Every family has their established traditions for holiday foods: the ham, the mashed potatoes, the sweet potato pie, the latkes. On the other hand, every generation should have the opportunity to make their mark in some way, to create a fresh new dish for the table — one that, if it’s a hit, becomes a new tradition.
Chef Josh Mouzakes of Arlo, at the reimagined Town and Country Resort in Mission Valley, has provided three very different concepts around fall vegetables that should inspire a few new traditions. Copper Wire Mesh
There may be four seasons, but it really comes down to two major changes a year, Mouzakes said: from winter to spring and from summer to fall.
“Chefs get really excited because it’s a complete flavor profile change,” he explained. “All these ideas that you haven’t worked with in six months are back and available. The most prominent things in the fall that come to mind are root vegetables. And you also transition into squash, pumpkin, apples and start thinking of richer flavors, like caramel and caraway, breads, braises. It’s all about warmth and comfort.”
Mouzakes, who was raised in New York, attended Johnson & Wales University, interned at a castle in Wales and at The French Laundry — the famed restaurant in Yountville — and went on to cook at fine dining kitchens under Guy Reuge and Joël Robuchon, as well as at the Hotel del Coronado. He geeks out over vegetables that often get a turned-up nose. Things like Brussels sprouts, which kids typically think are gross, but may just not be prepared properly.
“If you grew up eating vegetables from a can or a frozen package or just not prepared right, with minimal flavor and salt, of course you’re going to think it’s gross,” he said. “But if someone shows you a better way, it’s an opportunity for home cooks to take something like a parsnip, a butternut squash, some different vegetables that are just lightly blanched and then attach it to a bit of cooking skill but nothing complicated, they’ll eat it and say not only is it beautiful — because food is art — but it also tastes so good. Especially when you incorporate the natural sugars in them.”
Mouzakes started with an appetizer he creates year-round, but with seasonal vegetables and dips that complement them. He calls it a Floating Crudité, and it’s a visual showstopper. Basically, he uses a log — something you can easily find in bundles of firewood commonly sold at the front of supermarkets this time of year — drills narrow holes into it and fills the holes with thin wire on which blanched vegetables, quick pickled vegetables and olives are threaded.
The idea for this had been bopping around in his head for years. Initially, he had heard that chef Dan Barber of Blue Hill, in New York, suspended vegetables in front of customers — but he didn’t know how it was done. It stayed in his head, unresolved. Then, because Arlo has a wood-burning pizza oven, Mouzakes noticed the pile of wood in the back and was trying to figure out how he could use that. It all clicked together when he was visiting his aunt in New York. A florist, she was making floral bouquets, using thin green wire. Vegetables, wood, thin wire. It was all there.
“You can buy the wire on Amazon,” he said. “Now I buy stainless steel bendable skewers so I can reuse them. They come in different thicknesses. I use 18 gauge and cut them into different lengths.”
Mouzakes used baby carrots, baby turnips and Brussels sprouts, but you could also use radishes, broccoli florets or any other seasonal vegetable. He blanched them for just a couple of minutes to make their color more vibrant, then immediately shocked them in a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking. Then he let them dry.
He also makes quick pickled vegetables from an English cucumber and cauliflower. The pickling liquid is champagne vinegar, water, sugar, salt, bay leaves and black peppercorns. You bring the liquid to a boil, pour it over the vegetables in a stainless steel bowl, and refrigerate them for an hour.
For the dip, there are many options. If you have no time, simply use your favorite dipping sauce or dressing. Mouzakes gave us an easy recipe for Avocado Ranch dipping sauce that uses a ripe avocado, ranch spice (his is from Spiceology), sour cream, lime juice and kosher salt. Blend it all together in a food processor or by hand, then pipe or spoon into small condiment bowls for each guest. Another dip option is to buy harissa, the North African red pepper sauce, and mix it with some mayonnaise.
To assemble the dish, you just cut the wire to random lengths, use a slender bit to drill holes in the log, then insert the wires. Randomly skewer the blanched vegetables, pickled vegetables and pitted olives on each wire so they “float.” Then serve with your dips.
Parsnips are a much-overlooked root vegetable. They’re like white carrots, but instead of being the main event, they’re often used with turnips and carrots to flavor chicken stock or are mashed/pureed. Mouzakes, however, chose to feature them in a gorgeous side dish — Maple Brown Butter Parsnips. Yes, you could substitute carrots or a winter squash, but give the parsnips an audition.
