the dessert:

Pour a few spoonfuls of marmalade onto a plate and smooth into a circle. Top with scoops or quenelles of each ice cream. Spoon the chestnut foam around the plate. Top with julienned pears and four meringues. 

>> Next page: Venison loin from Volt's Bryan Voltaggio

Bryan Voltaggio is having a very busy month. Fans of the foodie reality-TV show Top Chef will see him competing alongside his brother, Michael, and Washington residents will soon be able to dig into autumn-inspired dishes at Volt, his restaurant in Frederick. “We’re just starting to plan the fall menu, and I have a ton of ideas,” he says. “With fall comes harvest, and you start thinking about braises and long stews.”

Voltaggio is especially interested in less-celebrated autumn ingredients—late-season berries, Concord grapes—that nonetheless evoke the season.

In this recipe, aromatic rosemary and brightly flavored juniper dress up a loin of venison. Voltaggio scours local farmers markets for the dishes he creates; they’re a good place to find the juniper berries for this recipe, too.

Venison Loin

Serves two

For the venison:

2½ tablespoons vegetable or grapeseed oil (Voltaggio prefers grapeseed, which has a higher smoke point)
2½ pounds venison loin, trimmed of all silver skin and fat
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon minced shallot
½ teaspoon minced garlic
1 juniper berry, cracked
2 rosemary sprigs

Preheat the grapeseed oil in a medium sauté pan set over medium-high to high heat. Season the loins generously with salt and pepper. Start to sear the loins in the hot oil and brown all sides of the meat by turning regularly; be sure to keep the heat high so that the venison continues to brown and doesn’t steam in the pan. After about 3 minutes on each side, the venison should be about rare and just starting to warm in the center.

Reduce the heat to low and add the butter. Whisk the butter with a spoon until it becomes frothy. Add the shallot, garlic, juniper berry, and rosemary. Evenly baste the venison with the butter. Continue to baste and turn the loin until the desired temperature is reached. (Typically, a medium-rare loin will have an internal temperature of 130 to 150 degrees; use an instant-read thermometer to check.)

Once the venison is cooked, let it rest for about 5 minutes in a warm area. This will continue the cooking process, so be careful to remove the venison from the heat approximately 2 to 5 degrees under your desired temperature.

For the finishing salt:

1 orange, zested
1 tablespoon Maldon sea salt
2 juniper berries, cracked

Preheat the oven to 150 degrees.

Dry the orange zest on a baking sheet set in the oven. Once the zest is dried, crush together the salt, zest, and juniper berries with a mortar and pestle. Finish the venison with a sprinkle of the flavored salt. 

>> Next page: Autumn salmon, potato puree, and more from 701's Adam Longworth 

Newly arrived in Washington from New York City’s Gotham Bar and Grill, Adam Longworth has taken over the kitchen at the recently revamped 701 in DC’s Penn Quarter. Try his picks for a simply prepared autumn meal—salmon, fennel, and creamy pureed potato, wedded with a robust coffee-hazelnut vinaigrette. “I love fennel,” says Longworth. “This meal doesn’t eat really heavy, but it represents what’s out there this season.”

Autumn Salmon
Serves four

4 six-ounce fillets Scottish salmon
2 teaspoons canola oil
Salt to taste
Pepper to taste

Season the salmon with salt and pepper. In a sauté pan set over medium-high heat, heat the canola oil. Cook the salmon until golden on one side; flip and reduce the heat to medium. Cook an additional 5 to 6 minutes until done.

Potato Purée
Serves four

1 pound Idaho potatoes, peeled
6 tablespoons butter
½ cup heavy cream
Salt to taste
Pepper to taste

Chop the potatoes into approximately 1-inch chunks. Place into a pot and cover with cold water; add 1 tablespoon salt. Bring to a simmer and cook until tender, about 30 minutes. Drain the potatoes and run them through a food mill or mash with a potato masher. Stir in the butter and heavy cream. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Sauteed Fennel
Serves four

1 head fennel
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons butter
Salt to taste
Pepper to taste

Cut fennel in half lengthwise, and cut each half into five slices. Remove the core, keeping each piece intact. Heat the oil in a large sauté pan set over medium heat; add the fennel. Cook until one side is brown, then turn and season with salt and pepper. Brown the other side and finish with butter.

