Hello again, parsnips, rutabagas and squash.
With fall just underway, seasonal root vegetables and fruits are popping up on restaurant menus once more.
"Fall's a great season," says Chef Joe Isidori of Chalk Point Kitchen (527 Broome St., 212-390-0327, chalkpointkitchen.com). "It provides a great amount of produce to work with and just a whole new flavor profile."
This includes heartier fare like butternut squash, a heart-friendly fruit with its doses of dietary fiber and, thanks to its orange color, carotenoids, which help protect against heart disease. It's also a source of potassium and vitamins B6 and C and has anti-inflammatory properties.
The squash is versatile when it comes to cooking, too, popular in a variety of pastas, soups or salads. At Chalk Point Kitchen, it stands out in a small plate recently added to the menu: roasted butternut squash with old-fashioned ricotta, fresh basil, toasted pepita seeds and aged balsamic.
"It's a simple dish," says Isidori. "It's inspired by my Italian background, the simplicity in the flavors."
Isidori's Bronx-born grandmother was a professional chef in Times Square from the 1960s to '80s, and this is his take on a butternut squash antipasto that she would make.
Keeping to the Chalk Point Kitchen's farm-to-table philosophy, the butternut squash is grown locally, sourced from Migliorelli or Paisley Farm, both in the Hudson Valley.
For the ricotta, Polly-O's old-fashioned is the way to go.
"If you're in the supermarket and need to pick out a brand of ricotta, it's really the best," says Isidori.
The chef likes a good, aged balsamic vinegar for the dish, though a store-bought balsamic glaze will also do. For the seeds, he also like pepitas, or Mexican pumpkin seeds, which can be found in most gourmet markets.
"It gives a good crunch and texture to the mix," says Isidori. If you can't get your hands on pepitas, though, you can substitute with pine nuts, walnuts or almonds.
Put it all together and the result is a hearty dish that pairs well with a lighter meat like roasted pork or chicken.
"It ends up being simple and soulful," says Isidori. "Fall you get more hearty vegetables. You can afford to put a little more richness on the plate."
1 butternut squash
1 cup ricotta
1 pint balsamic vinegar
1 sprig basil
Salt and pepper
Extra virgin olive oil
3 oz. package of pepitas, or pumpkin seeds (can substitute with your favorite nut or seed)
For the butternut squash: Peel butternut squash. Cut the squash in half to remove seeds and then cut into approximately 1”-1½” cubes. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a bowl, dress cubed squash with olive oil, salt and pepper. Place on a sheet tray and roast in oven until tender (approximately 45 minutes).
For the ricotta: In a bowl, season ricotta with salt and pepper to taste.
For the pepitas: Season pepitas with salt and pepper. Place on a sheet tray in a single layer and roast in the oven at 350 degrees for 20 minutes or until golden brown (stir seeds after 10 minutes).
For the balsamic reduction: In a small sauce pot, reduce balsamic vinegar until it has reached a thick consistency. Cool.
Assembly: Place roasted squash on a plate. Spoon a few dollops of ricotta onto the squash and drizzle over with balsamic reduction. Garnish with roasted pepitas and basil leaves.