“I like to use parsnips a lot. And in the fall and winter, I like to use maple a lot, so I just put the two together and it evolved into this dish,” Mouzakes said.
Here, he marries bite-size pieces of parsnips with whole peeled chestnuts, tossed together in fragrant brown butter reserved from frying whole fresh sage leaves. The vegetables are baked for 15 minutes before being brushed with a maple sauce made with maple syrup, sherry vinegar, sugar, nutmeg and ground ginger. They return to the oven for further cooking for several more minutes. The vegetables are then plated and garnished not just with the sage leaves, but the parsnip skin, which he had peeled, blanched, then fried in canola oil to become “crispy tree bark” garnish. The dish is then drizzled with reserved maple sauce.
Mouzakes also created a vegetable-focused dessert, with butternut squash as the featured ingredient. Don’t grimace: If you enjoy pumpkin pie, you can certainly swoon over Butternut Squash Spice Cremeux. Cremeux translates from French as “creamy,” so think of it as a mousse or puddinglike dessert, with a lavishly beautiful visual treatment. It’s not difficult to make, but it does have several components. And if you’re really squeezed for time, Mouzakes gives guilt-free permission to skip making the butternut squash puree and just buy a small can of pumpkin puree.
The process begins with the cremeux itself, and it starts the day before you plan to serve it. The fun part begins with flambéing off the alcohol in 2 ounces of rum. To the rum, you’ll then add milk, cream, the butternut squash puree, a spiced syrup you’ll make, sugar and salt. You’ll bring it to a boil, reduce to simmer and cook for 5 minutes. Quickly soak 7 gelatin sheets until they’re soft and dissolve them in the cream mixture. Refrigerate it overnight. If it’s solid the next day, you’ve done it right. But you will be whisking it thoroughly to make it creamy.
The spiced syrup is simple to make. You’ll first toast a cinnamon stick and whole cloves just enough to bring out the scent of the oils, and thus the flavor. Then, with freshly grated nutmeg, you’ll grind the spices into a fine powder. This will be added to a saucepan with sugar and water that have been brought to a boil. Mix the ingredients, remove from heat and let cool to room temperature.
The final step before putting it all together is making a very cool garnish: candied butternut squash chips. Be careful here, because you’ll be slicing the shaft of a butternut squash very thinly. If you have a mandoline, this is the time to use it. Then blanch the squash “chips” in boiling salted water, remove and cool/dry. Dip each in the remaining spiced syrup, place them on a sheet pan topped with a Silpat baking liner to prevent sticking, and bake for 20 minutes. While they cool, mix up cinnamon and sugar in a bowl large enough to toss the squash chips in. You’ll toss the chips, shake off the excess and reserve them for when you put the dish together.
Use a pastry bag (or a large zip-close storage bag with a corner cut off) and pipe the whipped cremeux into small bowls or Mason jars, then top each one with the candied butternut squash chips. If you can find fresh berries, garnish each bowl with several of them, too.
FOR THE BLANCHED SEASONAL VEGETABLES: 1 bunch baby carrots 1 bunch baby turnips or radishes 6 Brussels sprouts
Prepare a bowl of ice water. Trim vegetables and blanch all for 2 minutes in a large pot of boiling, salted water. Remove and shock immediately in the ice water. Then remove, set aside and let dry.
FOR THE PICKLED VEGETABLES: 1 English cucumber ½ cup cauliflower 1 cup champagne vinegar ½ cup water 4 ounces granulated sugar 4 ounces kosher salt 2 bay leaves 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
Slice cucumber into ½-inch-thick pieces. Cut cauliflower into bite-size florets. Place in a stainless steel bowl.
Add remaining ingredients to a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Pour the hot pickling liquid over the vegetables in the bowl and refrigerate for about an hour.
3 ounces pitted kalamata olives 3 ounces pitted green olives
FOR THE AVOCADO RANCH DIPPING SAUCE: 1 medium-size avocado 1½ tablespoon ranch spice (Note: Josh Mouzakes uses Spiceology’s blend, but you can substitute with any powdered packet in your local store) 1 cup sour cream 1½ tablespoons lime juice 1½ teaspoon kosher salt
Peel and seed avocado. Blend all of the ingredients in a food processor or by hand with a mortar and pestle. Chill for an hour and keep cold until serving. Pipe into small condiment bowls.
