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Editor's Note: This story is unlocked for everyone to read courtesy of the CRVA, our partner in nourishing culinary exploration for residents and visitors of the Queen City.

October 31, 2022

Chef’s Takes: Winter squash

Charlotte chefs give tips on preparing in-season squashes

by Shannon Blair

The Jimmy serves ravioli stuffed with butternut squash. LunahZon Photography/The Plaid Penguin

We at UP are rounding up some of Charlotte’s best to give their best takes on everything from maximizing those last tomatoes of fall to achieving crispier chicken wings. This time, they’re taking a break from the kitchen to chime in on the subject of winter squash. 

Nutrition-packed, fall harvest squashes yield a high amount of fiber and immune system strengthening vitamins like A and C — helpful during peak cold and flu season. The most popular types are butternut, acorn, and spaghetti, but this category of in-season squash includes a wide range of options for achieving desired texture, color, and flavor in a dish.  

While this vegetable family comes in different shapes and sizes, most members share a distinctively hard shell. This outer layer extends shelf life but presents a challenge for kitchen prep. We checked in with three local chefs who feature winter squash on the menu for their advice on this matter and more. Editor’s note: Responses have been edited for clarity and brevity.

Our squash experts are:

  • Kevin Darr, executive chef of The Jimmy and Rooster’s SouthPark
  • Diane Consavage, executive chef of Napa on Providence
  • Matt Deering, chef de cuisine of Dot Dot Dot

Tell us how you offer winter squash on the menu at your establishment.

Acorn squash gnocchi from Dot Dot Dot. Photo courtesy

Kevin Darr: Right now at The Jimmy, we are doing a ravioli stuffed with North Carolina sweet potato. It has whiskey and sorghum, and is tossed in a light sauce of coal-roasted squash and brown butter. We finish the dish with local farm arugula for some spice, and toasted pecan. We are also serving our Siano burrata with roasted squash panzanella made with butternut squash.

Diane Consavage: We offer puréed butternut squash in our seasonal soup and for our salmon dish. We offer it roasted in our gnocchi and duck dishes.

Matt Deering: We have a goat cheese gnocchi with an acorn squash puree, local mushrooms, pistachio, shaved hard goat cheese, and fall spices.

Winter squashes can be hard to handle. Any tips for making these meal-ready without injury?

Kevin Darr: Winter squashes are very forgiving. I cut in half, scoop the seeds out, and roast in the oven. Once they are cooked, you can scoop out the squash and use it for soup, sauce, or a mash on its own. I prefer certain winter squash that you don’t even need to peel like kuri, delicata, or small butternut. For the more adventurous, when your fire pit is dying down towards the end of the night with  just small coals remaining, toss your whole winter squash into it. After about an hour, you end up with a charred outside, but a perfectly cooked, smoky and sweet interior.

Diane Consavage: Use a large knife, making sure it’s sharp. Using a serrated knife can be easier as well. I find it best to cut off the top and bottom of the squash, always laying flat on a surface. Cutting butternut squash in half first makes it easier to handle.

Matt Deering: Make sure to use a sharp and sturdy chef knife and that the squash is stable on the cutting board. To do this, I usually take the stem off, put the stem side down, start cutting with the tip of the knife on the top, and then drag down.

How can winter squash best add flavor, color, and texture to a dish?

At Napa on Providence, squash purée adds color and flavor to dishes. Photo courtesy

Kevin Darr: Winter squash is best as is. It is such a simply great ingredient that if cooked properly is amazing on its own. Very few ingredients are needed to make it shine. A little citrus, coriander, and allspice transform it into a great purée. Some cream, curry spice, and toasted seeds make a wonderful soup. A little parmigiano turns it into a great filling for pasta with brown butter. Acorn squash are great little ones for stuffing and roasting as well.

Diane Consavage: Squash purées add the most flavor and color to a dish. They remain bright and vibrant, and the silkiness blended with the rest of the components on the dish allow everything to be enjoyed together in one bite. Roasting certain squashes allows for texture to be added to a dish, especially with certain squashes where you can keep their skins on.

Matt Deering: It can add a great sweetness and nuttiness, as well as a smooth, starchy texture. A lot of them will also add a great orange color.

Where do you source your winter squashes (both personally and professionally)?

Kevin Darr: I always source my personal vegetables from places I know. I like to know where my food comes from. Local farmers markets are best if you don’t have a connection with local farmers. Also winter squashes are amazingly easy to grow so having a little garden works. You can even grow them in 5-gallon grow bags.

Diane Consavage: I like to shop at farmers markets and Whole Foods for certain vegetables and squash.

Matt Deering: We source our squash at Dot Dot Dot from Freshlist and Barbee Farms. I will go to the farmers’ market to get some for my house, but there are a lot of varieties at the local grocery store.

Which is your favorite winter squash and why?

Kevin Darr: I prefer different squash for different things. For soup, I love butternut squash. For roasted sides, I prefer delicata or kuri squash. For desserts and pastas, roasting pumpkins, butternut, and kuri all work great.

Diane Consavage: My favorite squash is a toss up between kabocha or delicata. I love the creaminess and color of kabocha and the mildness and versatility of delicata. I love fall because of the big introduction to most of the seasonal squash. It’s an exciting season for me. I love mixing squash with brussel sprouts, cranberries, and sage.

Matt Deering: My favorite is delicata because of how sweet it is. Also, the skin is edible, so it is perfect to cut into slices, roast with a few spices and olive oil, and enjoy without adding too much to it.

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