This versatile ingredient stars in dishes from soup to pasta and dessert, extending beyond the typical fall season at local restaurants.
By Sharon Stello
Fall is a time often associated with warm, comforting flavors from sage to cinnamon, nutmeg and other spices. And one ingredient—butternut squash—pairs well with all of the above.
A gourd with great potential for sweet or savory dishes, this squash is technically a fruit, although it’s used more like a vegetable in the culinary world. The orange, pumpkin-like flesh is often roasted before it’s transformed into autumnal appetizers, entrees and treats. Several local restaurants even embrace butternut squash year-round.
An 8-inch pizza topped with butternut squash and ricotta cheese, offered in every season at Urth Caffé, is extremely popular. It was added to the menu when chef Davide Giova joined the eatery a decade ago. “Chef Davide is from Mantova, Italy, where ricotta and butternut squash is a favorite fall combination on pizzas,” says Shallom Berkman, co-owner of Urth Caffé. “… [It] is a perfect balance of flavors between the creamy ricotta cheese; lightly sweet, organic butternut squash; and the fresh aromatic herbs of sage and oregano.” Vegan pizza dough is made with heirloom grains from Italy and organic squash is roasted fresh daily in stone ovens. (949-376-8888; urthcaffe.com)
A perhaps unexpected use of butternut squash can be found in the tamales at Las Brisas. “It is an excellent ingredient to use year-round,” says Executive Chef Christopher Lin. “The dish is balanced well with the spiciness of the guajillo sauce, the sweetness of the squash and the creaminess of the Oaxaca cheese inside.” Offered for the past year, the item has proven popular. “Guests love this dish because it’s unique, it isn’t a filling that is commonly found in tamales [and] it’s a great play on sweet and savory,” Lin says. Pasilla chiles add a hint of heat while the cheese offers a bit of tang. (949-497-5434; lasbrisaslagunabeach.com)
Alessa by Chef Pirozzi
For an Italian take on butternut squash, head to Alessa by Chef Pirozzi, where ravioli made with the ingredient has been a bestseller since the restaurant opened. The recipe comes from chef-owner Alessandro Pirozzi’s grandmother and uncle, a famous chef in Italy. “[It] is very flavorful, melts in your mouth, … [and] it tastes like a first date kiss that you will surely crave,” Pirozzi says. The Zucca Ravioli features house-made organic butternut squash ravioli, ricotta filling, a brown butter sage sauce and amaretto almond cookie crumbs on top—offered even when autumn is over. As Pirozzi says, “When something is so good, … why put a limit on it?” (949-497-8222; alessalaguna.com)
In its half-acre garden, The Ranch at Laguna Beach grows butternut squash and other produce to use in seasonal recipes at the on-site restaurant, Harvest. For fall, the gourd will be turned into an agnolotti pasta dish. “We make a butternut squash filling for our house-made pasta, using eggs from our chickens at the farm,” says Executive Chef Kyle St. John. “We then cook the agnolotti in a sweet-and-sour agrodolce.” Served on a bed of celery root puree, it’s topped with spiced pepitas, golden raisins and crisp sage. “This dish captures the feeling of the fall season,” St. John says. (949-715-1376; theranchlb.com)