TO ASSEMBLE AND SERVE: 18 gauge flower wire and/or stainless steel skewers Rustic log, 12 to 16 inches in length (found in firewood bundles at markets)
Cut the wire to random lengths, leaving some long and others shorter. Use a slender bit to drill holes half an inch in depth into the log and insert the wire, allowing them to flow in different directions. Randomly place all cooled vegetables, pickles and olives on the wires and allow to whimsically “float.” Serve with chilled Avocado Ranch dipping sauce.
3 ounces maple syrup 3 ounces sherry vinegar ½ cup granulated sugar 1 teaspoon nutmeg 1 teaspoon ground ginger 2 pounds parsnips 2 cups canola oil 4 ounces unsalted butter 12 sage leaves 4 ounces chestnuts, peeled and prepped (jars of steamed or roasted whole chestnuts available online) or toasted walnuts 1 teaspoon kosher salt
In a small saucepan, combine maple syrup, sherry vinegar, sugar, nutmeg and ginger. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer for 5 minutes. Reserve at room temperature.
Peel parsnips and blanch parsnip skin in simmering water for 2 minutes. Remove and let cool. Pat dry. Heat canola oil in a small saucepan and fry skins until crisp. Remove and drain on paper towels. Reserve for crispy tree bark garnish.
Dice parsnips into bite-size, even pieces.
Melt butter until just brown in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add sage leaves and cook until crisp. Strain through fine mesh strainer or coffee filter and reserve. Save crispy sage leaves for garnish. Reserve brown butter.
Add parsnips and chestnuts to a bowl and toss in reserved brown butter. Add salt and mix well. Spread in a single layer on baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake in oven for 15 minutes or until al dente.
Remove from oven and brush with maple sauce, reserving 2 tablespoons. Return to oven and cook an additional 5 minutes or until soft.
Plate and garnish with crispy parsnip skins and sage leaves. Drizzle with reserved maple sauce.
FOR THE CREMEUX: 2 ounces dark rum ¾ cup milk 1¼ cup cream 6 ounces Butternut Squash Puree (see recipe below) ⅔ cup Spiced Syrup (see recipe below) 3 tablespoons granulated sugar ½ teaspoon salt 7 gelatin sheets
Heat rum in medium saucepan and ignite with lighter to flambé off alcohol. Add all remaining ingredients except the gelatin and bring to a boil. Reduce to simmer and cook for 5 minutes.
Soak gelatin sheets in cold water until soft, then slowly dissolve into the cream mixture. Let chill overnight in the fridge. Once cold, the mixture should be solid like Jell-O. Whip with whisk attachment in stand mixer and set aside.
FOR THE BUTTERNUT SQUASH PUREE: 1 large butternut squash (can skip this step and use ¾ cup of canned pumpkin puree) 2 cups kosher salt
Cut squash in quarters lengthwise, leaving skin on. Remove seeds and fiber.
Place half the salt on a baking sheet and lay squash pieces on top, skin-side down. Cover squash with remaining salt. Bake for approximately 30 minutes or until soft. Remove from oven and wipe or brush off all salt. Let cool slightly at room temperature. Using a spoon, scoop out flesh and blend until smooth in food processor. Discard skins and salt crust.
FOR THE SPICED SYRUP: 1 cinnamon stick 6 whole cloves 1 teaspoon nutmeg 1¼ cup granulated sugar 1 cup water
Combine cinnamon and cloves in small, dry saute pan and toast over medium-high heat. Remove from stove and add freshly grated nutmeg. Place all in a spice grinder and blend to a fine powder.
Bring sugar and water to a boil. Add ground toasted spice mixture. Mix well. Let cool to room temperature.
FOR THE CANDIED BUTTERNUT SQUASH CHIPS: 1 butternut squash 2 tablespoons Spiced Syrup (see recipe above) 1 teaspoon cinnamon ½ cup granulated sugar
Using only the shaft of squash (not the bulb), quarter lengthways so you have long triangles. Then slice very thin using a mandoline. The result should look like small tortilla chips.
Blanch squash chips in boiling salted water for 2 minutes. Remove and place on paper towels to cool and dry.
Dip cool, dry squash chips in remaining Spiced Syrup and allow excess to drip off until evenly coated. Place each on a sheet pan topped with a Silpat liner.
Bake glazed squash chips for 20 minutes. Remove and let cool slightly.
Combine cinnamon and sugar in a bowl. Toss squash chips in cinnamon sugar until evenly coated. Remove and set aside.
To serve cremeux: Using a pastry bag, pipe the whipped cremeux into small Mason jars or bowls. Top with candied butternut squash chips and garnish with fresh berries. Serve immediately.
Golden is a San Diego freelance food writer and blogger.
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