Dennis Patillo is a committed foodie and chef. He has spent a lifetime studying foods from around the world as well as regional cuisines.

Calendar says fall, but it's not here yet

Pan-roasted butternut squash with sage and orecchiette

For the first time in weeks, I haven’t looked at the day’s weather forecast and seen a heat advisory warning of heat indices in excess of 107 degrees. Although fall officially began Sept. 23 this year, until this morning, it felt like we were in the midst of an endless summer. It wasn’t exactly cool this morning, but there was a “feel” that autumn might be sneaking in.

I look forward to cooler temperatures and earlier evenings. Most of all though, I look forward to the comfort foods that we crave in the fall. I like making chicken pot pies, roasted root vegetables, mac and cheese, chicken and dumplings, chili (no beans please), sausage and sauerkraut, braised beef short ribs, winter squashes, hearty soups and stews, crusty breads and pumpkin-flavored desserts.

Without a doubt, my favorite root vegetable is the potato. I have yet to find a potato I don’t like. I sure hope my dietitian is not reading this.

One of my favorite things to do is get the small one-inch potatoes and steam them until tender. I then put them on a cutting board and using the bottom of a glass, or my hand if I have waited long enough for them to cool, gently smash them into a flattened disk. Don’t go overboard and crush them into oblivion. They need to retain their integrity. In a large skillet over high heat melt butter and add an equal amount of olive oil. Add the potatoes and crisp the skins; turning the potatoes over several times.

I flip them all over at the same time by lifting the skillet and pushing it forward. Then I quickly pull the skillet back while simultaneously lifting the front edge of the skillet up. Done correctly, all of the potatoes flip in unison. Done incorrectly, half of the potatoes remain in the pan, while the other half seem to be divided equally on the stove top and the floor. This drives Louise nuts, but the dogs really like it. This is an acquired technique that you should master.

Top the potatoes with a little French gray salt. If you are feeling a little decadent, take about a cup of heavy cream, a tablespoon of butter, three tablespoons of Parmigiana Reggiano, and ½ teaspoon of white pepper and warm the ingredients in a small saucepan. When everything is melted, pour the mixture over the potatoes.

Sweet potatoes are also a favorite, and you can use a similar technique with them. Scrub three medium sized sweet potatoes and bake them until tender. When cool enough to handle, smash with your hand and tear the sweet potatoes into bite sized irregular shaped pieces. In a small saucepan, heat about a quarter cup of honey with about 4 tablespoons of butter. When heated through, add 2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar off the heat and stir to combine. On an unlined baking sheet, put the sweet potato pieces skin side down and drizzle one half of the honey mixture over the sweet potatoes. Bake at 350 degrees until the skin is crisp and starting to char a little. Meanwhile, thinly slice a red Fresno pepper and add to the remaining honey mixture. Put the sweet potatoes on a serving platter and drizzle with the honey/pepper mixture.

Butternut squash just screams fall. I know a lot of people who have never tried to cook this squash at home because they are a little intimidated when it comes to peeling it. I use two easy techniques when I am peeling a butternut squash. The first technique involves cutting the squash in two pieces right where the neck joins the round part. I cut a little off the bottom of the round part so that it will sit flat on the cutting board. Then I slice the hard skin off with a very sharp paring knife, always cutting toward the cutting board. I then split the bottom in half lengthwise, and scoop out the pulp and the seeds. Don’t throw the pulp and seeds away. They are wonderful as a garnish. Use the same technique for peeling the neck.

Without a very sharp knife this task can be a little daunting. The task can be made easier by putting the squash in the microwave for about three minutes. When cool to the touch or using a towel, disassemble the squash in the same way noted above. The skin will be a lot softer and you can peel with either a knife or a vegetable peeler.

I have included a recipe that is a very simple, yet elegant, pasta dish with roasted butternut squash, orecchiette and sautéed sage.

We have only scratched the surface on my favorite fall dishes. I hope that you will try these and send me your favorite fall recipes. I’m always on the hunt for great recipes.

Dennis Patillo is a committed foodie and chef. He has spent a lifetime studying foods from around the world as well as regional cuisines. His passion is introducing people to ingredients and techniques that can be used in their home kitchen. He and his wife, Louise, own The PumpHouse Riverside Restaurant and Bar.

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