Coffee-Hazelnut Vinaigrette

Serves four

½ cup white balsamic vinegar
1⁄8 cup coffee grounds
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
½ cup grapeseed or canola oil
¼ cup roasted hazelnut oil (Longworth likes Leblanc hazelnut oil)

Combine the vinegar and coffee grounds in a saucepan and bring to a simmer. Remove the pan from the heat and strain the liquid through a coffee filter. Whisk in the remaining ingredients. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

>> Next page: Oyster gratin from 1789's Daniel Giusti 

A regional specialty—shellfish—is the star of 1789 chef Daniel Giusti’s autumn-inspired creation. “At the restaurant, we’re not necessarily an Eastern-seaboard kind of place, but we like to have a few of those dishes,” he says. The flavors play on classic Thanksgiving oyster stuffing, dressed up with salsify and basil. “It’s comfort food,” says Giusti. “Oysters and bacon—people can relate to that.”

Oyster Gratin
Serves five

6 salsify, peeled
2 cups heavy cream
4 ounces bacon (3 to 4 strips), diced into lardons
2 slices bread, cubed
20 oysters, shucked
½ cup grated Gruyère cheese
2 tablespoons basil leaves cut into thin ribbons
Salt as needed
Pepper as needed

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees.

Place the salsify in a pot and cover with the cream. Season with salt and cook on low heat until the salsify is tender. Remove the salsify and reserve the cream. Cut the salsify on the bias into 1-inch lengths. Heat the reserved cream over medium heat until it is reduced by half and set aside. Place the bacon in a warm sauté pan set over medium-high heat and render the fat until it is crispy. Drain and set aside.

To make the croutons, toast the bread cubes on a cookie sheet in the oven until hard, about 10 to 15 minutes, checking often. Once the croutons are done, increase the oven temperature to 350 degrees.

To assemble the dish, mix the salsify, reduced cream, bacon, croutons, oysters, cheese, and basil and season with salt and pepper. Pour the mixture in a casserole dish and bake uncovered until golden brown. 

>> Next page: Calabaza frita from Joe Raffa of Oyamel

Joe Raffa is executive chef at Oyamel, a Penn Quarter spot known for authentic Mexican small plates. His calabaza frita—Spanish for “fried squash”—combines hearty local squash with Mexican flavors such as habañero and queso fresco. “This dish is one that was brought to our attention by Diana Kennedy during the Day of the Dead celebration,” Raffa says. “It just tastes like fall in Mexico.”

Locally grown winter squash can be purchased at area farmers markets; Raffa likes Thursday’s FreshFarm Market in Penn Quarter on Eighth Street, Northwest. You can also mix the dish up with different squash varieties, such as butternut or acorn. “Use whatever they happen to have,” says Raffa.

Calabaza Frita
Serves four

1⁄3 cup water
½ cup olive oil, divided
2 pounds winter squash, peeled and diced
½ small white onion, chopped
1 small green pepper, seeded and diced
¾ pound tomatoes, chopped
½ habañero chili, seeded
Salt to taste

For the garnish:

Tostada, tortilla chips, or tortilla
Mexican crema or sour cream
Queso fresco cheese, grated
Scallions, thinly sliced
Pumpkin seeds, toasted

In a large skillet set over medium heat, combine the water and half of the olive oil. Add the squash and sweat (gently heat), stirring frequently, until tender but still slightly underdone. Remove the squash from the pan and set aside. In the same skillet, heat the remaining olive oil over medium heat and sauté the onions until they begin to become tender. Add the green pepper and tomatoes and continue to sauté until the tomatoes render their juice and it reduces by 2⁄3.

Meanwhile, lightly toast the habañero chili in a small, dry pan over medium heat until it begins to brown lightly. Note: Be careful handling the habañero. The chili’s juice can be irritating, especially if you get it in your eyes. It’s best to use a fork or tongs and wear rubber gloves.

Finely chop the toasted habañero and stir it into the squash. Gently stir the squash mixture into the pan with the tomatoes and peppers; continue to cook over very low heat for about 10 minutes. Season with salt and set aside to rest for at least 30 minutes before serving.

Spoon the calabaza frita onto a tostada, tortilla chips, or a tortilla. Drizzle with crema or sour cream, and top with a sprinkle of cheese, a few scallion slices, and a few pumpkin seeds. 

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